About the Observatory
The astronomical observatory atop the Morehead Planetarium Building houses a 0.6m (24") professional Perkin-Elmer telescope. Chapel Hill is not Chile or Arizona, but skies can often be clear enough for graduate and undergraduate students to obtain useful data and experience that helps them prepare to use research instruments at national observatories. Despite the Franklin Street / Hooker Field athletic lights, we can still detect faint objects like distant galaxies or quasars.
Visitors at Guest Night have the opportunity to see the telescope in operation. If visible, we will try to observe some solar system objects. Depending on time of year, for example: Jupiter, Saturn, or Mars. Galaxies and star clusters too faint to see are readily recorded for view in exposures of only a few seconds to a minute using a CCD camera. While using the Morehead telescope is a great hands-on experience, we will also demo operating robotic Skynet telescopes remotely via our remote observing room.
There will be no guest nights this semester (fall 2019) because the observatory is being renovated.
UNC-CH Skynet Telescope Network
SKYNET is a distributed network of robotic telescopes controlled by a central server operated by students and faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In January 2006, the first six telescopes (PROMPT) officially began operation. Two more telescopes (TTT and GORT) joined during the first year, and many more are scheduled to come online in the year to come!
The Morehead Observatory supports active research programs in bright star spectroscopy and optical counterparts of Gamma Ray Bursts called Afterglows.
How the Observatory is being used
The UNC Department of Physics and Astronomy operates the observatory and its telescope. The Morehead Observatory is currently directed by Professor Daniel E. Reichart. It is located on the fourth floor of the East side of the Morehead Planetarium complex. Originally built in the 1970's, the telescope and dome are both still fully functional. Throughout the years, the mechanism for controlling the telescope has been improved. Initially the telescope was only moved via hand-paddle control. Then a computer running Microsoft DOS was added in the 90's. Finally, about 5 years ago, a modern Microsoft Windows machine was added to communicate with the DOS machine, allowing the Reichart group to fully automate the telescope and dome. The telescope is currently fully automated, but the dome requires manual intervention for opening and closing the slit.
The Reichart group is currently in the process of adding conductor rails to the dome, which will complete the last leg of 100% computer control. Once this happens, the telescope will be on Skynet nightly, taking images every clear night for members of our online community. So, if you happen to walk by and see the dome moving around in the evening, there may not be anyone up there controlling it!
In general, we hold Guest Night every week where a full-week of classes (M-F) is in session. We look forward to seeing you soon!
We still hold the event even if the weather is not cooperating. You should still come even if it is cloudy or raining! We have a lot to show and tell regardless of actually looking through the telescope! You will be contacted by phone if the event is cancelled for any reason.
How to find us:
Morehead Planetarium and Science Center
250 E. Franklin St.
Chapel Hill, NC
Guest Night Cost: Free
Most "purchased" stars will not be viewable to us.
Mars will never be as big as the moon.