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PARI welcomes guests of all ages to immerse themselves in science, space, and nature at our remote, 200+ acre campus nestled in the mountains of the Pisgah National Forest.

Our historic facility with impressive optical and radio telescopes draw both curious travelers and esteemed scientists from around the world. With the Pisgah National Forest in our backyard, PARI is the perfect addition for those visiting the area to enjoy outdoor adventures like hiking, fishing, river rafting and exploring our many surrounding waterfalls. PARI’s ridge-top views provide a unique vantage point to experience seasonal bursts of color and lush foliage. PARI is an internationally certified DARK SKY PARK, one of only two in North Carolina, providing nights filled with brilliant stars, flashes of meteors, and the Milky Way stretching from horizon to horizon.

PARI hosts educators, their students, special interest groups, families, and friends for hands-on learning experiences that inspire a life long love of science and encourage new adventures.

Our offerings include:

Guided tours of our
facility and campus for guests from K to gray.

Educational curriculum, tours, and presentations
for educators and their students.

Overnight weekend special events or retreats for friends, family, clubs, community,
and corporate groups.

Large, spacious meeting rooms to host corporate presentations or special interest demonstrations.

Visit our NASA exhibit and collection of meteorites, gems, and minerals in our on-site galleries.

Give the gift of PARI or take home a special memory with an item from the PARI Shop.

Complete your visit with a look at what our neighbors have to offer!

Three planets in morning twilight


The planets: Mars remains the only planet visible to the naked eye in the evening sky. As the earth circles the sun, we are moving away from the more slowly moving red planet. Thus, Mars is fading although still obvious. Tonight, it stands above the Hyades cluster and between the long horns of Taurus the bull. On the evening of the 16th the waxing crescent moon will be just to the west of Mars; the next evening it will shine on the other side of Mars having passed it during our daytime.

Venus passed behind the sun on March 26 so technically it is in the evening twilight. But it is still too close to the sun to be seen. Mercury also is still extremely low in the morning twilight and can be seen only with difficulty. It passes behind the sun on the 18th to move into the evening twilight where is might be seen late in the month.

Jupiter and Saturn remain in the predawn sky now in the constellation of Capricornus, the sea-goat. They are rising earlier each morning and, thus, are more readily visible in the approaching dawn.

Celestial Observing Challenge: Following new moon on the 11th, we will see a thin crescent low in the west after sunset on the 13th. It is standing above the evening twilight in the constellation of Aries the ram. The next night it will be below the Pleiades cluster just entering Taurus the bull. On the 15th our moon will have moved to the west of the Hyades cluster and Aldebaran, the fierce red eye of the bull. Three nights later, it will be east of Mars and in the middle of Gemini the twins. These are all zodiac constellations, a special band around the sky in which follows the ecliptic, the plane of the solar system. The moon’s orbit is tilted just over six degrees from the ecliptic. So, if you continue your observations of the moon from night to night, you will trace out the constellations of Cancer the crab, Leo the lion and Virgo the maiden. By that time, the moon will be rising shortly after sunset. After full moon, the waning moon will be rising later in the night as it traces out the remaining constellations of the zodiac in the pre-dawn skies.

The stars: Early evening in April catches us between the prominent constellations of the receding winter skies and those of the quickly rising spring skies. In the former, the great hunter Orion can still be seen in the west. But now, as the sky darkens, he is leaning downward as he follows the bull Taurus towards the horizon. The Gemini twins, Castor and Pollux, stand to the north of their mentor as they follow him across the sky. Two bright stars, Castor and Pollux, mark their heads. Following these folks as the sky turns are the two dogs. The Dog Star Sirius, the brightest star in the nighttime sky, is in the southwest. Above Sirius is the lesser or little dog consisting of only two naked eye stars, Procyon, sometimes called “the pup” and the much dimmer Gomiesa.

Meanwhile, to the east, we find the springtime constellations becoming more apparent. Leo the lion is standing high in the east. The front or western portion of the lion has traditionally been called “the sickle” and can be found labeled as such on many star charts. It consists of an almost complete circle of stars with the bright star Regulus lying below it. In more modern times, we view this pattern as a coat hanger or a backward question mark with Regulus as the dot below the question mark.

Between the twins and the lion is Cancer the crab, basically an open area without any bright stars. However, in the middle of Cancer is a pretty cluster of stars popularly known as Praesepe or the “Beehive Cluster” since, with a pair of binoculars or a small telescope, it looks like a swarm of celestial bees. To the astronomer this cluster, named Praesepe, is known as M44 for Messier 44. Since the Beehive lies in the zodiac, it is often occulted, i.e., covered up, by the moon. The planets also appear to pass through this swarm of bees as they pass in front of Praesepe.

Celestial Calendar:

  • April 11, 10:30 p.m. EDT – New moon
  • April 12 – The sun in its apparent annual path around the sky moves from the constellation of Pisces the fish into Aries the ram.
  • April 16 – The moon lies between the horns of Taurus the bull.
  • April 18, 10 p.m. EDT – Mercury passes behind the sun at superior conjunction.

Sextuple Star System in the Big Dipper

The Sun:  The first day of spring is marked by the vernal or spring equinox, the moment in time when the sun, in its apparent path around the sky, crosses the celestial equator on its way north for the spring and summer.  This year the equinox occurs at 5:37 a.m. EDT, Saturday, March 20.

