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Photo by David Morris on Unsplash

The world is buzzing with news of an approaching astronomical body, Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), more often referred to in the news and social media as "the green comet." Its most recent appearance was 50,000 years ago — compared to the about 200,000 years since modern humans emerged.

"While the pictures of it have been impressive, its visual appearance differs greatly," explains Joe Wheelock, public program specialist at the McDonald Observatory at the University of Texas at Austin. "Currently you might glimpse it with the unaided eye as a fuzzy patch of light[,] but you would need to be away from city lights. Binoculars or a telescope would improve the view, and you might even glimpse a faint tail."

As tempting as it is — and as much fodder as its made on social media — this experience will not be easy for most Texans to photograph and share. "The pictures that have been posted on various websites were taken by experienced astrophotographers and in most cases cameras designed for astrophotography," Wheelock warns.

Some logistics to note when planning a viewing:

  • The comet will be closest to Earth (thus, likely the most visible) on February 1.
  • Wheelan says placement will also be good in late January and early February, and it will be best viewed after midnight. Since the new moon was on January 21, every day the moon will compete with it a little more.
  • The McDonald Observatory posts daily stargazing tips, so viewers will have a few chances at seeing something special, even if the comment doesn't work out.
  • Getting out of Austin is the best bet against light pollution.

Those who are willing to make a trip out of the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity should consider their best chances at out running the city lights. The closest popular option to Austin proper (especially for those who live farther North) is Canyon of the Eagles, which hosts an observatory and campsites about 70 miles from the center of Austin. Devil's Cove at Lake Travis and McKinney Falls State Park are less formal, but a popular choice, and generally closer. The McDonald Observatory, although it is an entity of the University of Texas at Austin, is in Fort Davis about 450 miles away.

The International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) maintains records of some of the world's least light-polluted skies and works to protect them, ensuring that these places stay available for reliable stargazing retreats. There are four IDA-certified Dark Sky Parks in Texas: Enchanted Rock (100 miles from Austin), South Llano River (150 miles), Copper Breaks (330 miles), and Big Bend Ranch (520 miles).

In addition to the certified parks, there is a smaller group of Dark Sky Sanctuaries, which are especially dark and carefully protected. There are two in Texas: Devil's River State Natural Area (250 miles) and Black Gap Wildlife Management Area (460 miles).

For more reading that goes in-depth on the comet's trajectory and context, Wheelan suggests an article in Sky & TelescopeSky & Telescope.

Courtesy of Commodore Perry Estate, Auberge Resorts Collection

Austin's landmark estate checks in on list of world's best hotels, plus more top stories

Hot Headlines

Editor’s note: It’s that time again — time to check in with our top stories. Here are five articles that captured our collective attention over the past seven days.

1. Austin's landmark estate checks in on exclusive list of world's best hotels. The Commodore Perry Estate is one of the best hotels in the world, according to Condė Nast Traveler.

2. New luxury community breaks ground in North Austin's booming tech corridor. Presidium Tech Ridge, a four-story luxury apartment community that ties into the natural surroundings, is slated for completion next year.

3. Music of Whitney Houston shines through the dark in I Wanna Dance with Somebody. This biopic is a reminder of what a great singer Whitney Houston was.

4. Zillow's experts predict the top 5 home trends for 2023 in Austin and beyond. Pandemic-era home fads are still hanging on, according to data from Zillow.

5. Texas population shatters records with massive new number milestone. We're welcoming more and more new Texans every day.

Photo courtesy of Lagoonfest Texas

Austin's top travel stories of 2022 soar with new nonstop flights to hot destinations

The Year in Travel

Editor's note: As 2022 comes to a close, we're looking back at the stories that defined Austin this year, and that includes travel — in and out of the Capital City. Austinites were most interested in getting out and seeing the world, whether that was through expanded air routes or reasons to visit the rest of Texas. Here are the top 10 travel headlines of 2022.

1. Texas' largest crystal lagoon dives into summer with floating cabanas and more. Lagoonfest Texas returned for its third year with crystal-blue water, white beaches, and the favorite aquabanas — the floating cabanas. The festival ran Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day in the Houston suburb of Texas City. Visitors saw cabanas on the beach and on the water and the largest inflatable obstacle course in the nation located on a crystal lagoon.

