Education & Planetarium Programs

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Programming Menu

PARI offers a variety of educational programs that can be tailored for visitors of any age. Tell us what you are currently studying and we'll make sure to match your curriculum and make connections to what's going on in your classroom.

These events may be scheduled at PARI or at your school. We can bring the supplies and with our mobile planetarium to you!

Planetarium Programs
Add these programs to your visit to PARI.   Click or tap to expand and read more.

Programs marked with ✅ ALL AGES can be adapted to learners of any age and will be tailored to your group.

Our portable planetarium can also travel to your location. Learn about portable planetarium pricing and requirements.

- The Sky Tonight ✅ All Ages
Compliments NC Science 1.E.1, 3.E.1

Does everyone see the same sky at night? This program looks at the evening’s sky, noting the classical constellations, the Moon and planets that might be visible. We note how stars appear to move as the night progresses. We'll talk about why we see the sky we do at out location and time of year, and why it looks different at different times and from different places on Earth.

We’ll also discuss why starry skies are a vanishing treasure due to light pollution diluting our view of the cosmos. Did you know that naturally dark skies are good for the health of both humans and wildlife too?

Makes a great addition to an evening viewing to help you get acquainted with what you'll see once it gets dark!

- The Moon: Now you see it; Now you don't 🖐️ ✅ All Ages
Compliments NC Science 1.E.1, 3.E.1, 4.E.1, 6.E.1, EEn1.1

What makes the Moon change phases and sometimes even dissappear? Does a lunar eclipse work the same way as the regular phases of the Moon? Does the Moon look the same to everyone, or does it look different from other parts of the Earth? Why is it sometimes out at night, and sometimes during the day?

In this program we will explore the motions and phases of the Moon by first using models and hands-on activities, then observe them in our planetarium.

Especially well suited for younger learners who want to get up and move around!

- Stars of my people ✅ All Ages
Compliments Social Studies and Arts

What do you see when you look up at the night sky? Do the shapes made by the stars look like people and animals on exciting adventures, or grand buildings and important objects? Or maybe you see rivers and mountains representing a far off land?

Humans have been telling stories about what they see in the stars for as long as we can remember. These celestial patterns we learn to recognize act as guideposts for finding out way around in the sky and help determine the changing seasons and track important events.

Today the International Astronomical Union recognizes eighty-eight constellations for organizing the night sky, with most of them based Greek or Roman traditions. But, cultures around the world see different things an tell different stories that reflect their history, beliefs, and way of life. We'll explore some of these views of the night in Stars of My People!

Perfect for exploring cultures and traditions around the world and engaging story-tellers. Ask to add on extra classroom time to draw your own constellations and tell stories from new points of view.

- Realm of the planets ✅ Best for Grade 3 and up
Compliments NC Science 3.E.1, 6.E.1, EEn1.1

Can you find the planets in the night sky? Do you know how to tell which bright points of light are stars and which are balls of gas an rock in our own solary system? It is easier than you think once you know the Realm of the Planets.

The journey the planets take across the sky follows what is called the ecliptic and is also home to the Sun, Moon, and the Zodiac constellations. This common path is why things appear to move as they do, why we have equinoxes and solstices, and why sometimes things appear to move backwards, or retrograde.

We'll also take a look at how the sky changes over time and introduce you to Ophiuchus the Serpent Bearer... can you guess why?

If you've ever wondered, "Hey, what's that really bright star over there?" this is the program for you!

- The Reason for the Seasons ✅ All Ages
Compliments NC Science 2.E.1, 3.E.1, 4.E.1, 5.E.1, 6.E.1, EEn1.1

You probably know that here at PARI, winter begins in December and summer arrives in July. But, not everywhere in the world experiences these seasons at the same time of year as us.

One thing every part of Earth has in common is that the seasons changes on solstices and equinoxes. What season you get depends on where you are. The Earth's tilt on its axis is responsible for this, and we'll investigate when and why it causes the familiar changes we see each year.

Smaller changes happen each day as well, like the location and time that the Sun sets and rises. This leads to different lengths of daylight and amounts of energy each part of the Earth receives.

