8:27am

Tue May 22, 2012
Reporter's Notebook

Highest Observatory In Colorado, U.S. Damaged By Wind

Perched at 14,148 feet near the summit of Mt. Evans is the Meyer-Womble Observatory. In terms of optical observatories, it has the 3rd highest vantage point to the stars in the world. That vantage also exposes it to the winds.

A recent Denver Post headline “Wind Damages Observatory on Mount Evans” brought back memories of doing a 2008 radio story on the observatory for KUNC’s Colorado Places series.

According to the Post “the observatory dome was shredded by powerful winds” and a 700-pound door had been torn off of the building.

Having been there myself, I can attest to the winds at 14,000 feet.

In fact, it was so windy during my visit that the wind itself became a central character.

Since the road to the top of Mount Evans is still closed – it’s too early to tell if the twin telescopes housed inside the dome have been damaged after being exposed to the elements. Robert Stencel is observatory director for the University of Denver which owns the facility. He says they knew something was wrong when strange shadows appeared on a video feed from a webcam inside the observatory.

The DU Clarion reports that repairs will begin in the summer:

“So far, it appears telescope damage was slight and superficial, but more time is needed for a full examination,” said Stencel.

He and his students first realized something was wrong when they noticed odd shadows in the view of a remote camera set up inside the building. They also began to see pictures taken by hikers that showed the collapsed dome from a distance.

Stencel hired mountain climber Adam Jones to hike to the site and investigate during the winter.

The damage that climber Adam Jones documented was captured on video that was given to Wired.com. The first thing you notice? The wind:

Video: Adam Jones courtesy of The University of Denver via Wired.com

Here’s Stencel describing the telescopes to me in 2008.

I did get to see Saturn on that trip. But it’s unclear if those views will continue. The climber wrapped the telescopes in water proof tarps. The road to the top of Mt. Evans won’t open for a few more days, typically around Memorial Day, so Stencel and his team still are still waiting for their first opportunity witness first hand just how bad the damage is.

Editor's Note: You can listen to the whole Mount Evans feature from 2008 below: