Sparking Curiosity at Morehead Planetarium & Science Center

By: TLP's Partners

For 75 years, the Morehead Planetarium & Science Center has sparked curiosity and a love of science for the millions of visitors and program participants from around the world who have visited the planetarium since opening its doors.  

Zeiss projector at the Morehead Planetarium
Zeiss projectors were the centerpiece of Morehead’s Fulldome Theater from its opening in 1949 until 2011 when the Zeiss IV was retired. (Morehead Planetarium and Science Center archives)

The Morehead Planetarium was dedicated on May 10, 1949, as the first planetarium in the southern United States and the first built on a university campus at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This landmark was gifted from alumnus John Motley Morehead III, businessman and philanthropist, who wanted people to understand science. 

Ten years after opening, the planetarium played a major role in the country’s expanding space program where astronauts trained in celestial navigation to ensure they would be able to pilot their spacecraft if navigational systems failed. Between 1960 and 1975, 62 NASA astronauts, including many of those who walked on the moon during the Apollo program, trained at the planetarium. 

A prominent feature of the planetarium was its renowned Zeiss projector systems. Once a commanding presence in the center of the fulldome theater, the Zeiss was used from 1969 to 2011 when Morehead completed an upgrade to a fully digital projection system.

UNC Science Expo
Spot, an agile mobile robot from Boston Dynamics, wows the crowd at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center as part of the UNC Science Expo on Saturday, April 9, 2022. (Morehead Planetarium and Science Center)

 In 2019 and 2020, the Morehead Planetarium & Science Center underwent a $9.2 million renovation. The anniversary celebration is a great opportunity to come for the first time or make a return visit to see what’s new.  

 Today, visitors see a multitude of live star shows or multimedia media shows in the GSK Fulldome Theater presented using a fulldome digital video projection system. Visitors can also explore expanded exhibits, tinker in the launch lab, watch live science demonstrations and visit the gift shop. Shows and activities are available for children, adults, and families and a full list of events can be found on the Morehead Planetarium & Science Center’s website.  

Morehead’s programs reach far beyond Chapel Hill and impact the lives of thousands of North Carolinians each year, including the statewide North Carolina Science Festival, partnerships with schools and community groups reaching underserved communities, the annual Science for All Summit, and popular educational outreach initiatives including Carolina Science Cafe for adults and the Mobile Planetarium for children, among others. 

75th anniversary events in 2024 

Morehead Planetarium director Tony Jenzano (standing, right), with NASA astronauts Wally Schirra (left) and Scott Carpenter (in Mercury trainer) during celestial navigation training in the early 1960s. (Morehead Planetarium and Science Center archives)

UNC Science Expo – April 6, 11 am – 4 pm  
A signature annual event of Morehead’s North Carolina Science Festival, attendees can expect hands-on activities and science demonstrations led by STEM students, researchers, and practitioners from UNC-Chapel Hill. This year’s expo also includes food trucks, stage performances, and prizes. 

Total Solar Eclipse Watch Party – April 8 
This event includes featured talks during planetarium shows and a live eclipse stream. If weather permits, head outside to the Morehead’s sun-viewing stations.   

For 75th anniversary activities throughout the year, visit

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