Ancient peoples around the world used these same techniques to make calendars and determine when to plant and harveset crops, or when to plan a journey.

- Stars of Lewis and Clark ✅ All Ages
Compliments NC Social Studies and History

Over 200 years ago, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark returned from their exploration of the Louisiana Purchase. In the days before GPS, how did they know where they were?

Using the Sun, the Moon, and navigational stars, they could determine their latitude and longitude as they created a map of their journey across the newest piece of the United States. They didn't do it alone either, they had some crucial help along they way that made their journey a success.

Do you think these methods were new and unique, cutting-edge navigational techniques at the time? Or did they take advantage of a long tradition of navigation using the stars that humans discovered long ago?

A blending of history and astronomy join here to show the connection between humanity and the stars.

- Custom Show ✅ All Ages
Tailored to your needs

Is there a topic in Astronomy or Earth Science your group is studying or is curious about? Tell us about it and we can launch a custom exploration for you.

If your visit is to celebrate an occasion or a loved one, we can show you what the sky was like at a significant date in the past, or what it will be like in the future.

Let us match your interests and studies, or celebrate an important person or time.

Planetarium Movies
Add these movies, shown in our planetarium, to your planetarium show.   Click or tap to expand and read more.
- "Two Small Pieces of Glass"
23 minutes

“Two Small Pieces of Glass – The Amazing Telescope” follows two students as they interact with a female astronomer at a local star party. Along the way, the students learn the history of the telescope from Galileo’s modifications to a child’s spyglass—using two small pieces of glass—to the launch of the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope and the future of astronomy.

Aiming to engage and appeal to audiences of all ages, the show explores the wonder and discovery made by astronomers throughout the last 400 years.

This video is a great look at the history of modern astronomy.

- "Dark" The Movie
20 minutes

“Dark” is a full-dome movie using the planetarium that explains and explores the nature of Dark Matter, the missing 80% of the mass of the Universe. The movie is presented by Dr. Alan Duffy, a brilliant young astronomer from the International Centre for Radio Astronomy Research (ICRAR) at the University of Western Australia, who creates simulations of Dark Matter evolution inside supercomputers.

Alan introduces us to the idea of Dark Matter, why astronomers think it exists and why Radio Astronomy is so well-suited to its discovery.

Learn about one of the most mysterious aspects of the universe!

- "Totality"
25 minutes

“Totality” is a fascinating look at all the wonders of eclipses, especially total solar eclipses. An eclipse is described simply as when one celestial object blocks another from our view. This program, produced by Bays Mountain Planetarium, examines what eclipses are, how and when they occur, and what wonderful sights they create. We also look back to a fascinating period in scientific discovery when general relativity was proven with the photographic recording of a total solar eclipse.

The show is followed with an update on the latest eclipse.

See what the next eclipses will be here!

- "Losing The Dark"
6 minutes

Did you know that light pollution does more than make it hard to see stars at night? When used improperly lighting can make the night more dangerous rather than safer. It can disrupt and harm wildlife. It can even have negative effects on human health.

The International Dark Sky Asociation, www.darksky.org, builds awareness on the value of dark skies. See more on how PARI is helping with this effort.

Ask for this video to be added to any planetarium program.

Classroom Programs
Add these programs to your visit to PARI.   Click or tap to expand and read more.

Programs marked with ✅ ALL AGES can be adapted to learners of any age and will be tailored to your group.

Programs marked with 🖐️ have hand-on components.

Programs marked with 🎁 have items participants make and take home.

- Galaxy Walk ✅ All Ages   🌤️ Outdoors

The Galaxy Walk is a scale model of the distances between objects in our solar system, it also includes some nearby stars and galaxies. Stroll PARI's campus while receiving this easy to grasp perspective of the positioning of the planets and gain an understanding of the immense distances separating them from one another and from the Sun.

You'll get to enjoy some time outdoors during this activity and learn fascinating facts about each place that you visit.

Pairs well with Size and Scale of the Solar System.

- Size and Scale of the Solar System 🖐️ 🎁 ✅ Best for 1st through 6th grade

It’s hard to imagine just how big the planet Jupiter is, much less the Sun itself. Understanding the sizes and distances between the planets is a challenge, so we’ll use a variety of models and scales to demonstrate both the size of things in our solar system, and the distances between them.

