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Exploring the stars

From training the country's earliest astronauts to uncovering new knowledge about the universe, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has played pivotal roles in space exploration and discovery for nearly two centuries.

Tar Heels today are continuing to explore the unknowns of space and bringing the wonders of the cosmos to all North Carolinians.

A gateway to the stars

For more than 70 years, the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center — with its 68-foot planetarium dome — has helped children from across North Carolina dream of outer space.

Since the planetarium opened in 1949, millions of North Carolina students, teachers and families, as well as visitors from around the world, have benefited from Morehead science programs. Their most famous visitors were the U.S. astronauts in training for Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, including 11 of the 12 astronauts who have walked on the Moon.

The facility was given its current name, Morehead Planetarium and Science Center, in 2002 to reflect its ongoing commitment to providing a gateway to all sciences for North Carolinians.

    In the fall of 2020, Morehead Planetarium and Science Center reopened its doors and revealed a reimagined center with expanded exhibit space, a new entrance on McCorkle Place and improved access to the building for those with disabilities.

    Press the play button above

  • A video of Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough in the International Space Station being projected onto the planetarium dome.

    NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough virtually visited with dozens of children attending summer camp at Morehead, answering recorded questions and discussing the work that they’re conducting in space.

    Space comes to Morehead
  • A hand holds a cell phone with the picture of a moon on it.

    Morehead Planetarium and Science Center’s Virtual STEMville program bolsters remote science learning for K-12 students by virtually bringing experiments and scientists to children wherever they are.

    Making science fun, virtually

A giant leap

To walk into Morehead Planetarium and Science Center is to walk in the footsteps of the men who walked on the moon.

On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made history by leaving footprints in lunar dust. But before Apollo 11 made history, the two astronauts trained right here at Carolina’s Morehead Planetarium. Armstrong alone spent more than 125 hours training in Chapel Hill.

Learn more about Morehead’s training

Astronauts train in Morehead Planetarium.

The exploration continues

Today’s students and faculty members in the College of Arts & Sciences’ physics and astronomy department are continuing to ask and answer major questions about the world around us and the universe beyond us.

With the largest university-based nuclear physics lab in the nation and access to major telescopes all over the world, the department is at the forefront of research into crucial and fascinating topics, including black holes, dark matter, supernovae and the evolution of habitable planets.

Nick Law examines the Evryscope.

Searching the stars

  • Madyson Barber

    In search of exoplanets

    There are currently more than 4,000 identified exoplanets, and Carolina senior Madyson Barber is searching for more. Earlier this summer, she was one of two Carolina undergrads to be named an NC Space Grant Undergraduate Research Scholar.

  • Derrick Carr sitting in an office.

    Investigating galaxies very different from our own

    A doctoral student in physics, Derrick Carr is following his childhood passion for skywatching by conducting research that is making important contributions toward identifying characteristics of galaxies very different from our own.

  • Zena Cardman in a space suit.

    Two-time Carolina alumna graduates from NASA astronaut basic training

    Zena Cardman is a member of the first class of astronauts to graduate under the Artemis program, which aims to land the first woman and next man on the moon by 2024.

  • Pa Chia

    Uncovering the mysteries of the universe

    Doctoral student Pa Chia Thao arrived at Carolina with two big goals: to find a community of Tar Heels working to advance astronomy, and to support the representation of women and minorities in the scientific field.