2. Texas airport lands first coveted 5-star rating in North America. William P. Hobby Airport scored a prestigious 5-Star Airport status in the Skytrax World Airport Star Rating for 2022. That makes Hobby the first airport in Texas, the U.S., and North America — and one of just 16 airports across the world — to land the rating. In the new survey, Hobby soared in all 29 rating categories.

Libbie J. Masterson, Ethereal Sky, Hobby Airport art William P. Hobby Airport ascended beyond the basics. Photo by Nash Baker

3. Austin lands first nonstop flight to hot Caribbean destination this summer. American Airlines added two international beach destinations — both in the Caribbean — to its Austin route map. Beginning in June, American launched year-round, once-a-week nonstop service from Austin to Montego Bay, Jamaica, and from Austin to Cozumel, Mexico. American became the first airline to fly between Austin and Jamaica.

4. Austin airport flies away with new nonstops to 2 popular events this spring. American Airlines added temporary nonstop service this year to Louisville, Kentucky, for the Kentucky Derby and to Augusta, Georgia, for the Masters golf tournament.

5. $36 million waterfront hotel splashes into charming Hill Country town. The $36 million project will feature an upscale 123-room Tapestry Collection by Hilton hotel and more than 14,000 square feet of meeting and event space, including a main ballroom and junior ballroom. A rooftop venue measuring about 4,000 square feet is sure to be a major highlight. The nearly three-acre property is expected to open in early 2024, close to the banks of Lake Marble Falls.

6. Buc-ee’s art installation mysteriously appears in the West Texas desert. In April, a tiny Buc-ee’s — with no gas pumps, sparkling bathrooms, or Beaver Nuggets — showed up in a remote spot along U.S. Highway 90 about 20 miles east of Marathon. It was reminiscent of the permanent Prada store replica, dating back to 2005, that stands about 25 miles northwest of Marfa. Visit Marathon, Texas announced via social media that the tiny Buc-ee's had been removed

7. 6 Austin hotels check in among country’s best in prestigious U.S. News ranking. Several Austin properties — including the historic Commodore Perry Estate, Auberge Resorts Collection — ranked among the best, according to U.S. News & World Report’s new list of the best hotels in the country. Commodore Perry Estate was named the No. 2 Texas property, the top Texas resort, and the 40th best hotel in the U.S.

Commodore Perry Estate exterior The Commodore Perry Estate is one of the best hotels in the world. Courtesy of Commodore Perry Estate, Auberge Resorts Collection

8. Austin lands first nonstop flight to top Colorado destination this winter. In December, American Airlines started nonstop service between Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and Eagle County Regional Airport in Vail. No other airline offers nonstop service between the two cities.

9. Austin airport flies away with 2 new nonstops to popular summer playgrounds. The seasonal flights were from Austin to John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, California, and Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport in Bozeman, Montana. In addition, American relaunched nonstop service from Austin to Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport, along the Florida Panhandle.

10. Texas' Big Bend named one of the world's must-see destinations for 2023. National Geographic Travel included the vast natural wonder in its recent Best of the World 2023 list. The annual list rounds up 25 global destinations "under the radar, ahead of the curve, and ready for you to start exploring," according to the article. National Geographic editors framed the list within five categories: Community, Nature, Culture, Family, and Adventure.

Photo courtesy of Fly2Houston.com

Southwest cancels hundreds of flights at Austin airport, grounding holiday travelers

Fight or flight

The aftermath from a massive winter storm caused nationwide chaos for travelers trying to catch a flight on the day after Christmas, especially those booked on Southwest Airlines.

As of 9 pm Central on Monday, December 26, more than 3,900 flights within, into, or out of the United States have been canceled, according to the tracking site FlightAware.

Southwest Airlines accounted for the vast majority of those canceled flights and eventually apologized to passengers and employees for the "unacceptable" situation. In many cases, stranded passengers were told it would be at least three or four days before they could be rebooked on another Southwest flight.

FlightAware said Southwest had 2,902 cancellations Monday — about 71 percent of its scheduled flights for the day and 10 times as many as any other major U.S. carrier. More than 100 Southwest flights from Austin were canceled both Monday and Tuesday, according to Flight Aware.