Each participant will make a model they can take home with them.

Pairs well with the Galaxy Walk.

- Stellar Classification ✅ Best for High School and older.

The colors in a star can help us understand its size, mass, and temperature. Astronomers use these properties to categorize stars based on the unique patterns in their spectra, or the rainbows of light revealed when their light is split with a prism. In this program, we will explore these sophisiticated means of learning about stars.

Use the spectra of actual stars to see the differences between red dwarfs and red giants, and blue super-giants and sun-like stars. Discover how are they formed, and which will die in a slow and gentle puff, and which in a violent super-nova.

Take a peek at history as well and learn about some of the inspiring individuals, like the Harvard Computers, who pioneered the processes we use today to perform the science of Stellar Classification.

For a deeper understanding of how light is used to study things around us, pair with Spectroscopy. To explore PARI's archives of stellar data spanning over a century, pair with an APDA Tour.

- Heliophysics 🖐️ ✅ All Ages   🌤️ Partially Outdoors

Life on Earth is completely dependant on our star, the Sun. But the Sun can also be a source of danger! How does what happens on the Sun impact the Earth? Did you know that the Sun is made of many layers and has its own weather? Find out about sun spots, solar flares, and mass coronal ejections and what can happen to us here when they occur.

Learn about the cycle of activity on the Sun, how our magnetic field and our technology is affected, and some historic events that had shocking global impact!

If conditions allow, this program will conclude with a look through a solar telescope at the Sun. But, never look at the Sun on your own without the right equipment.

Pairs well with The Reason for the Seasons or Spectroscopy. Schedule during the day when the Sun is out for best results!

- Radio Astronomy 🖐️ ✅ Best for Middle and High School and older.

You can't visit PARI and not notice the giant, nine story tall, 85 foot diameter, radio telescopes! Built by NASA in the 1960's, they are the reason we exist. Radio Astronomy is a core part of who we are, and what it can reveal about the universe is fascinating. It allows the unseen to be discovered.

Astronomers use radio telescopes to pick up light that has much less energy than the colors of light we see with our eyes. This unseen light can reveal the composition, temperature, and movement of distant objects like nebulae, super nova remnants, and entire galaxies!

Learn how radio astronomy works and what we can learn with it. See how we study and make maps and images of things in space that cannot be seen or investigated with an optical telescope. We'll control one and collect data live in this program.

Makes a perfect pairing with Spectroscopy for an amazing astrophysics experience.
For an even deeper journey through Radio Astronomy, sign up for one of our summer camps!

- Spectroscopy (our most popular offering) 🖐️ ✅ All Ages

Spectroscopy is the study of light and what we can learn from it. Concepts like color, wavelength, frequency, and photon energy will all make sense once you understand the spectrum. Learn about where light comes from and how it can change depending on what emits it, and what it interacts with on its way to us. An investigation of light can reveal the composition, movement, and temperature of anything, whether in the distant reaches of the universe, or directly in front of us.

Spectroscopy also allows scientists to study things that are extremely small, like molecules, atoms, and even smaller sub-atomic particles. Almost every branch of science uses the properties of light to learn about the world around us.

This program includes hands-on acitivies and examples to explore the spectrum and conecpts like Doppler Shift and the movement of electrons in atoms.

Spectroscopy serves as an excellent introduction to any other program or activity at PARI and forms the foundation for many branches of science. It can be appreciated by learners of any age.

- Astrobiology ✅ Best for Middle and High School and older.

Astrobiology is the study of life in space. It includes topics like the conditions necessary for life as we know it, like liquid water, the presence of oxygen, and bearable gravity; and the places in space where these conditions are found. Astrobiology makes use of physics, chemistry, astronomy, biology, molecular biology, ecology, planetary science, geography and geology to investigate the possibility of life on other worlds and help recognize biospheres that might be different from the Earth’s.

Where can humans survive in space, and where might they thrive? Are there places in our own solar system or beyond that might be capable of supporting life? Are there places here on Earth where strange or extreme conditions host life unlike what most of us have ever encountered? Can we grow food in space to sustain us, and stay safe from hazards? These are the types of questions astrobiologists answer.

