On June 5, 2012, Venus will look like a black dot that slowly moves across the Sun.

Thanks to the gloomy weather forecast, we have canceled the skywatching session scheduled at Jordan Lake for Saturday, April 21, 2012. Our next Jordan Lake skywatching session is set for Saturday, June 23 (again, weather permitting).

In the meantime, please mark your calendars for a big event on June 5. Venus will cross in front of (“transit”) the Sun—the last chance of our lifetimes to see a Transit of Venus!

From 5:30-8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 5, 2012, we’ll celebrate this rare astronomical event at the Morehead Planetarium building with hands-on educational activities, safe solar viewing, tours of Morehead Observatory, live mini-shows in the planetarium dome, and science talks. FREE. And this event happens rain or shine (we’ll watch the transit via internet if we have to). Please make plans to join us!

The next transit of Venus doesn’t happen until December 11, 2117.

March 6, 2012, 45 minutes after sunset

March 6, 2012, 45 minutes after sunset

Have you noticed those two bright “stars” forming a striking pair in the early evening western sky? They’re actually planets—Venus and Jupiter. They are so bright that you can spot them easily soon after sunset, before the sky is completely dark. Venus is the brighter of the two and currently lies to the lower right of Jupiter.

Over the next week watch Venus and Jupiter appear to creep closer and pass each other. Expect a particularly spectacular pairing the nights of March 12-14, 2012, when these two planets are at their closest all month (3° apart, or just a bit more than the width of your thumb when held at arm’s length).

March 12, 2012, 45 minutes after sunset

March 12, 2012, 45 minutes after sunset

Although Venus and Jupiter are the most noticeable planets right now, they have company. Currently, Mercury also appears in the west, but will be trickier to spot. If you can find a good western horizon (no trees or buildings), you may catch this elusive planet as it sets in the evening twilight. About 45 minutes after sunset, try looking for Mercury far below and a little to the right of Venus. Although the last several days or so have been the best time this year for seeing Mercury in the evening, don’t wait any longer—Mercury’s light fades rapidly over the next week.

Turn around and look to the east for a bonus. By sunset, Mars has already risen in the east, in the direction of the constellation Leo. Currently, Saturn rises in the east about three hours after sunset, in the constellation Virgo. By the end of this month Saturn will rise just an hour after sunset.

To learn more about the planets and stars visible this spring, please join us for one of Morehead’s “Spring Skies” programs. The program designed for adults (interested teens are welcome) happens Wednesday evening, March 21, 2012. The version designed for families with children ages 7-12 is Saturday morning, April 14, 2012.

On Saturday, March 24, the crescent Moon joins Venus and Jupiter in the same part of the sky—a lovely sight! From 8-10 p.m. that evening, Morehead will host a free skywatching session at Jordan Lake (weather permitting).

05 Mar 2012

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By Stephanie Baber

It’s that time of year again — time to choose summer camp experiences for your children. And if you work in the Research Triangle Park, you have a new summer camp option for your children of RTP workers.

Morehead Planetarium and Science Center is expanding its popular science camps to a new RTP site at Kestrel Heights Charter School. Morehead Summer Science Camps provide a fun and educational way for children to spend their summer, with hands-on learning activities, science-themed crafts and outdoor recreation.

The new RTP site is conveniently located near the intersection of N.C. 54 and N.C. 55, perfect for busy parents who work in Research Triangle Park. Morehead offers one-week, full-day sessions from July 9 through Aug. 3, with drop-off beginning as early as 7:45 a.m. and pick-up continuing through 5:30 p.m.

Each camp session pairs a morning theme with a afternoon theme:

  • Grades K-1

    “Dinosaur Detectives” and “Magic Tree House Explorers”

    “Aquatic Addresses” and “Bodies in Motion”
  • Grades 2-3

    “Cricket Coding” and “Me and My Shadow”

    “Secret Formulas” and “Magic Tree House Researchers”
  • Grades 4-5

    “Fizz! Bang! Boom!” and “Test Pilots”

    “LEGO Lab” and “Sky Searchers”
  • Grades 6-8

    “Rocket Science” and “Moon, Mars and Beyond”

    “Astronomical Wonders” and “LEGO” Lab Challenge”

Morehead Summer Science Camps present science to kids in new and exciting ways. Camp curricula are developed by science educators at Morehead and presented by camp counselors who are science and education majors at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Registration for these camps is open now through Morehead’s website. And if you’re a Morehead member, you’re eligible for a $30 discount on each camp session.

