Astronomy Days at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences

Every year, the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences hosts Astronomy Days. Our own Dr. Rachel Smith is a museum astronomer, as well as one of our faculty members. Other facutly that attend the annual event are Dr. Dan Caton and Elise Weaver, both tend to the Appalachian State Physics and Astronomy booth throughout the weekend along with volunteer students.

This year, Dr. Rachel Smith gave a presentation entitled Rocky Worlds: Impacts and Origins, using interactive, open-source software called OpenSpace to discuss how asteroid and comet impacts have helped shape planets and life for billions of years. Dr. Dan Caton demonstrated real time remote observing, imaging bright stars and planets using the 32" telescope from the Dark Sky Observatory. The museum had several other invited speakers, including astronaut Kjell Lindgren, scientists Pierre Haenecour and Maitrayee Bose from Arizona, and Carter Emmart from the American Museum of Natural History. We had 1 graduate and 7 undergraduate and 1 grad student at the event from ASU and they volunteered in my lab, for solar observing, showcasing the meteorites after my talk, and taking photos during the event. All wrote about their experiences which was great to read how they were affected in various significant ways, both personally and professionally.

Student Austin Caldwell wrote:

My Astronomy Days volunteering experience is something I will surely remember. While there, I saw folks’ “spark” for Astronomy become active again, and young kids come into the lab with a giant smile on their face....

In all, what I learned from Astronomy Days is that I really underestimated ... how much of space we actually know about. It has made me think of astronomy in an incredibly different way. I respect the study even more now, knowing what Astronomers do for their job and how much they put into their research. It has made me realize what I’m truly in college for and why it’s so important for me to get good grades.

Wyatt Holloway said:

Before I start I just want to say that this weekend was the most fun I’ve had in my 2 years of college. Going in, I didn’t know anyone in the group, but by the time we got back we were all friends. As far as volunteering goes, I stayed in the lab for most of the two days we were there. I
spent that time explaining to the people who were interested what Open Space was. I gave them the gist and then if they had anymore questions I answered them to the best of my ability. I also helped carry meteorites down to the stage and present them after your talk. I also brought down poster for the OSIRIS-REx talk.

Speaking of talks, I attended three. I went to yours about Open Space, where you explored the solar system and meteor crater and various other things. I also went to Dr. Carter’s about the places we drove to on the moon that also used Open Space. That one was interesting
because the artwork in the beginning was super cool. He showed the launch of one of the final Apollo missions but it wasn’t real footage. It was an artistic rendition that fooled everyone. The 3d visualization using Open Space also helped make the talk much more understandable and entertaining. Finally I went to the one about OSIRIS-REx and learned about how we collected our first samples from landing on an asteroid. 

Dr. Smith and students
Published: Feb 28, 2024 10:30am