For comparison, Delta Airlines had the second-most cancellations Monday for a U.S. carrier with around 268, about 9 percent of its scheduled flights.

The U.S. Department of Transportation said Monday evening it was "concerned" by the high number of cancellations and reports of lacking customer service. The federal agency said it would be examining whether the "cancellations were controllable."

As of late Monday night, Southwest had already canceled 61 percent of its Tuesday flights and 30 percent of Wednesday's flights, according to FlightAware.

Dallas-based Southwest said in an update Monday afternoon that with "consecutive days of extreme winter weather across our network behind us, continuing challenges are impacting our Customers and Employees in a significant way that is unacceptable. And our heartfelt apologies for this are just beginning."

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Read the full story and watch the video at KVUE.com.

Rendering courtesy of Lost Draw

7 things to know in Austin food right now: Johnson City uncorks new tasting room

News You Can Eat

Editor’s note: We get it. It can be difficult to keep up with the fast pace of Austin’s restaurant and bar scene. We have you covered with our regular roundup of essential food news.

Openings

Lost Draw Cellars, part of the acclaimed William Chris Wine Co., opens a new Johnson City tasting room on Thursday, December 8, at 1686 US Highway 290. This is just phase one of a larger expansion; now the tasting room opens, and by late 2023, the rest of the 9,260-square-foot project will be complete. This is a temporarily public tasting room, which will provide a place to sample seasonal Texas-grown wines (with Antonelli cheeses) as more private and public tasting rooms are built. To celebrate, Lost Draw invites visitors to try the first wine made with estate fruit, for free. The tasting room is open all week from 10:30 am to 5 pm, except Saturdays when it is open until 6 pm.

Austin-Bergstrom International Airport is a wonderland of an airport, with amazing food options and a simple one-hour journey from drop-off to the gate. (Don’t tell the TSA I said this.) No restaurant can get me to the airport earlier, so Farmer's Fridge, out of Chicago, could be a game-changer. The vending machine is arriving at AUS this week, stocked with layered salads in jars for $10 or less. These may include items like apple pecan chicken salad, a vegetarian elote salad, or a vegan Thai noodle bowl. Check across from gate 23, between gates 1 and 11, or near the baggage claim carousels to see options.

There’s nothing like a Southern brunch, so of course Maie Day is jumping on the brunch wagon. The new Friday-through-Sunday brunch service is served from 11 am to 3 pm. (Check Maie Day’s Google sidebar for updated hours.) The brunch menu covers pastries, cold bowls, waffles, fries, and substantial mains like steak and eggs, burgers, and Little Ola’s biscuits and gravy. Lots of add-ons keep the menu customizable, but watch out for your wallet.

Other news and notes

Walden Retreats, a Johnson City glamping destination, is launching a new “Supper Club” series on January 28 with the help of Austin Thai restaurant Sway. The multicourse live fire pig roast utilizes ingredients from neighboring farms for a sunset feast including charred oysters and clams, root vegetables, and a heritage pig with chili dips and local lettuce. This is a social event, and visitors are encouraged to chat with each other and Sway chef Randy Magallanez. Presale tickets ($175) available until December 10 on Eventbrite.

Mom’s home, and she’s cooking a Korean ssam-style (wrapped) omakase at Fierce Whiskers. Chef Mia Li, known in Austin for work at Lenoir and Kuneho, is sharing her take on the "food of our mothers” with wontons, whole fish, crispy pork belly, kabocha (winter squash), and kaya (custard with bread). The one-night dinner takes place during two seatings on December 11. Tickets ($115) available on Tock.

There’s no better way to celebrate a birthday than with donuts. The Salty donut shop turned three this week, and is celebrating with two limited edition flavors. The “Funfetti 'Cake Pop’” and the “Devil’s Food ‘Cake Pop’” are filled with their respective cakes, and topped with glaze. The former comes with vanilla frosting and sprinkles, and the latter comes with mascarpone whipped cream. Free delivery on the app and website is available until December 11.

One of the bright sides of being a perpetually un-white Christmas city is that the pool can stay open. The Austin Motel is inviting poolside revelers to their Winter Wanderland until December 26, featuring festive drinks at the pool bar — alcoholic and otherwise — from Thursday through Sunday, and organizing other fun programming to pass the time. That means pictures with “Hunky Santa,” holiday movies, and popup gift shops. Partners are La Colombe Coffee, Chambord, and Old Forrester.