And if you don’t work in RTP? Morehead still offers a full summer of its “kid-tested, parent-approved” one-week, half-day camps at its original site on the UNC campus.

Stephanie Baber is a junior in UNC's School of Journalism and Mass Communications and a public relations intern with Morehead's marketing department.

You can wave hello to these 6 people on the International Space Station, as they pass overhead tonight at about 17,000 miles per hour. (Credit: NASA TV)

You can watch the International Space Station pass over tonight. And unlike this morning’s Quadrantid meteor shower, which required finding a dark location in the freezing early morning cold, this skywatching opportunity requires only that you step outside wherever you are* for a few minutes before 6 p.m. tonight (Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012).

Viewing tips:

  • The ISS will look like a VERY bright star that is noticeably moving. It will be easily visible even though the sky won’t be completely dark yet.
  • Head outside by 5:54 p.m. and start looking toward the northwest sky. Don’t worry if you don’t notice the ISS right away. Recruit your friends, family, neighbors, or nearby friendly pedestrians to help look and increase everyone’s chances of seeing it. If all else fails, keep your eyes on the Moon—the ISS will appear to go just past it at 5:58-ish.
  • Between 5:54 and 6:00 p.m., the ISS will appear to move from northwest to southeast. At 5:57 p.m. it reaches its highest point above the horizon, in the northeast, not terribly far from the top of the sky.

*If you’re reading this from outside central North Carolina, see NASA’s spacecraft sighting opportunities website for better predictions of when and where to look.

What not to mistake the space station for:

  • A planet. (Venus and Jupiter are prominent in the current evening sky. Like the ISS, these planets are very bright. However, they will not noticeably move over a few minutes.)
  • An airplane. (The ISS does not have red or green blinking lights.)
  • A meteor, aka “shooting star.” (Meteors appear to streak through the sky quickly, whereas the ISS will take minutes to pass over.)

Tonight’s ISS pass is predicted to be the best (highest, brightest) for us in the early evening for the time being. But if you miss it, the next couple of weeks bring more chances. Check Heavens-Above or NASA’s spacecraft sighting opportunities website. For both sites, begin by indicating your observing location.

And please join Morehead for our next skywatching session, weather permitting, at Ebenezer Church Recreation Area at Jordan Lake on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2012, from 6 to 8 p.m. Although the space station isn’t predicted to make a visible pass then, we will see the Moon, Venus, Jupiter, and other celestial sights.

Amy Sayle plans to step outside tonight to wave hello to the crew members of Expedition 30 on the ISS.

Are you considering buying a telescope?  Check out these resources so that your new telescope is right for you (or the person you’re giving it to), and won’t end up collecting dust in the garage:

  • Advice from the Chapel Hill Astronomical and Observational Society: On the CHAOS home page, look for the “Starting Right” link. This article by Jon Stewart-Taylor explains why unaided-eye observing is the way to start an astronomy hobby, explores why binoculars are a good next step, and provides tips for choosing a telescope that meets your needs, as well as advice on what NOT to buy.
  • Advice over email: Additionally, CHAOS and RAC are collaborating on an advice service for people who are considering buying a telescope. You can email your questions to help@chaosastro.com.

To see a variety of telescopes in action, please join Morehead for our monthly skywatching sessions at Jordan Lake (Ebenezer Church Recreation Area). Members of CHAOS and RAC help Morehead educators present these free, informal sessions for the public. Our next skywatching session (weather permitting) is Saturday, January 28, from 6-8 p.m.

You can also jumpstart your astronomy hobby by learning what’s up in the winter skies. On Wednesday evening, December 21, we’ll have “Starry Nights: Winter Skies,” a 90-minute class for adults and teens. A version designed for families with children ages 7-12 – “Star Families: Winter Skies” – will be offered Saturday, January 28, from 9:30-10:15 a.m. Please register in advance at our website, or call (919) 962-1236 for more information.

