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North Carolina Science Festival: Thousands Gather Across the State for Solar Eclipse Star Parties

A view of the partial solar eclipse taken on April 8, 2024 at the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center eclipse event.

On Friday, April 5th to Monday, April 8th, 2024, the 12th annual Statewide Star Party, a hallmark event of the NC Science Festival, unfolded across the state to thousands of eager attendees. This year’s theme, “Sun and Moon,” served as a fitting tribute to the solar eclipse that graced the skies on the event’s final day.

Participants at the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center’s eclipse event take in the rare solar eclipse. The next solar eclipse to cross North America is not until 2044.

With 37 locations spanning from the mountains to the coastline, the NC Star Party offered a unique opportunity for the public to engage in skywatching and witness the rare astronomical phenomenon of a solar eclipse. Hosted by an array of institutions including state and local parks, colleges, universities, planetariums, science centers, nature centers, and libraries, the event gave attendees of all ages and backgrounds a chance to learn more about the sun, moon, and this year’s eclipse.

Event Highlights

Hosts were provided with Star Party kits, which included a multitude of activity materials including a UV Bead Bracelet Activity, Solar Eclipse Art Activity, a picture book, and star maps for NC.

Additionally, each kit contained 100 pairs of eclipse glasses, a promotional “Sun & Moon” poster, Star Party bookmarks, a map of the 2024 eclipse path, a NASA eclipse safety flier, and web resources, including NASA-related resources.

Children participate in an eclipse-themed art activity at an NC Star Party at Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve.

As the partial solar eclipse cast its shadow over North Carolina, spanning approximately 2½ hours from 2 to 4:30 p.m., participants watched as the Moon obscured 70-85% of the Sun at its peak. Across the state, hosts organized 45 Star Party events, with some offering multiple engagements including nighttime skywatching preceding the eclipse viewing. Among the events was the collective enthusiasm of 13,232 attendees, supported by 232 staff members, 496 volunteers, and 41 STEM professionals, making it another successful year for the NC Star Party.

Children listen as the book Sun! One in a Billion by Stacy McAnulty, illustrated by Stevie Lewis, is read to them at Weymouth Woods Sandhills Nature Preserve.

Participant Experiences

Frances Cassarino, reflecting on the festivities at Lake Norman State Park, remarked on the joyous atmosphere. Families and children alike enjoyed crafting eclipse-themed artwork and UV bracelets, while engaging in captivating activities that aligned with the celestial phenomena. “Kids loved to see the beach ball and tennis ball ‘become the same size’ as they walked apart,” Cassarino added, highlighting the hands-on learning experiences that captivated attendees.

Monica Alston, from the Perry Memorial Library, echoed the sentiment as participants delved into discussions on eclipse safety and the scientific nuances of the phenomenon. Transitioning between indoor and outdoor activities, attendees were immersed in educational engagement, culminating in the exciting eclipse viewing experience. Alston’s pride in the community’s involvement was evident as she recounted their feature on the front page of the local newspaper The Daily Dispatch, a testament to the impact of the NC Star Party.

The solar eclipse and accompanying NC Star Party event featured in local newspaper The Daily Dispatch, highlighting the community’s involvement.

Reflecting on the broader impact of the event, an NC Star Party host hailed the 2024 NC Science Festival as the most memorable yet. Witnessing firsthand the effect of scientific engagement on young minds, they emphasized the shift in understanding exemplified by a child’s revelation, “I thought I knew how the eclipse worked, but it didn’t make sense until now!”

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