University to open astronomy center in North Central Texas region

Thursday, March 23, 2006

The North Central Texas region's newest site for stargazing is rising up from roughly two acres of land west of the municipal airport in Denton. The University of North Texas' Rafes Urban Astronomy Center will house the lab portion of the university's astronomy program, which is the largest non-science major program of its kind in the nation.

Ron DiIulio, planetarium and astronomy lab director at UNT, and a NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory Solar System Ambassador., says that when the center is finished, "there will not be a facility or program like it in Texas."

The land for the center was donated by Richard Rafes, vice president of administrative affairs at UNT. Previously, labs were conducted at an old Nike missile base site north of Denton, but light pollution from nearby new developments caused problems.

DiIulio says the program's existing Unitron telescope dome will be moved to the site, and it will be converted to a solar telescope. A second domed telescope, donated by a NASA scientist, will be installed later this spring. Two circular concrete foundations have been poured for both structures.

The center currently has one classroom building and three telescope "huts" where four people at a time will be able to view the sky. Plans are in the works to build a fourth telescope hut and an open-air amphitheater. DiIulio says the amphitheater could be used by businesses for meetings or parties.

"If we can get businesses to help us with this, the public can see what their money is paying for," DiIulio says. "Groups can rent out the property for star parties and the like, and there will be opportunities for corporate sponsorship."

With no parking facilities, the center will be served by a shuttle bus from the UNT campus. Future plans include the addition of a parking area and a Challenger Center to house astronomy displays.

UNT News Service Phone Number: (940) 565-2108

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