After shivering through the December skywatching session, Amy Sayle is looking forward to teaching "Starry Nights: Winter Skies" under the climate-controlled planetarium sky.

This photograph of the International Space Station was taken from the space shuttle Discovery after the two spacecraft undocked on March 7, 2011. (Credit: NASA)

Pretty much everyone in the Eastern part of the U.S. who has clear skies can get a view of the International Space Station (ISS) tonight (Monday, October 17, 2011). To see it, be outside by 7:16 p.m.

Over the following six minutes the ISS’s orbit around Earth takes it over the East Coast. For our area, the space station is predicted to first appear between 7:16 and 7:17 p.m. low in the southwest. It will pass almost directly overhead at 7:19 p.m., and finally disappear low in the northeast at 7:22 p.m.

Look for a very bright white “star” that is noticeably moving. And wave hello to the three people currently onboard.

If you don’t notice the ISS in the first couple of minutes, don’t give up. You can increase your chances of spotting it by inviting friends to help scan the sky with you. You might also practice “ambush astronomy” and introduce nearby friendly pedestrians to one of the coolest things to see in the sky.

Although the space station orbits our planet about every 90 minutes, you won’t see every pass. According to predictions on Heavens-Above and NASA’s satellite sightings page, tonight’s ISS pass should be the easiest one to see from this area for the rest of October.

If you miss the real thing, you can see a simulated ISS pass by attending Morehead's Carolina Skies planetarium program. Just ask your presenter before the show.

Have you explored the Rotunda of Morehead Planetarium and Science Center? It’s on the west end, adjacent to the Science Stage, and you enter through the UNC Visitors Center. The Rotunda showcases one of John Motley Morehead III’s gifts to UNC, a memorial to his wife: the Genevieve Margaret Birkhead Morehead Art Gallery.

The gallery features 11 portraits, mostly by 17th- and 18th century artists. Of these, perhaps the portrait of Liesbeth van Rijn is most famous — not because of what it is, but because of what it isn’t.

Portrait of Leisbeth van Rijn

Liesbeth van Rijn

Liesbeth (or Lijsbeth, following the Dutch spelling) van Rijn was a sister and a favorite model of master painter Rembrandt van Rijn. For hundreds of years, the Liesbeth painting at Morehead was considered to be an original Rembrandt portrait. It was purchased and displayed as a Rembrandt, not only in the Morehead gallery (where it arrived in 1949) but at galleries and in private collections beginning in the 1700s.

About 30 years ago, the Rembrandt Research Project identified Liesbeth as the work of another painter in Rembrandt’s workshop, probably his student Isaac de Jouderville. With her newfound notoriety as a faux Rembrandt, Liesbeth has earned quite a bit of publicity for herself, and this month she travels to the North Carolina Museum of Art to participate in a groundbreaking exhibit of paintings by Rembrandt and other artists in his workshop. You can read about Liesbeth’s road trip in this recent article from The News & Observer.

Beginning in a few weeks, you can view Liesbeth in Raleigh at the NCMA’s Rembrandt exhibit, or you can wait until she returns home in a few months and see her in the gallery here at Morehead. Be sure to check out her “neighbors” in Morehead’s gallery:

  • Capt. David Birrell, painted by Sir Henry Raeburn
  • Lord Mountjoy Blount, painted by Sir Anthony van Dyck
  • John A. M. Bonar, painted by Sir Henry Raeburn
  • Genevieve Morehead, painted by Nichola Michailow
  • Edmund M. Pleydell, painted by Thomas Gainsborough
  • The Scribe, painted by Aart de Gelder
  • Paulus van Beresteyn, painted by Michiel Jans Mierevelt
  • Gen. George Washington, painted by Rembrandt Peele
  • Martha Washington, painted by Rembrandt Peele
  • James Watt, painted by Sir William Beechey

In addition to these portraits, the Genevieve Margaret Birkhead Morehead Art Gallery features a larger-than-life statue of U.S. President James K. Polk, who was graduated from UNC in 1818. The statue was created by artist and UNC alumnus Stephen H. Smith in 1997. The gallery also houses a unique pendulum clock and barometer, both decorated with sculpted images from the constellations of the Zodiac.

