Raleigh, N.C. — The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences hosts Astronomy Days this weekend. Each year the museum partners with the Raleigh Astronomy Club and NASA to celebrate planetary science with special exhibits, talks and activities for all ages.
This year's special guest is Dr. James Green, Director NASA's Planetary Sciences division. He will be speaking on 50 years of Solar System Exploration at 11:30am and 2:30pm Saturday and 1pm Sunday.
Dr.Green will share some of the beautiful, strange and sometimes puzzling worlds this research has revealed over the years.
There will be talks and workshops going on in multiple venues throughout the weekend. Dr. Rachel L. Smith, Director of the Astronomy and Space Observation Research Laboratory at the museum will be talking about about the science behind the search for life in the universe. Researcher Dr. Nicholas Gessler from Duke will share his findings on meteorites in North Carolina. Dr. Timothy Ritter's talk will cover research conducted by UNC Pembroke students and faculty aboard NASA's aircraft which fly parobolic arcs to produce stomach churning moments of near weightlesness.
Other talks include a look at missions studying the outer edges of the solar system as well as Saturn and Pluto, the events leading up to the launch of Apollo 11, and a talk on how mission planners get a spacecraft from Earth to another planet or moon. Here's a hint: gravity plays a very big role throughout the process.
I'll be talking Saturday about Mars Geology. Mars has a lot more in common with North Carolina than you might think. There will be samples of rocks and soil that the Mars rovers are encountering there as well. On Sunday I'll be talking about technologies originally developed for space applications that we enjoy everyday here on Earth.
There will be samples there as well.
Younger astronomers will enjoy meeting the animals of the constellation with museum educators and the always surprising "Funky Physics" show presented by NASA. North Carolina filmmaker Stephen van Vuuren will also share his work which puts the beauty of our solar system on display with real imagery produced by numerous NASA spacecraft turned into a large format movie bound for IMAX screens.
The Raleigh Astronomy Club will be offering workshops throughout the weekend for a variety of interest levels. If you've been thinking about getting started with astronomy, there are separate workshops aimed those with kids and without. If you've done a bit of observing and are looking for the next challenge, consider the workshop on astrophotography. The club will be sharing solar telescopes in the plaza for safe viewing of sunspots and other features (weather permitting).
Visit with NASA educators and scientists in the Environmental Conference Center on the fourth floor of the Nature Research Center. Three engineers from the team that landed Curiosity on Mars will be on hand including Jody Davis who announced "Tango Delta" to the world (touchdown) ending the seven minutes of terror and signaling that the rover was safe on Mars. Mars is the focus in these NASA exhibits which include human exploration of Mars, Mars vs North Carolina geology, a make and take craft, and try your hand at landing the Mars Science Laboratory with the interactive Xbox game.
Check the museum website for the complete schedule.
Tony Rice is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on twitter @rtphokie.