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Morehead Planetarium Still Reaching for the Stars After 50 Years

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CHAPEL HILL — With more people living in urban areas and light pollution, it is getting harder to enjoy the brilliance of the night sky.

For the past 50 years, theMorehead Planetariumon theUNC-Chapel Hillcampus has been a place where everyone can enjoy the wonders of the night, and of the universe.

The planetarium sits just off Franklin street, majestic in form and purpose. An observatory sits atop the building, but students from across North Carolina come to see the planetarium.

"It was cool the way he made everything come up and how he made everything move around," says Kelly Veron fromRoot Elementary School.

The Zeiss projector, which is the heart of the planetarium, is what Dr. Lee Shapiro moves around. Like the universe it displays, the Star Theater constantly changes.

"We've added a wealth of multimedia projectors so it's a constantly evolving theater," Shapiro said.

Morehead is the oldest planetarium in the south, and remains one of the largest.

More than five million people have been seated in the star theater during the past 50 years, leaned back and waited for the night sky.

Students learn about the universe, the planets, weather and the challenges of space. The big Zeiss projector played a critical role in training Mercury, Gemini and Apollo astronauts for 15 years.

"What they had to learn was basic celestial navigation, star identification, in case they had to align their spacecraft for navigational purposes," Shapiro said.

Almost 9,000 stars can be projected on the 68 foot dome and special effects bring the night alive; a visual experience not possible on a computer.

"You still can't get the feeling of being out into he real sky that you can in here compared to the two dimensional screen," Shapiro said.

Morehead Planetarium is still going strong at 50 and holds many adventures for the future.

Morehead Planetarium has special programs for students during the day, but it is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday evenings.