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Planetarium too good to waste

Last week’s lunar eclipse may have occurred well before daybreak, but it helped spotlight a unique Denton asset that is virtually unknown by many area residents.

That’s unfortunate because the Rafes Urban Astronomy Center at the University of North Texas — which hosted an eclipse-watching event Wednesday — boasts a collection of state-of-the-art telescopes and other equipment that staff members enthusiastically share with the public.

“We have an excellent facility and we want our community to take advantage of it,” said Ron DiIulio, UNT planetarium and astronomy program director. He added that the center has an open house monthly and hosts private parties for Scouts and other groups.

UNT teamed up with the Perot Museum of Nature and Science in Dallas to offer Wednesday’s viewing of the moon gradually turning a rusty red color.

The hour may have been early — the event was held from 3 to 6 a.m. — but that didn’t stop a pretty good crowd of area residents from accepting the center’s invitation. DiIulio said about 150 people came to the center to view the lunar eclipse and many stayed for the entire event.

By watching at the center instead of at home, viewers had access to telescopes and professionals who made the eclipse more engaging, more of an event, DiIulio said.

“In this day and time, it’s so easy to just go on the computer and get something off the Internet,” he said. “Coming out and doing something like this becomes an adventure. Part of the adventure is going somewhere, going outside, going somewhere you’ve never been in the dark and the middle of nowhere and you get to come discover something. That’s really what science is all about.”

Randall Peters, the UNT planetarium manager, said a lot of families with young children came to watch the event, and it was the first time many of the kids had seen a rusty moon.

“The kids were all hyped up — I thought the parents would have to drag them up at the crack of dawn,” he said.

The Rafes Urban Astronomy Center is located at 2350 Tom Cole Road in Denton, which is a little out of the way, but well worth the trip.

Each open house — one is held on the first Saturday of every month — starts at sundown and features an activity that designed to intrigue and educate, DiIulio said.

Visitors should arrive prepared to be surprised.

“There’s not enough adventure anymore,” DiIulio said. “Everything is so organized that you know ahead of time what’s going to happen.”

We hope that many of those who attended the eclipse-watching event at UNT’s Rafes Urban Astronomy Center will become regular visitors, and we encourage other area residents to check out upcoming events at the center. More information about UNT Astronomy can be found online at http://astronomy.unt.edu.

The center is too great an asset to be wasted, and it’s just the ticket for area families who want to replace TV and Internet images with true out-of-this-world adventure.