North Texas

UNT Astronomy Center Closed After High Winds Destroy Observatory

The University of North Texas astronomy department is cleaning up after Wednesday's storms caused nearly a quarter million dollars in damage to the Rafes Urban Astronomy Center.

Laboratory Director Ron "Starman" Diiulio said he had gone out to the facility in Ponder Thursday to prepare for an open house this weekend, a star watching party where they expected a large crowd. Instead, he found the roofs ripped off three telescope huts, exposing everything inside to the rain and elements.

"The more we looked the more we realized there was more damage than we thought initially," said Diiulio.

The National Weather Service recorded straight line winds with gusts up to 74 mph nearby at Denton's Airport, which is equivalent to the strength of an EF-0 tornado.

At Rafes, it was strong enough to knock 170 lbs wenches to the ground meant to help secure the 700 pound roofs that were tossed into a nearby field as though they were cardboard.

In total, ten telescopes were ruined by rain. Diiulio said it's too soon to know whether it's more cost effective to repair or replace the Celestron C8 and C14s, valued between $15,000 and $20,000 each.

In the meantime, they'll revert to using older technology though he hopes it won't mean a loss in momentum for a program he's helped grow from 300 students to more than 3,000 students and visitors each year.

For now, all scheduled activities at the center have been canceled.

For the summer semester, Diiulio will create alternate astronomy laboratory activities for students and visitors.

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