Photo by Tijs van Leur on Unsplash

Austin-based live event subscription service is your ticket to festivals and shows all year

That's the ticket

With all these streaming subscriptions, it’d be nice to get out into the real world now and then. But taking initiative can be challenging, especially when weighing a $20 door cover against a band that just isn’t that high on your list. FestivalPass, an Austin-based service launched earlier this year, simplifies that decision and is positioning itself during the holidays as the perfect gift for active lovers of music, comedy, and more.

FestivalPass calls itself the “world’s first live events subscription service,” and a Google search using the phrase proves how rare the concept is. The cutting-edge idea provides access to more than 80,000 events and 600,000 hotels across the globe via a points system. Points must be budgeted, but the platform provides the nudge to get out there for those who want to commit, plus deals and no added fees. (There’s no gift like freedom from Ticketmaster.)

Events stretch from the Capital City to New York City, Las Vegas, and abroad. They are divided into music, theater, comedy, film, sports, and “other,” covering everything from routine games to poetry readings. And these are not bargain bin events — one of the service’s biggest pulls is Austin City Limits Music Festival day and weekend passes.

Members might see music by Modest Mouse or Herb Alpert, storytelling by The Moth or Rupi Kaur, comedy by Kevin Hart, and classic annual events like the Radio City Christmas Spectacular. Just one Friday in Austin this December shows nine separate events, including classical bluegrass virtuosos Bela Fleck and Punch Brothers at the Paramount Theatre, and Ballet Austin’s The Nutcracker at the Long Center for Performing Arts.

In addition to discounts, the monthly credits system makes for great discovery opportunities. It's analogous to platforms like ClassPass that encourage members to try new gyms and sports at no risk simply to clear credits, except that FestivalPass points don’t expire. The system makes recommendations — which are trustworthy, if the above lineup is any indication — and sometimes provides early access to partner events.

“This is a unique opportunity to gift your special someone (or yourself) a year of unforgettable live event experiences,” says founder Ed Vincent in a release. “Your loved one gets to choose what events they want to go to and will think of you while they are creating unforgettable memories.”

Annual passes come in three tiers, from the $210 Gold Pass to the $1,080 Founders Pass, and subscribers get up to 1,080 credits to redeem for tickets on the platform, according to a release. Memberships can be purchased online at festivalpass.com.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Renowned neighborhood for unhoused Austinites to expand by 1400 homes

LOVE THY NEIGHBOR

A 24-year-old Austin nonprofit serving the city’s unhoused community has announced an expansion of a master-planned neighborhood designed for individuals coming out of chronic homelessness.

Mobile Loaves & Fishes (MLF) was founded in Austin in 1998 and started the largest prepared feeding program for the homeless in Central Texas. They developed Community First! Village in northeast Travis County in 2015 to provide permanent housing and a supportive environment to the city’s homeless community.

Currently, the Village houses over 350 formerly homeless men and women on 51 acres of land. The first phase of the neighborhood features 100 RV/park homes and 130 micro-homes, while phase two brought the total property to over 500 homes. The expansion plan for the next two phases was first announced in April 2021.

Home designs for phases three and four of the Village are a collaboration between MLF and several Austin architecture firms, including Mark Odom Studio, which has worked alongside MLF to refine the site layout.

The 700 micro-homes for each new phase will range between 144 to 200 square feet with six custom floor plans. Five layouts will be single-floor, and one layout will have two floors. Each micro-home prototype will have a porch and is expected to “reflect and accommodate the different personality types of its inhabitants,” according to a press release.

“Mobile Loaves & Fishes has created something truly special at the Community First! Village. Everyone we worked with, from directors to neighbors, brought so much knowledge and experience to the table,” says Paul Holmes, project manager at Mark Odom Studio in the release. “We’re excited to see the community they built come to completion with phases three and four.”

MLF’s site design concept for the Village is known as the 14 “Neighborhoods of Knowingness,” where each “neighborhood” is a cluster of homes centered around shared common buildings, including outdoor kitchens, laundry areas, restrooms, and shower facilities. This was designed specifically for neighbors to get to know one another and develop a sense of community.

