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Astronomy center damaged by last week’s storms

Astronomy center damaged by last week’s storms

Astronomy center damaged by last week’s storms
April 24
02:46 2019

Storms on April 17 caused what could be hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages to three custom telescope sheds and 10 telescopes at UNT’s Rafes Urban Astronomy Center. Any events such as star parties hosted by the venue have been canceled, while new plans are being made to accommodate summer classes.

“[The telescopes] had been replaced and updated two years ago,” Astronomy Laboratory Director Ron Dilulio said. “Those telescopes and the computer tracking system that were designed for them were exposed to extreme moisture that literally got inside of the computer cases and inside of the optics of the sealed tubes and which [we] would consider those items as totaled.”

Dilulio said the telescopes damaged in the storm average around $17,000 when purchasing them outright and since the buildings that were damaged are custom built, “you could be looking at a couple hundred thousand dollars [in] damage here.”

“All three of our telescope sheds that each have four telescopes in them, all three of the roofs — which weigh almost 2,000 pounds of steel bracing — were lifted off of the buildings and thrown, in one case clear into another field,” Dilulio said. “So all three of them were pulled off of the hinges that were steel welded and removed those, and lifted up high in the air and sent off into the neighbor’s pastures.”

Dilulio, who came to UNT 20 years ago, said the buildings damaged were made with steel framing and thinks that past weather events since coming to the university “were probably higher straight line wind than we even had this past week.”

“However, this time the damage was so localized, just to those buildings, and there was so much powerful, spinning destruction and things laying all over that we have determined we were looking at a small tornado touched down for a while,” he said.

Planetarium and Astronomy Program Director Ron Dilulio walks through the complex assessing the damages from last Wednesday’s storm. Courtesy Planetarium and Astronomy Program.

Dilulio said the damage was so localized that the classroom buildings 40 feet away were untouched and that there is no timeline for the telescope sheds to be repaired.

“It’s going to require a new architect to design each of the new buildings since they have retractable roofs on them,” he said. “So those have to be identified, designed and then constructed. We don’t have a timeline for that. We do, however, have a timeline for summer classes.”

With summer classes coming up, Dilulio said they have made it their first priority “to develop a great, little astronomy laboratory program.”

“We’ve already identified what we were going to need to do and activities that we’ll give them and experience that is good, at least to what we’ve had, if not maybe even better,” he said. “We’re working on that. We’re very comfortable that we’re going to be able to do that.”

Dilulio said the preparation for summer classes is his primary task, leaving repairs up to [UNT] facilities and the insurance company.

“We’re making sure that our kids, our students, have the best labs that they can have,” he said.

In terms of activities being planned, Dilulio said they have already reached out to manufacturers to speed up the construction of 10 portable telescopes.

“We’ve got that in place and we’re just now moving on getting that done so that their outdoor activities are definitely covered,” he said. “And we’ll have those lab experiments and things they can still do.”

Flower Mound resident and IT recruiter Christina Allen, 47, and her 14-year-old son Ethan, have attended several star parties.

“I absolutely love them because we get to work with professional equipment and see some really, honestly, interesting events,” Ethan said.

Christina said her son is “incredibly interested in astrophysics and he is interested in becoming an astrophysicist.”

“[We’re] absolutely devastated for the staff, obviously, and for the public who likes to attend,” she said. “It’s such a terrible loss because there aren’t many programs that allow access for the public as easily and so it’s obviously a huge loss to the community.”

Ethan said that while they may look for similar events elsewhere, “we’re going to keep supporting it and if there’s any way we can help, we’re definitely going to look for it.”

“It’s a really good bonding experience for families to come [and] to get out of the typical TV and video and online gaming and such,” Christina said. “It’s a really good educational and bonding experience for families so it’s great to have that in the community.”

Featured Image: Planetarium and Astronomy Program Director Ron Dilulio examines equipment in a damaged building following last Wednesday’s storm. Courtesy Planetarium and Astronomy Program.

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Lizzy Spangler

Lizzy Spangler

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