The stars:  While the bright stars of winter continue to dominate the southern sky in the early evening, turn around and look to the north, specifically the northeast.  Here, low in the sky, we find the familiar pattern of the Big Dipper.  It is still not late enough in the year to see it high in the north, but we can see it rising, standing on its handle with the bowl opening to the left.  Watch the Big Dipper over the next several weeks as it gets higher and higher in the northeast until, with the coming of spring, it will lie high in the north.  Realize, of course, that the Big Dipper is not an official constellation as defined by the International Astronomical Union.  Astronomers would call it an asterism, a pattern of stars that is recognizable but not one of the 88 official constellations.  Where we see the familiar dipper, the ancient Greeks saw the long tail of the Great Bear, Ursa Major.

Now use the two stars in the end of the bowl of the Big Dipper to find the most famous star in the night sky.  Draw a line between these two stars and trace it to the left about five times the distance between the two stars and you will come to a bright (but not the brightest) star.  This is Polaris, the North Star.  The North Star is the end of the tail of the Little or Lesser Bear, Ursa Minor.  To our way of thinking it is also the end of the handle of the asterism we call the Little Dipper.  Once you have found the North Star, look down to the right to locate two moderately bright stars.  These are the so-called “Guardians” which mark the end of the bowl of the Little Dipper.  The other stars of the Little Dipper, stretching between the Guardians and the North Star, are much fainter; you must have a truly clear, dark night to spot them and, thus, trace out the entire Little Dipper.

Celestial Observing Challenge:  Look at Mizar, the middle star in the handle of the Big Dipper.  How many stars do you see?  If you see two stars, you have passed what may have been an eye test of the ancients.  Astronomers would say you have “split” the double star.  The companion is known a Alcor.  The pair is sometimes called the “horse and rider” double.  In other traditions Alcor is said to be a hunting dog who accompanies his master Mizar following the great bear across the sky.  You can’t see it but later studies with advanced instruments have shown that Mizar and Alcor are very close double stars in they own rights.  Not only that but the two stars that make up Mizar are also doubles.  So, you are looking at a sextuplet star system.  Congratulations!

The planets:


Still standing high in the southwest as the only classical planet in the evening sky.  It will remain there, although lower each evening, until early fall.

Jupiter & Saturn  

Still low in the southeast before sunrise but standing higher each morning as we approach them in the earth’s motion around the sun.  These two are the brightest objects in the constellation of Capricornus, the sea-goat, sometimes called the goat-fish.


Still grouped in the predawn twilight with Jupiter and Saturn but much lower and more difficult to spot.  It is approaching superior conjunction behind the sun on April 18.


Passes behind the sun in superior conjunction on the 26th.  It will be lost for viewing for a couple of weeks and then shines as our “Evening Star” into early 2022.



Celestial Calendar:

  •             March 20, 5:37 a.m. EDT – Vernal Equinox
  •             March 21, 10:40 a.m. EDT – First quarter moon
  • March 26, 3 a.m. EDT – Venus passes behind the sun in superior conjunction.  It moves from the morning sky into the evening sky.
  •             March 28, 2:48 p.m. EDT – Full moon
  •             April 4, 6:02 a.m. EDT – Last quarter moon





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Programming Menu

Planetarium programs are scheduled group events and traditionally target K-12 educational space science curriculums and astronomy for all ages.

These events may be scheduled at PARI or at your school i.e. our mobile planetarium.

Planetarium Programs

Suggested for Grades 1, 3, 4 (NC) 4 (SC), Pre-K, special groups
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. Using the planetarium projector, we note how stars appear to move as the night progresses. We’ll also discuss why starry skies are a vanishing treasure due to light pollution diluting our view of the cosmos.

Suggested for Grades 1, 3, 4, 6 (NC) 1, 4, 8 (SC)
In this program, we will observe the motions of the Earth and the Moon by first using a model and then observing constellations in the evening sky using our planetarium. We’ll also use hands-on activities to model the changing phases of the Moon and observe how stars move in the sky as the Earth rotates.

Suggested for Grades 1, 2, 5, HS (NC) 2, 4 (SC)
In studying the universe, we typically familiarize ourselves with the classical sky of the ancient Greeks. In this presentation, we will discuss other cultures’ traditions and views of the sky, and the legends they tell.

Suggested for Grades 1, 3, 6 (NC) 4, HS (SC)
In this program, we look at the current locations of the planets in their orbits and then move to the evening’s sky, noting where they appear among the constellations of the zodiac. The apparent motion of the Sun around the ecliptic will lead to a discussion of the equinoxes and solstices.

Starting with a model we talk about the tilt of the Earth on its axis as the reason for the seasons. We use the planetarium to observe the evening’s constellations, then move to a daytime view to observe how the height of the noontime Sun, the length of the day, and the sunset points change with the seasons, and how this leads to equinoxes and solstices.
*Pairs well with Heliophysics

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 nine navigational stars, they could determine their latitude and longitude as they compiled a map of their journey.


Planetarium Movies

Suggested for all ages and grades
“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.

Suggested for Grades 6, 7, HS (NC) 8, HS (SC)
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.

“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.

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 all grades
In collaboration with NASA, the NISE Network has assembled a new set of engaging, hands-on Earth and space science experiences with connection to science, technology and society. Topics include shadows, topographic maps, cloud observations from Earth and space, scale of the solar system, potential habitats for life in space and gravity.

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

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 nine navigational stars, they could determine their latitude and longitude as they compiled a map of their journey.

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.

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