Discover a hidden space center deep in Pisgah National Forest. If you are fascinated with science and the stars, The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) is a must-see in the Asheville area. This complex was initially developed by NASA in 1962 as the east coast facility to track satellites and monitor manned space flights. Today, it's a non-profit educational and world-class research center known for their massive radio telescopes. Located near Brevard, the 30-building campus dotted with all sizes of telescopes is well-protected from man-made light pollution and radio interference, recognized by the International Dark Sky Association as a Dark Sky Park. It attracts both curious tourists and acclaimed scientists from around the globe.
This premiere science center welcomes all ages to visit and become immersed in the world of science and technology. The campus houses radio and optical telescopes, Earth science instruments, the Astronomical Photographic Data Archive, with onsite lodging and dining available. Exhibit galleries display NASA Space Shuttle artifacts and collections of rare meteorites and minerals. PARI provides STEM educational programs at all levels, from K-12 through post-graduate research.
PARI offers tours and guided evening observing for individuals and groups by appointment. They can also host private or special events. Call 828.862.5554 to schedule your visit. For the latest on public hours or events, go to the PARI website.
Events open to the general public are hosted by PARI year round. Each is focused on an astronomical event, new development in space exploration, or offers an opportunity for hands on learning. Upcoming events can be found on PARI's calendar. Some events require preregistration, as space can be limited.
Scouting troops are invited to plan events with PARI to camp, learn badge relevant topics, and explore space science. Some events are open for any to sign up for and can be found on their calendar. Others can be booked with specific groups to provide more tailored experiences.
Camps at PARI are designed to inspire and empower tomorrow's leaders in space science and discovery. With over two decades of experience, PARI knows how to combine adventure and exploration with investigations that encourage deeper thinking and hone problem solving skills. Their summer offerings are filled with hands on challenges and access to the same tools used by researchers.
Campers attending research based camps get a chance to uncover something amazing about the universe, like the expansion rate of an exploding star or composition of a distant nebula. Scenario based camps give campers the responsibility to lead a successful mission to Mars or beyond by exploring and choosing technologies to use, recruiting astronauts, and preparing for the unexpected.
For additional information, scholarship opportunities and to register, visit the Learning Center’s website or call (828) 862-5554.
Drive or hike throughout the 200-acre site and stop at the observation deck for spectacular Blue Ridge Mountain views.
See their impressive collection of meteorites, gems and minerals. Since North Carolina is the only state where large gem-grade emeralds are found, their collection includes a 15.3-carat faceted emerald. The meteorite section includes a piece of the very first meteorite documented to have fallen to earth in 1492. Even see meteorites from Mars! At the PARI gift shop, buy a piece of a meteorite to take home. PARI is one of the few sites in the country selected by NASA to receive artifacts from the Space Shuttle Program. See them in their space exploration gallery, including several items that have flown in space.
During 2017, they received a lot of international attention for being a prime location for the Total Solar Eclipse. Their location in the direct path, combined with their variety of telescopes and research equipment, attracted astronomers from around the world! Read more.
Photo above by Spencer Black, Black Visual
PARI is about 35 miles (60 minutes) from Asheville Airport area. It's along the Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway (NC Highway 215).
- Take I-26 East to the Exit 40 for the Airport and NC 280 West. Turn right.
- Drive to Brevard (16 miles) and NC 280 becomes US 64 West. Drive through town.
- About 9 miles past Brevard on US 64, turn right onto NC 215 North.
- Drive 6 miles and turn left on Macedonia Church Road.
- Go 1.7 miles to the entrance.
Address: 1 PARI Drive, Rosman, NC 28772 (Some GPS units use Lake Toxaway as the town).
In its third mission, this campus has a fascinating history.
- 1963-1985: NASA picked this location from a worldwide search to build their network of satellite tracking and data collection stations. The "Rosman Satellite Tracking and Data Acquisition Facility" was the nation’s primary east coast satellite-tracking facility. The 26m East Radio Telescope, one of two on the campus, was commissioned in 1963 as the first parabolic dish in NASA’s Spacecraft Tracking and Data (Acquisition) Network (STADAN). In 1964 this instrument received the first pictures of Earth from space (Nimbus-1 satellite) and in 1967 received the first TV transmission from space (ATS-1 satellite).
- 1981-1995: The Department of Defense (DOD) took over and used the site for satellite data collection with 350 employees. The “smiley” face on PARI’s 4.6m radio telescope was painted as a joke during the height of the Cold War. The Soviet Union was intensely interested in the DOD base and often sent satellites to photograph the campus. Each Soviet photo contained a “smiley face” as a friendly wave. Today “Smiley” is a student favorite and is used remotely via the Internet by middle and high school students and teachers to study radio astronomy.
- 1998-today: After several years of inactivity at the site, the government decided to dismantle the facility. Recognizing its tremendous value and potential, Don and Jo Cline rescued the campus, formed a non-profit and gifted the 200-acre campus to it.
More Info: Go to the PARI website.
Also See: The Astronomy Club of Asheville has two observatories for star gazing. Read about their monthly events.