And the origin of Liesbeth isn’t the only mystery that’s been solved in the gallery. There are 16 columns supporting the Rotunda, each carved from a single piece of green marble from the Ozark Mountains. One of these monolithic columns was cracked around its circumference when the columns were installed during construction. Can you spot which column was cracked?

Yes, we're the science specialists, but we like art too.

Did you feel tremors during yesterday’s East Coast earthquake? Did you think “Earthquake!” or “Hmmm, maybe a construction crew is working nearby” or even “Are we under attack?”

USGS "Shakemap"

The US Geological Society uses data to develop "Shakemaps" like this one.

Here at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, we thought, “The education team must be working on the Science LIVE! Earthquakes presentation again.”

Morehead offers several different versions of Science LIVE!, its interactive science demonstration show. In the Earthquakes version, the Science LIVE! presenter shows the audience how a seismograph works — and since Science LIVE! is an interactive presentation, that means the Science LIVE! presenter asks the audience to jump up and down, creating vibrations. Those vibrations can be measured by a simple accelerometer as the Science Stage auditorium shakes from the impact of dozens of people jumping up and down.

Science LIVE! is presented in our Science Stage auditorium, and Morehead staff member Jeff Hill has an office directly under the Science Stage. This summer, Jeff became accustomed to his office shaking every day around 2:45 p.m., as another audience participated in Science LIVE! Earthquakes. Visitors to Jeff’s office looked alarmed as the office began shaking, but Jeff explained calmly, “They’re just making an earthquake upstairs.”

So you can understand why Morehead staff thought “Science LIVE!” instead of “Earthquake!” yesterday. But that tremor wasn’t caused by a Science LIVE! audience. We’re actually closed for maintenance right now, which gives us a chance to update and fine-tune our programs.

That’s important, because scientific knowledge changes every single day. Right now, researchers are studying data from yesterday’s earthquake. We’re following their research (and research in other science disciplines, too) so we can bring you the most up-to-date scientific content in Science LIVE! and other educational programs at Morehead.

When we reopen on Sept. 17, come experience a Science LIVE! presentation. You may find yourself making an explosion, making snow or, yes, making an earthquake. And we’ll make it fun!

Friends in California are saying, "Earthquake? What earthquake?"

This is the bad news. (Image credit: Luc Viatour)

Many people’s favorite annual meteor shower, the Perseids, will peak the night of August 12/13, 2011.

The good news: That’s a Friday night/Saturday morning. For many people, this is a convenient time of the week to be outside looking for meteors—those streaks of light (also known as “shooting stars”) created when cosmic debris interacts with the Earth’s atmosphere.

The bad news: The Moon will not be cooperating this year. On August 13 it’s full, meaning the Moon will be up all night, its bright light hiding the dimmer meteors from view.

Tips if you decide to view the Perseids this year:

  • To see most meteors, go out during the last dark hour before dawn.
  • Get the Moon out of your field of view, and look toward the northern half of the sky. You’ll want a view unobstructed by trees or buildings.
  • Take a chair to sit in, and look about halfway up the sky.

For more tips, see the American Meteor Society site.

If it’s too cloudy that night or you just don’t want to make the effort, you can still see some meteors (the simulated kind) by coming to Carolina Skies at Morehead this Sunday, August 14, at 3:30 p.m. At your request, the presenter can send a few meteors shooting across the planetarium sky.

Moonlight won't interfere with the peak of the Perseids in 2012.

The production department here at Morehead has been hard at work the last year and a half putting together our newest fulldome show – Solar System Odyssey. The show is meant for audiences 10 and up and will open sometime in the fall.

The story takes place far in the future with an Earth on the verge of environmental collapse. Billionaire Warren Trout thinks he can make a fortune colonizing the rest of the solar system and sends space pilot Jack Larson to find out where. But there’s one thing he didn’t count on – Ashley, Trout’s daughter, has stowed away on board the ship and has her own ideas. You’ll learn about the solar system, moons, space junk and have a fun time while you’re at it.

Check out the teaser trailer:

Jay Heinz is Morehead's Digital Production Manager.


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