Discover a hidden gem deep in Pisgah National Forest. If you are fascinated with science and the stars, PARI (Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute) 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. Located near Brevard, the 30-building campus dotted with telescopes is a well-protected location from man-made light pollution and radio interference. It attracts both curious tourists and acclaimed scientists from around the globe.
Visitors are welcome on Monday through Saturday, 9 AM-4 PM, at their main building. Take a self-guided tour of PARI's Galaxy Walk (outdoor scale model of our solar system), astronomical displays and see the first 26 Meter Antenna used to communicate with astronauts during the early NASA missions. Explore hands-on space and earth science exhibit galleries, talk to scientists and attend evening star gazing events. Drive or hike throughout the 200-acre site and stop at the observation deck for spectacular Blue Ridge Mountain views. Guided tours (no extra charge) on Wednesdays and Saturdays give you a glimpse at current projects and more details about their very intriguing history and collection.
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 galley, including several items that have flown in space.
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 located about 35 miles from the Asheville area. It's along the Forest Heritage National Scenic Byway (NC Highway 215). Admission is $6/person. Maximum $18 for a family. Free for ages 10 and under. Go to the PARI website.
- Guided Tours: Highly recommended since you will learn so many fascinating stories about this place! Learn about PARI’s history as a pivotal part of the pioneering early days of our nation’s space program with a guided tour on Wednesdays at 2 PM and Saturday at 10 AM & 2 PM. Reservations are necessary. Call 828-862-5554. The tours last about 1.5 hours. Included in admission! Schedule guided tours on other days for additional charge.
- SkyTrek Observing Sessions: On many Friday and Saturday nights throughout the year, join PARI astronomers and use PARI telescopes to scan the night sky for planets, nebulae, colored stars and other objects in our fascinating solar system. 7-9 PM. $15/adult, $5/ages 6-11. Reservations are required and will be accepted until 3 PM the day of the event. If inclement weather prevents observations, the session will be cancelled and registrants will be notified by 4 PM the day of the event. Go to their website for info & tickets
- 2nd Friday Evenings at PARI: For a unique romantic star gazing outing, make reservations on the second Friday of each month for an Evening at PARI. The evening includes a tour of PARI, an astronomy or science talk, and if the weather is clear, they provide optical telescopes to view the planets, Moon, and other celestial objects. Reservations are required. $20 per adult, $15 for seniors/military. Go to their website for info & tickets or call 828-862-5554.
- May 6, 2017 - Space Day: This all day (10 AM-4 PM) "open house" with free admission, tours, demonstrations, and insight into current research and educational programs.
- August 21, 2017 - The Total Solar Eclipse: The first in the USA in 38 years, the eclipse path of totality will cross PARI at 2:36:44 PM EDT and last for 1 minute, 47 seconds. It will be the first time a total solar eclipse has occurred at a site equipped with 26-meter radio telescopes. Scientists from around the world will be on hand. Teams of NASA scientists will also be at PARI conducting eclipse experiments. PARI expects about 800 people, including 300 amateur astronomers and plenty of advice about the best and safest ways to view. $100/person for the full day. Go to their website for info & tickets
Photo above by Spencer Black, Black Visual
Future of PARI
This non-profit group has some ambitious plans for PARI, to ensure that science excites the imagination. Coming soon will be a lodge, cafeteria and a host of science camps for students of all ages. Behind the scenes, it is repurposing buildings to become a highly secured data center. They have been chosen by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) as the primary North American repository for astronomical photographic glass plates and film (they have 340,000+ so far). They work closely with the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, the U.S. Naval Observatory and numerous universities. They welcome donations.
PARI is about 35 miles (60 minutes) from Asheville Airport area.
- 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.