It’s a tough question: Which is more popular, “Scare-olina Skies” in October or “Carolina Skies: Valentine Edition” in February?

Here are my three reasons why “Scare-olina Skies” rules:

  • Those ancient Greeks and Romans created amazing tales about strange monsters, set among the constellations of the night sky. I love to hear those stories — they add a fun new element to skywatching.
  • There’s a special “Scare-olina Skies: Family Edition” version just for school-age children and their parents on Saturday, Oct. 30, at 3:30 p.m. (The version for adults and older teens is offered at 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 29, and on Saturday, Oct. 30.)
  • This planetarium show is a great alternative to the “same old, same old” Halloween activities. (And you can wear your costume if you want.)

Need another reason? Consider this: Since Morehead installed its new fulldome digital video projection system this year, October 2010 is our first opportunity to offer “Scare-olina Skies” as a fulldome show! So if you come this year, you’ll be part of our history.

See you this weekend!

There will be no "sports agent" Halloween costumes permitted on Franklin Street.

If you’ve ever checked out Morehead’s YouTube channel, you’ve probably seen the Science 360 series about 2012. Even if you haven’t seen the series, you probably know the mythology: ancient Maya astronomers predicted the end of the world, comets, planetary alignments, other bad things.

Well, tomorrow (Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2010) Morehead is offering you a unique opportunity to hear the newest research from Anthony Aveni, who is a founder of archeaoastronomy and one of the world’s leading experts on Maya astronomy. (He’s also a Colgate University professor who was once named one of America’s Top Ten College Professors by “Rolling Stone” magazine.) Dr. Aveni’s publishing his newest book in December, so you’ll get to hear the current thinking about 2012 mythology two months before he hits the talk show circuit.

Dr. Aveni’s presentation begins at 7 p.m. in the Banquet Hall (east end of Morehead), and it’s free.

Thanks to our friends at Lenovo for their support of this presentation.

14 Sep 2010

I met a scientist today. And tomorrow I get to meet another one. So can you.

This week and next week, Morehead is hosting “Out To Lunch” programs for five of its most popular Science 360 topics. It’s a great way to spend your lunch break — bring a sandwich, if you want. You’ll see a presentation about current research, PLUS you’ll meet one of the scientists who are making that research happen.

Ask questions, share your own theories, learn a little more about our world. And it’s free!

Today’s OTL program was “Predicting Severe Weather.” Jonathan Blaes, a meteorologist with the NOAA National Weather Service, gave us a behind-the-scenes look into how airplanes provide key data for everything from daily forecasts to hurricane predictions.

The cross-section of people in the room was interesting, too. There were several home-school families, a group of meteorologists, students and staff members from UNC, some retirees and others who didn’t clearly fit into any of those categories. They asked GREAT questions. And a few of them were interviewed by a newspaper reporter who also attended.

So you missed the first one — but there are four more in the days ahead! So be sure to catch some of these:

  • Learn “Why Antimatter Matters” with physicist Reyco Henning on Wednesday, Sept. 15
  • Take a “Mission to Mars” on Thursday, Sept. 16, with NASA trainee Zena Cardman
  • Explore “Solar Cells” with chemist Wei You on Tuesday, Sept. 21
  • And examine “The Truth Behind 2012” (you know, all those rumors about the Mayan calendar and the end of the world) on Thursday, Sept. 23, with a panel of experts that includes astronomer Dan Reichart, linguist David Mora-Marin and geologist Kevin Stewart

How cool is that? You need to be there. Your friends will be totally impressed with your new FB status update: “having lunch with an eminent researcher.”

It all happens in the Science Stage, which is the small auditorium adjacent to the Morehead Rotunda. Enter through the UNC Visitors Center entrance (facing McCorkle Place), and it’s easy to find. Come meet a scientist! (Sandwich optional.)

“Out To Lunch with Science 360″ is an official North Carolina Science Festival event.

Along with their approach to astronomy, the Mayans also made headlines with a truly revolutionary hot chocolate recipe.

The final video in our Science 360: The Truth Behind 2012 series focuses on the Galactic Plane Alignment. Some people think that our solar system will pass through the galactic plane causing the Earth to be destroyed by asteroids. If you’ve seen the previous Truth Behind 2012 videos, you can probably guess how much scientific evidence there is behind this claim.

Jay Heinz is Morehead's Digital Production Manager.

Phytoplankton Blooms

This image, from the NASA SeaWiFS project, shows the striking green colors produced by phytoplankton.

You probably already know that a hurricane has an eye, but did you know that hurricanes might actually display a preference for certain colors? New research from the U.S. Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey suggests that hurricanes may be more likely to travel over green areas of the ocean than over more clear, blue areas. The ongoing study is attempting to improve hurricane forecasting models by looking at variables like ocean color which are not usually considered in tracking programs.

