You get to enjoy nature at night, meet nice people, do hands-on astronomy activities, and view the night sky through telescopes brought by Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, the Chapel Hill Astronomical and Observational Society (CHAOS), and the Raleigh Astronomy Club (RAC). If skies permit, a Morehead educator will use a green laser to point out stars and constellations. Occasionally, we’ll host a skywatching event in the daytime, featuring hands-on astronomy activities and safe solar observing.
Morehead skywatching events are offered at a variety of sites throughout the Triangle region.
Currently, our main sites are:
- Little River Regional Park, off of Guess Road at the Durham/Orange county border (click here for directions).
- Dorothea Dix Park located in downtown Raleigh, at the Big Field on Blair Drive (click here for directions).
Skywatching events may also be hosted at Historic Stagville, The Durham Hotel, the Morehead Sundial, and other special locations. Please see the events calendar for location details.
To request a private skywatching event, click here.
If you’ve been to one skywatching event, you definitely haven’t been to them all. The stars and constellations you can see change from month to month as Earth orbits the Sun. The Moon and planets move from night to night against the background of the stars.
Often, we schedule events so you can see the Moon. Usually at least one planet is visible. Expect to see objects outside our solar system, too, such as double stars, star clusters, nebulae, and even other galaxies. You might see satellites and meteors.
Maybe. Your best bet for seeing the Milky Way—the hazy band of starlight that is the geometric plane of our galaxy—is a site such as Little River, which offers darker skies than many places in the Triangle.
No. Morehead’s public skywatching events are free.
No, you can just show up. If you plan to bring a large group, such as an entire class or scout group, we appreciate a heads-up at 919.962.1236, but it’s not required.
No, you can drop in any time during the hours of the event. (Please note: Stagville Under the Stars events at Historic Stagville usually begin with an indoor storytelling program that you will miss if you arrive late.)
If you arrive early, you may find that telescope operators are too busy setting up to have a conversation. Generally, site managers request that we pack up at the scheduled end time.
If skywatching is the focus of the event, it will probably be canceled in the event of a poor weather forecast (the telescopes can’t see through clouds). We always recommend checking Morehead’s website after 5 p.m. the day of the session to make sure there’s not a cancellation notice. We also often post updates on our website, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.
All skywatching locations have parking. We encourage carpooling, especially for popular events such as meteor showers. As a courtesy to others, if you arrive after skywatching has already started or if you plan to leave early, try to find a parking spot that will keep your bright headlights away from the observing field. As soon as your car is safely parked, turn off your headlights. Similarly, when you get ready to leave, please do not sit in your car with the headlights on; turn on the headlights only when you’re ready to move your car.
Bring layers. Even in summer, standing around at night can feel colder than you might expect. In our experience, if you dress more warmly than you think you need to, it’ll work out just right.
White flashlights are fine to use in emergencies. Otherwise, please use only red light. Red lights should be dim and aimed at the ground, not in people’s faces. Even better, don’t use light. Give your eyes a few minutes to adjust to the dark and be amazed at how well you can see with just your night vision.
Avoid using devices such as cellphones, tablets, and flash cameras. These sources of bright light will instantly ruin your night vision, as well as that of everyone around you. You will probably also make the astronomers grumpy.
All skywatching locations have restrooms. You will find flush toilets at locations like Little River Regional Park, Historic Stagville, and The Durham Hotel, and portable toilets at Dorothea Dix Park.
No pets, please. Pets (even on a leash) + lots of people + expensive telescopes + the dark = a bad combination.
Yes! All ages are welcome. Very young children may not get much out of looking through a telescope, but those elementary-school-aged and older may especially enjoy the experience. Parents: We recommend you look through the telescope first—then you’ll be better able to help your child look.
Sometimes, children (as well as adults) want to grab hold of the telescope, potentially smudging the eyepiece or knocking the object out of view. Please teach children not to touch the telescope without the operator’s permission. You can ask children to place their hands behind their back as they approach the scope. Explain they’ll be using their eyes to look, not their hands.
Remember that you look with your eye, not your hands. Please don’t touch any part of the telescope without permission from the telescope operator. If you’re unsure where the telescope eyepiece is, ask the operator to show you. To get a good view, you may need to try moving your eye closer or farther from the eyepiece. If you wear glasses, try looking with them first; if the image seems blurry, ask the operator for help.
Don’t see anything? Speak up! The operator may need to adjust the scope. Have questions? The telescope operators would love to answer them. Do step aside to ask, so the line can keep moving.
No. Morehead and astronomy club members provide the telescopes.
Please know that Morehead skywatching events are public outreach events, and the public will expect to look through your telescope the entire time. Some of our skywatching events, especially those at Dorothea Dix Park, attract hundreds or even thousands of people.
If you would enjoy providing views to the public through your telescope, we suggest you join the Chapel Hill astronomy club (CHAOS) or the Raleigh astronomy club (RAC). You will meet a supportive community and receive updates about public and private observing sessions.
No. Daytime is a better time to get familiar with your telescope (of course, don’t point it at the Sun unless it’s equipped with a proper solar filter). And if you bring your scope to a public skywatching events, people will come up to you the entire time expecting to look through it.
Skywatching events can be a good place to ask questions, but Morehead staff and telescope operators may not have time for an extensive conversation.
For personal help using your telescope, attend a telescope clinic hosted by the Raleigh Astronomy Club (RAC) and consider joining the Chapel Hill Astronomical and Observational Society (CHAOS) or the Raleigh Astronomy Club (RAC).