Infrastructure work on the 127-acre neighborhood expansion is expected to begin in early 2023, with move-ins projected for 2025. Once the neighborhood is fully developed, Community First! Village will have 1900 homes on 178 acres.

Here are the top 5 things to do in Austin this weekend

Weekend Event Guide

Live performances in Austin are aplenty in the days to come. From sketch comedy shows to classic fairytales marked by a glass slipper, the stage is set for top tier entertainment with a local twist. Check out the top five things to do in Austin this weekend. For a full listing of events, go to our calendar.

Thursday, January 26

ZACH Theatre presents Cinderella
Rogers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella takes new, dual-language life at ZACH Theatre. This special production of the Tony-nominated musical fairytale will be performed simultaneously in English and American Sign Language for audiences to enjoy. Familiar favorites like “In My Own Little Corner” and “Impossible” are certain to entertain and delight fans old and new. Followed by the opening weekend, shows are scheduled through March 5. For more information, visit the ZACH Theatre website.

The Latino Comedy Project: Gentrif*cked
Equal parts comedy and poignant social commentary come to life on stage at the George Washington Carver Museum. Emmy-nominated sketch troupe The Latino Comedy Project delves into the gentrification pandemic happening in Austin and nationwide with a mix of music, live sketches, and original videos. Tickets are available for purchase here.

Friday, January 27

Ginuwine in concert
R&B superstar Ginuwine brings his signature serenades to Austin for one evening only. Since his rise to fame in the 1990s, he’s released seven albums in his career and is the voice behind hit songs like “Pony” and “In Those Jeans.” For tickets to the ACL Live & 3TEN at ACL Live show, click here.

Saturday, January 28

Austin Opera presents Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street
The Long Center for the Performing Arts welcomes the darkly comedic story of Sweeney Todd to its stage for a three-night-only run, beginning this weekend. Follow Todd and his murderous quest for revenge as he returns to London after being wrongly exiled and stripped of his family. A select number of tickets for all performances are still available.

The Little Gay Shop and Eastside Pop-Up present Queer Flea
Pick up your new favorite wares and support local LGBTQ+ makers at The Little Gay Shop this weekend only. The shop and Eastside Pop Up join forces to offer the community a market featuring more than 40 vendors, food, coffee, vinyl records shopping, and more. For a list of participating vendors and to get tickets, go to the event website. Admission is free and open to the public.

Courtesy photo

Austin Opera presents Sweeney Todd.

6 Austin restaurants score coveted James Beard Award nominations

2023 James Beard semifinalists

The James Beard Foundation has revealed the semifinalists for its 2023 Restaurant and Chef Awards. Six Austin restaurants have been included in both national categories and the coveted title of Best Chef: Texas.

Considered the Oscars of the food world, the awards recognize outstanding chefs and other culinary professionals in a wide range of categories ranging from Outstanding Chef to Best New Restaurant. The awards also include media categories that will be announced at a later date.

Austin restaurants and bars are well represented among both the national and regional awards. Overall, the city earned three national nominations and three nominations for Best Chef: Texas. Perhaps one of them will follow Austin chefs Edgar Rico, Iliana de la Vega, and Jesse Griffiths, who took home James Beard Awards in 2022.

They are:

Outstanding Restaurant: La Condesa
Outstanding Pastry Chef or Baker: Mariela Camacho, Comadre Panadería
Outstanding Wine and Other Beverages Program: Suerte

Best Chef: Texas nominees

Photo by Julie M. Neis

Tavel Bristol-Joseph earned a nomination in the Best Chef: Texas category.

  • Tavel Bristol-Joseph, Canje
  • Damien Brockway, Distant Relatives
  • Kareem El-Ghayesh, KG BBQ

Elsewhere, Houston and Dallas both boast 10 nominees, San Antonio has seven, and Fort Worth has two.

As with last year, the nominees include a wide range of barbecue pitmasters. Austin’s KG BBQ and Distant Relatives are joined by the pitmasters at five other restaurants. Building on Austin chef Iliana de la Vega’s Best Chef: Texas win last year, several chefs who serve Mexican cuisine received semifinalist nominations.

Finalists will be announced on Wednesday, March 29. The Foundation will reveal its winners at an awards ceremony on Monday, June 5, 2023, at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.