The study looked specifically at storms in the northern Pacific Ocean, where the predominant surface water color is green due to blooms of tiny plants called phytoplankton. These plants absorb sunlight, which increases the water temperature in that area. Increased surface temperature means increased “fuel” for hurricanes, which gain strength over warm water and lose strength over cooler water or land.  The researchers used a computer program to model what would happen to hurricane paths if the phytoplankton were reduced in number, thus changing the water color. As the water became clearer, the number of hurricanes traveling over that region of water was reduced by two-thirds.

These results suggest that if phytoplankton populations decrease, fewer hurricanes may travel north to highly populated areas like Japan or the East Coast of the United States. Several studies have suggested that in fact this may already be happening, as global warming has made some areas of the ocean less hospitable to phytoplankton. However, other studies have suggested that global warming is actually increasing phytoplankton populations, so more research is needed in this area. And of course, while it would be great to not have to worry about hurricanes outside of the tropics, removing phytoplankton could have a severely negative effect on marine environments that rely on the plants for energy.

The researchers are now planning to move their study into the real world by looking at actual hurricane paths and satellite imagery of real-time ocean colors to see if their preliminary results match up with real storm paths. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about hurricanes and other types of storms, visit Morehead Planetarium and Science Center to see Science 360: Predicting Severe Weather when it comes back on our Fall schedule September 4.

Casey Rawson is the Science Content Developer for Science 360.

The seventh video in our Science 360: The Truth Behind 2012 series focuses on solar eruptions. Some people think a massive solar eruption will engulf our planet in radiation, wiping out all life on Earth. Are scientists worried? Watch and find out…

Jay Heinz is Morehead's Digital Production Manager.

Festival coordinator, Julie Rhodes, sharing exciting news with the rest of the planning team.

As you can imagine, things are pretty hectic around here as we count down to the start of the NC Science Festival.   It’s LESS THAN ONE MONTH AWAY!  And, while it’s hectic, it’s also so much fun.  I’ve done things (have tea with a Nobel Laureate; call Adam & Jamie to invite them to NC) and said things (“Can you park your NASCAR car here?” and “Do you mind if we chunk pumpkins through the center of campus?”) that I NEVER would have had the opportunity to say and do without the Festival.  So, thanks to everyone for enriching my life over these last few months.

And, that’s the whole point of the Festival – to enrich YOUR life by getting you involved in science, technology, math and engineering.  We are putting finishing touches on many things – including schedules and maps – so you’ll know when and where to show up for some awesome science action!  Take a look at the Festival schedule to see what I mean.  There are over 300 events taking place across the state between Sept. 11-26.

We want to invite you to attend as many events as possible during the Festival.  And we would love to see you in Chapel Hill on Sat., Sept. 25 for the UNC Science Expo.  There are literally hundreds of cool things taking place this day – demos, lab tours, talks, performances.  You name it – we’ve probably got it!

I look forward to hearing about your science adventures in September!


Denise Young is Morehead’s director of education and planning and co-founder of the NC Science Festival. She proposes skipping the rest of August so we can get on with the Festival!

If you have watched the early evening sky over the past weeks, you may have noticed Venus, Mars, and Saturn engaging in a slow planet dance.

On August 12 and 13, the Moon joins the party. Look for this striking sight soon after sunset in the same direction the Sun went down. You will likely see the crescent Moon and super bright Venus first. As the sky darkens further, notice Mars and Saturn near Venus. (Mercury will be lower, dimmer, and much harder to spot.)

If you’d like to see these celestial objects through a telescope, join Morehead for our skywatching session this Thursday, August 12, from 9 to 11 p.m. Weather permitting, we’ll be at Jordan Lake, Ebenezer Church Recreation Area. Come near the beginning of the session to view the Moon and planet trio. Then stick around for a chance to see some Perseid meteors.

If the skywatching session is canceled, we will post a message around 4 p.m. at the Morehead Web site — please check before you head out to Jordan Lake.

Amy Sayle hopes to spot a few Perseid meteors from Jordan Lake during Paddling Under the Stars. Although the paddle is sold out, the skywatching session is free and open to all.

Less than a month to go before the North Carolina Science Festival kicks off on September 11. We’ve been working hard getting everything ready and just finished up a commercial that’s going to be airing on WRAL and TimeWarner Cable for the next few weeks. It features some employees and friends of Morehead that you might know and was totally produced in-house. Enjoy.

Jay Heinz is Morehead's Digital Production Manager.

The sixth video in our Science 360: The Truth Behind 2012 series focuses on magnetic pole reversals. Some people think a virtually instantaneous reversal of the magnetic poles on Earth could cause all kinds of havoc. What do you think? You guessed it – it’s not true. Even if there was a magnetic pole reversal, it would take tens of thousands of years to take place and it’s already happened tens of thousands of times on Earth already. Bottom line is that you don’t have to pack up the house and get on the next transport out of here. Check out this video to get the real science behind the hype.

The Truth Behind 2012: Magnetic Pole Reversal!

Jay Heinz is Morehead's Digital Production Manager.

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