For a version of Astrobiology for younger learners, take a look at Extremophiles and Exoplanets.

- Rovers Exploration 🖐️ ✅ Best for Middle and High School and older.

Robotic explorers are essential for the study of hard to reach places on Earth, the Moon, Mars, and beyond. The ability to navigate different terrains and use sensors to collect information both play a role in their effectivness. We'll use PARI's rover fleet to explore real and simulated terrains and collect data about them using methods similar to how rovers on other planets are controlled.

Do you know how many planets have been visited by robots, and what kinds have gone to them? Do they just crawl, or do some fly or swim? Have any melted?

This activity is best for smaller groups of 15 or less so each participant will be able to control the rovers.

Pairs well with Bristle Bots for more robot fun, or Lunar and Martian Geography or Journey to Mars to learn about the places they explore.

- APDA Tour ✅ Best for Middle and High School and older.

The Astronomical Photographic Data Archive (APDA) is one of the world’s largest repositories of historical astronomical data. Beginning over 100 years ago, astronomers collected their data on glass plates or plastic films, similarly to taking an image with a camera. These plates can hold many thousands of stars, recording how they changed over decades, many of which have never been investigated. APDA helps researchers use the universe as their laboratory and study phenomena that can take a lifetime to unfold.

See how we store the plates and how we scan and digitize them to make this data about how objects in space change over time available to researchers around the world. You'll also hear about some of PARI's contributions to missions like the ESA's GAIA spacecraft, and challenges like unraveling the mystery of strange places in space like Tabby's Star.

Pairs well with Stellar Classification and Spectroscopy.

- Journey to Mars ✅ All Ages

Did you know that we have begun a new Space Race? This time around we are aiming for Mars! Learn about how we prepare for this incredible journey. From how we adapt old technology to the creation of new, through the effects on the human mind and body, to the goals and rewards of reaching a new planet, this program will help you investigate humanity’s next great adventure.

By the way, did you know that kids in school today will be just the right age to be a part of this epic journey as they complete college? They may even blaze the trail to even more places like the Asteroid Belt and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

Pairs well with Rovers Exploration and Lunar and Martian Geography.
To launch your own simulated journey to Mars or beyond, sign up for one of our summer camps.

- Spies and Secrets (Cryptography) 🖐️ ✅ Best for Middle and High School and older.

PARI’s history as a base that once spied on the messages of others makes it an inspiring backdrop to learn just how we protect secret communications and decipher those sent by others. This program, inspired by CryptoClub, developed at the University of Chicago, strengthens math and language skills to explore the worlds of codes and ciphers. The history of spies and the security of the internet depend on these methods.

We'll look at the many ways that information can be hidden and found again. Changing how information is sent isn't always meant to be a secret either. Encodings like Morse Code, Braille, and systems used by computers like ASCII and binary numbers are able to be understood by anyone who wants to learn but are still codes. The methods we use to send information with light to satellites and through fiber optic cables can also be done with methods that are either understandable by all, or completely meaningless to anyone who can't decrypt them. There are even methods for hiding things directly in plain sight.

Pairs well with Computational Thinking. Available as a more in depth multi-day program, ask us how to set it up for your group!
Available as a summer camp during some years.

- Extremophiles and Exoplanets 🖐️ 🎁 ✅ Best for Preschool through 5th grade

Is there life in outer space? The best way we have today to investigate this question is to look at the strangest forms of life here on Earth. From creatures that live deep in the ocean around volcanic vents to tiny acid loving bacteria, to penguins who love the cold, our planet is host to organisms that thrive in conditions far beyond what a human could survive. Once we understand the extremes in which life can exist, we know what to look for in space. Almost every star we search for planets around seems to have them, and some of them have conditions that might be just right for some of the strangest life.

This program includes a hands-on portion where participants create their own strange planets and imagine the life that might thrive there.

Looking for this for more higher grade levels, check out Astrobiology.

- Computational Thinking 🖐️ ✅ Best for Middle and High School and older.

