Morehead Planetarium and Science Center
If it’s a stellar experience you seek, a visit to The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is required. Here, among the rolling hills of our Piedmont is where you’ll find the best inside view of the outside at the star filled skies of Morehead Planetarium.
Stargazing has been a favorite pastime since the days of early man, and those twinkling gems hanging in the black blanket of the sky still hold mysteries longing to be discovered. Flickering and winking in a multitude of colors, these luminous celestial bodies vary in size from a thousand times larger than the Sun to as small as the Earth.
Five major planetaria existed in big cities (like New York and Chicago) throughout the US in the early 1900s. In comparison, the small southern college town of Chapel Hill seemed an unusual place for a planetarium; but UNC alumnus John Motley Morehead III wanted to give his alma mater a gift that reflected the arts as well as the sciences.
Both a planetarium and an observatory, Morehead Planetarium features Star Theater shows, classes, exhibits, a massive outdoor sundial, rose garden and public information. The art collection on display in its galleries and its lavish rooms for official university receptions keep with the blended theme Morehead intended.
Since 1949, the 68-foot, domed Star Theater has served as a giant classroom for students, teachers, school groups, senior citizens, youth groups and the general public. Today, with computer automation added in 1984, the theater boasts well over one hundred separate slide projectors and special effects. Add in the precision and accuracy that this equipment allows and visitors are provided a clearer, more accurate replication for their indoor stargazing experience – a practically precise view of the skies as they appear outside.
Automated shows don’t allow for audience interaction. To ensure that visitors receive a guide to the current night sky, the planetarium offers more intimate live star shows, presented weekly. The star theater also offers classes for students of all ages, as well as free observation sessions at nearby dark sites.
The observatory, added in 1975, houses a 24" Schmitt-Cassegrain telescope which magnifies the night sky to bring stars into view. Stars are constantly being born and dying. Despite the difficulty of real research due to the lights of downtown Chapel Hill, the observatory still serves as a valuable learning tool for astronomy students. The telescope is also available to public schools in North Carolina by remote control over the Internet. Guests are welcome to the observatory with reservations.
Morehead Planetarium became a small but important part of NASA's race to the moon in 1959. As a training center for celestial navigation, its simulated sky hosted astronauts from the Gemini, Mercury and Apollo missions. Through simulators designed to mimic the view from a spacecraft, this training saved lives on a number of occasions when onboard instruments failed. Two such events occurred during the final Mercury flight and on Apollo 12–struck by lightning twice during liftoff.
You can take part in celebrations of science, education and fun with events like Galaxy Fest and Jazz Under the Stars. Avid astronomy buffs are encouraged to join Morehead's membership program and receive the quarterly newsletter with articles on astronomy and space science, as well as information on observing sessions, classes and news about the planetarium.
True to its founder’s intentions, art and science collide in a heavenly union at Morehead Planetarium. Though the technology has changed over the years, the mission remains the same to provide people with a friendly and informative introduction to the universe.
Plan a visit today and experience the planetarium skies.
added: December 30, 2008
updated: January 2, 2009
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