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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 30‑45 minutes

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 30‑45 minutes

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 30‑45 minutes

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 30‑45 minutes

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 30‑45 minutes

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 30‑45 minutes

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 30‑45 minutes

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,, 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.

Astronomy Education Programs

Suggested for Grades K, 1, 3, 6 (NC) 4, 8, HS (SC) Science
The Galaxy Walk is a scale model of our solar system and nearby galaxies. Visitors and school groups can stroll the PARI campus while receiving an unusual perspective on the positioning of the planets, plus a better understanding of the immense distances separating the planets from the Sun and each other.
*Pairs well with Size and Scale in the Solar System.

Suggested for Grades 1, 3, 6 (NC) 4, HS (SC)
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 the concepts. Each participant will make a model that they can take home with them.
*Pairs well with Galaxy Walk

Suggested for Grade HS (NC, SC)
A star’s color can help us understand its size, mass and temperature. Astronomers use these characteristics to put stars into categories, or classifications, based upon the lines found in the spectra of these stars. In this program we will explore this sophisticated means of studying stars. What is the difference between a red supergiant star and a red dwarf star? Students can explore these questions and others by using actual spectra of stars.
*Pairs well with Spectroscopy or APDA tour.

Activities will explain how the Sun and Earth system works. Their movement will be modeled. The impact of solar activity like Sun spots and solar flares and their impact on Earth and its magnetic field and human technology and communications will be discussed.
*Pairs well with The Reason for the Seasons

Astronomers study radio waves to learn about the composition, energy, and movement of objects in space. This program will show students how radio telescopes work, and use them to collect data and calculate Doppler shift to determine how objects like Nebula and SuperNova Remnants are moving in space. They will see how this data can be used to produce maps and images of things that cannot be seen or investigated with an optical telescope.
*Pairs well with Spectroscopy

Spectroscopy is the study of light as a function of length of the wave that has been emitted, reflected or shone through a solid, liquid, or gas. Spectroscopy allows scientists to investigate and explore things that are too small to be seen through a microscope, such as molecules, and the even smaller subatomic particles like protons, neutrons and electrons. Students will participate in hands-on, light wave activities and use refraction glasses to see the ‘rainbows’ associated with different elements. This is how stars are classified.
*This all ages lesson is an excellent introduction to the high school level, Stellar Classification workshop.

Astrobiology is the study of life in outer space. The field of astrobiology looks for conditions necessary for life, like liquid water, a good temperature, or the presence of oxygen.

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. Students learn astrobiology basics and then create their own extremophile and design its habitat.
*Need a version of this for younger learners? Look for Extremophiles and Exoplanets.

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 effectiveness. We’ll use PARI’s rovers to explore real and simulated terrains and collect data about them using methods similar to how rovers on other planets are controlled. This activity is best for smaller groups so each participant will be able to control the rovers.
*Pairs well with Bristle Bots.

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.
*Pairs well with Spectroscopy and Stellar Classification.

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 go on this epic journey as they complete college?
*Pairs well with ROVERS Exploration and Lunar & Martian Geography.

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.
*This material is available in a more in depth version as a multi-day program.

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.
*Best for younger audiences, preschool through elementary grades.

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, and you can learn to think like a 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.

(Additional Materials 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.

(Additional Materials 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? Can your lander module keep your astronauts safe, or will it launch them into the vacuum of space? Only the best spacecraft will win in this activity that combines managing budgets and the scientific method with foamy explosions and sacrificial marshmallow dummies.

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, even tree growth, 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.

(Additional Materials Fees Apply)
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? Explore these topics with explorations of other planets and hands-on activities (some of which are edible) to learn about the formation and exploration of our closest neighbors.

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.

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 at no additional cost.

2-hour visit:

• $110.00 minimum for up to 10 students

• $11.00 each additional student

• Teachers free with 1:10 teacher/student ratio

• Parents/adults $10.00 each

3-hour visit:

• $180.00 minimum for up to 10 students

• $18.00 each additional student

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

• Parents/adults $10.00 each

4-hour visit:

• $220.00 minimum for up to 10 students

• $22.00 each additional student

• Teachers free with 1:10 teacher/student ratio

• Parents/adults $10.00  each

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 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.
  • 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.

Plan your visit to PARI