Did you know that the first computers were humans? It’s true, the machines we use today are named after a special way of thinking and solving problems that humans do. You can learn to think like a (human) computer too. We’ll show you how a computer breaks down problems and uses data and logic to conquer complex tasks. Hold Boolean birthday parties and act out algorithms in this interactive look at how we can make mundane tasks faster and bring the impossible within reach.

Pairs well with Spies and Secrets.
Available as a longer or multi-day program.

- Bristle Bots 🖐️ 🎁 ✅ All Ages 💵 Additional fees apply

A Bristle Bot is a simple and fun robot made with parts of a toothbrush, some pipe cleaners, and a battery and motor. Oh, and don’t forget googly eyes! Build your own hand made robot to take home that can wiggle and race across a table top in patterns you’ll need some experimentation to control.

Get experience with some basic wiring and experiment with how the shape of your robot changes its motion. Hands on and tons of fun. Anyone can build this robot.

Pairs well with Rovers Exploration.

- Rockets Under Pressure 🖐️ 🎁 ✅ All Ages 💵 Additional fees apply

How much fuel should you mix to get the most boom for your buck? Do fins and nose cones help or hinder your design? Does your rocket have enough oomph to get where it needs to go or will your astronauts crash back down or get stranded in the vacuum of space?

Only the best spacecrafts will win this activity that combines managing budgets and the scientific method with foamy explosions and rocket building.

Pairs well with Journey to Mars and Lunar & Martian Geography.

- NASA Globe 🖐️ 🎁 ✅ Best for Kindergarten and older.

Would you like to help climate scientists understand the changing world around us? This series of activities teaches how to participate in collecting data on cloud cover, temperature, rain and humidity, and more, while helping further our understanding of the world and verify the data collected by satellites. The skills learned in this program can be used to add to studies on these topics for years to come.

This world-wide NASA program lets you help NASA scientists study Earth and work with satellite data.

Become a Citizen Scientist!

- Meteorite Identification 🖐️ 🎁 ✅ Best for Middle School and older 💵 Additional fees apply

Meteorites fall to Earth every day. Some come from places like the asteroid belt or are debris left over from passing comets. Others come from even more distant or stranger places. They all help us learn about the composition and history of the solar system. But, if we didn't see the rock fall to Earth ourselves, how do we know it is a meteorite and not a meteor-wrong?

Learn about meteorites, touch meteorites, and perform some of the most common experiments to determine whether a rock came from space in this activity. Once you eliminate the decoys, you'll be left with a real meteorite you can take home with you!

Pairs well with Spectroscopy and a Museum Tour

- Lunar and Martian Geography 🖐️ ✅ Best for Middle School and older

Have you ever looked up at the Moon and wondered why some parts are dark and some light, or where the Apollo missions landed? Do you know where the largest craters, valleys, and volcanoes ever found are located? Can you tell the difference between a rift formed by an earthquake and one carved by water? Do you know what a yardang is? Examine these topics with explorations of other planets and hands-on activities to learn about the formation methods of studing of our closest neighbors.

Add an optional, edible, addition to this activity for an extra fee and simulate lunar lava with gooey treats. Or, send each participant home with a 3D model of a lunar crater 🎁 . 💵 Additional fees apply

Pairs well with Astrobiology, Rovers Exploration, or a Galaxy Walk

- Museum Tour ✅ All Ages

An educator will guide your group through our museum and share history, stories, and scientific facts about space and how we explore it.

The tour includes our NASA heritage gallery with satellites, a rocket engine, a lunar lander, and items flown in space that you can touch.

Next is our mineral and fossil gallery full of samples from North Carolina and around the world. See rocks, crystals, geodes, dinosaur bones, and more. We’ll talk about how geology and materials science are both necessary and important parts of space science and are made possible by studying rocks.

Our collection of meteorites is next with rocks from space that landed all over the world. Learn how we study and identify them and what they tell us about our solar system and beyond.

Finally our fluorescent tunnel will show you one of the ways energy and matter can interact that you normally cannot see. It also gives a preview of how some materials may look out in space or under the light of a different star. (Very large groups might not fit in the fluorescent tunnel).

A great addition to any PARI visit!

