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Skywatchers view starry night at Jordan Lake

The Morehead Planetarium hosts a star gazing session open to the public once a month at Jordan Lake.
The Morehead Planetarium hosts a star gazing session open to the public once a month at Jordan Lake.

Amateur astronomers, families and students gathered at the Ebenezer Church Recreation Area at Jordan Lake Saturday night for a skywatching session hosted by Morehead Planetarium and Science Center.

The Morehead Planetarium opened to the public in 1949 as the first planetarium in the southern United States. 

Amy Sayle, an educator at the Morehead Planetarium, said the planetarium hosts a skywatching session almost every month and has been doing so for many years. 

The skywatching sessions are co-sponsored by the Morehead Planetarium and Jordan Lake, a state park in Apex. 

“I can’t give you the starting date because nobody knows anymore, but it’s decades that we’ve been out here,” Sayle said.

The skywatching session lasted two hours, and people of all ages and astronomy backgrounds were able to look through telescopes provided by the Morehead Planetarium, Chapel Hill Astronomical and Observational Society and Raleigh Astronomy Club to see stars, nebulae and galaxies. 

“We typically attract two or three hundred or more each time,” Sayle said. 

“In terms of who comes, it’s everybody. It’s all ages and you’ll hear multiple languages spoken.”

Students from UNC’s BeAM Makerspace debuted their handmade telescope decorated to look like Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” 

“It’s the first time the telescope’s been here, displaying the beautiful ‘Starry Night,’” Jewell Brey, an organizer of the build said. “The original idea was way less cool, so they came up with the idea to paint it like that.” 

The telescope build, led by about 16 students, took place during fall semester over four building sessions on Monday nights.

Frank Westmoreland, an amateur astronomer with the Raleigh Astronomy Club, said he has been participating in the skywatching sessions for more than 12 years. 

Westmoreland has been interested in astronomy since the third grade and had set up indoor observing models of the moon and photos of Pluto from the New Horizon Space Craft for people attending the event to observe.

“Actually it goes all the way back to the third grade, but it didn’t really pick up until the late 1990s up at Pilot Mountain during a solar observation,” Westmoreland said.

Elizabeth Martinez, a part-time employee of Morehead Planetarium, said she enjoys working the skywatching sessions. Martinez has worked for the planetarium since she transferred to UNC as a junior in 2012. 

“I just like to do this on the weekends because it’s just too fun,” Martinez said. “Next month we are going to have a meteor shower.” 

The next skywatching session will take place on Feb. 13 at 7 p.m.


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