The Daily Tar Heel

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Thursday May 26th

Pit Talk

UNC Bucket List #24: See a star show at the Morehead Planetarium

Staff Writer Jada Harkins Andrews went to Morehead Planetarium to see a star show as part of the UNC Bucket List. She documented her experience here.  

The Morehead Planetarium: most UNC students walk in its vicinity on a daily basis, but who actually takes time out of their busy schedule to see what’s inside? 

Well, on Saturday, I did just that.

For the very first time, I walked into the main entrance, which lead me into the gift shop. There, a gentleman welcomed me to the planetarium and asked if there was anything that he could help me with. I told him that I was seeing the show called Carolina Skies. He led me to the register and sold me a ticket for $7, which, by the way, is discounted for students, (even more reason to go). 

The show started at 2:30 p.m. I showed up around 2:10 p.m., so the man told me to feel free to walk around the surrounding gift shop until the show began. I began to circle around the store and, of course, my inner child emerged. I was amazed at all of the trinkets, physics toys and astronomical games.

In case you are wondering, yes, I did buy something — a quirky little color-mixing trinket that now resides on my desk.

With the doors still not open, I continued to circle around, this time people-watching. Most of the people were parents there with their children. I felt almost embarrassed being the only person of my age group present. Later, a number of adult couples came in and bought tickets. (So, quick side note, I definitely enjoyed it by myself, but I bet it would be so much more fun to experience it with a partner or group.)

Eventually the doors opened up, and I was the first person to enter the theater. The seats were inclined backwards so that I could easily see the projections up in the dome.

Before the show began, there were trivia questions projected onto the ceiling the dome. For example, did you know that the Morehead Planetarium is the sixth oldest in the United States and that Neil Armstrong was one of the 62 astronauts that trained there before space travel? Yeah, I didn’t either.

Finally, our presenter made himself known by welcoming us. He introduced himself as Nick and explained the rules of the theater. At this point, I was still unaware of what to expect and waiting for an explanation of how this show was different from any other planetarium show that I had seen in the past.

Nick explained that Carolina Skies was a show that used the live skies in Chapel Hill. I know what you’re thinking: How do you stargaze at 2:30 in the afternoon? I wondered the same. It turns out that they accelerate time and the projection will depict what the sky is expected to look like at that time of the day or night.

We began with the current time, accelerating through the sunset and into the night. We watched spotted consolations and learned the stories behind them, traveled all the way throughout the Milky Way, and even ventured out to the galaxies beyond ours, unknown to my prior knowledge.

We learned why Pluto is no longer exactly a planet anymore and assessed the size of the Earth compared to the entirety of the Universe. We debated the controversy on black holes and the speed of light. We even saw the effect of light pollution within Chapel Hill and how the visibility of the stars is affected.

Don’t be fooled — this show was nothing like a class lecture. 

It was completely interactive and if you think you’re too old for that, you’re not. Nick even informed us that no one could be more embarrassed than him as he was required to make the interactive rocket ship noises into a microphone.

We ended up back in Chapel Hill at about 4:00 a.m. Nick ended our “trip” with dates and times for actual stargazing sites that the planetarium was hosting in the near future and, by the end of the show, it was actually something I was interested in.

Now that you are aware of what is happening down at The Morehead Planetarium, I highly encourage you to take an hour out of your day, grab a friend or significant other or sibling or a random person on Franklin Street, and go see an incredibly realistic showing of the Carolina Skies. I am definitely glad that I can check it off of my own bucket list.

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