School Group Pricing

🕰️Visiting school groups typically participate in two programs in a two hour visit.  Timing may vary based on program selections, class size, and meals.

🍴You may add time to eat a meal at PARI in a designated indoor or outdoor area to your visit. Indoor areas may require a refundable cleaning deposit. Meals that occur after all programming is completed are at no additional charge. Meals that happen between programs will have a charge based on the meal time allocated.

2-hour visit:

• $110.00 minimum for up to 10 students

• $11.00 each additional person

• Teachers free with 1:10 teacher/student ratio


3-hour visit:

• $180.00 minimum for up to 10 students

• $18.00 each additional person

• Teachers are free with 1:10 teacher/student ratio


4-hour visit:

• $220.00 minimum for up to 10 students

• $22.00 each additional person

• Teachers free with 1:10 teacher/student ratio

 

Longer visits:

• Contact us for a quote.

Some programs may have additional materials costs.  This pricing model is available to programs booked by schools and educational institutions only.  Click here for programs and pricing for the general public.

Portable Planetarium & Traveling Programs

If traveling to PARI for a field trip or visit is not right for your group, PARI educators can come to you.

Most of our education programs can be conducted at your facility.

Our portable planetarium can come to your location and be set up in a gymnasium or other large indoor space. 

Please review these portable planetarium requirements before scheduling it to come to your location:

  • The planetarium requires an open clear area at least 30 feet by 30 feet.
  • The ceiling must be at least 17 feet tall (please note any hanging light fixtures that may reduce the usable height).
  • There must be access to electricity.
  • The area should not be used for any other activities during a planetarium show.  It creates echoes and it can be difficult to hear if other things are going on in the same space.
  • The portable planetarium can take up to two hours to completely set up, inflate, and prepare for guests.  PARI educators will need access to the space where it will be set up two hours prior to the first show.  Time will need to be allocated at the end of a visit to deflate and pack the planetarium as well.
  • Twenty minutes should be scheduled between each show.  It will take significant time for groups to enter and exit the planetarium.  Each group must also receive a safety and guidelines talk before entering.

Pricing is based on the number of educators required for the visit, the duration of the stay, and the distance they must travel.  Please contact us for a quote for a visit to your location.

Sample Itineraries

Two Hour Visit
Several classes of the same or similar grade level all attending the same programs
Time Group A (~25 Students) Group B (~25 Students)
Activity Location Activity Location
Arrival Busses park at the flag pole and students break into groups
Restroom Break Restrooms Planetarium Restrooms Visitors Center
Block One Realm of the Planets Planetarium Museum Tour Visitors Center
Block Two Museum Tour Vistors Center Realm of the Planets Planetarium
Lunch Lunch Outdoor Picnic Tables Lunch Outdoor Picnic Tables
Three Hour Visit
Several classes of the same or similar grade level all attending the same programs
Time Group A (~25 Students) Group B (~25 Students) Group C (~25 Students)
Activity Location Activity Location Activity Location
Arrival Busses park at the flag pole and students break into groups
Restroom Break Restrooms Planetarium Restrooms Visitors Center Restrooms Learning Center
Block One The Reason for the Seasons Planetarium Heliophysics Visitors Center Astrobiology Learning Center
Block Two Heliophysics Vistors Center Astrobiology Learning Center The Reason for the Seasons Planetarium
Block Three Astrobiology Learning Center The Reason for the Seasons Planetarium Heliophysics Visitors Center
Lunch Lunch Outdoor Picnic Tables Lunch Outdoor Picnic Tables Lunch Outdoor Picnic Tables
Three Hour Visit
Different Grade Levels Attending Different Programs
Time Group A (~25 Students) Group B (~25 Students)
Activity Location Activity Location
Arrival Busses park at the flag pole and students break into groups
Restroom Break Restrooms Planetarium Restrooms Visitors Center
Block One The Moon: Now you see it; Now you don't Planetarium Spectroscopy Visitors Center
Block Two Lunar and Martian Geography Learning Center Radio Astronomy Visitors Center
Block Three Museum Tour Vistors Center Realm of the Planets Planetarium
Lunch Lunch Outdoor Picnic Tables Lunch Outdoor Picnic Tables

Plan your visit to PARI