• Roger W. Downes

Exploring Galaxies From The Forest

Updated: Feb 14

The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute reaches for the stars from the forest...

When you're out in the Pisgah National Forest thoughts of what is beyond our world may only come to mind when you are sitting around your campfire looking up into the night sky. Even then those thoughts are probably based loosely on the last SCI-FI movie you watched, striking up conversations about the adventures of Luke Skywalker or James T. Kirk. However, the reality of what is actually out there is much more exciting than what George Lucas or Gene Roddenberry could have ever dreamed up and some of those adventures happen deep inside the Pisgah National Forest.

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Once a top secret NASA listening station, the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, better know as P.A.R.I. (pronounced perry), offers scientists, researchers, and most importantly you the opportunity to explore the cosmos with your feet planted safely on the ground. P.A.R.I. Education Director Melanie Crowson shared during her interview on the Explore With RWD Podcast how two High School students who were studying a nebula proved a theory which led to Scientific Paper about their discovery being published, an accomplishment that more seasoned scientific researchers strive to do.

P.A.R.I. Education Director Melanie Crowson | Photo: Melanie Crowson

Crowson went on to explain how P.A.R.I. has helped make other discoveries about stars and galaxies which another scientist can build upon. Think of it as if each discovery or each theory proven, is like laying one step after another toward humankind officially starting to colonizing other worlds. Crowson admits it can seem boring to most people to sit analyzing endless streams of data drawn from the dishes aimed skyward but those countless hours are as important as the pioneers who first plotted the trails in the United States for settlers to confidently venture westward to California.

One of the facts that Crowson shared about our galaxy, is that it takes between 250 to 230 million years for the Milky Way, which spins at about 515,000 miles per hour (which would take you around the earth in about 5 seconds if my calculations are correct), to make a full galaxy rotation. That made me start to wonder what was happening on earth 250 million years ago when we were in this same spot in the galaxy. According to the Smithsonian, 250 million years ago there was a massive extinction event which led to the dinosaurs rising up to rule the planet for 160 million years before their extinction 65 million years ago due to an asteroid impact which made way for humans to rise up less than 7 million years ago. In other words as our solar system was turning into the our galactic driveway from its trip around the Milky Way neighborhood, humans just started to take their place on earth.

That fact is just one of the many that you and your family will discover when you visit P.A.R.I. In addition to visiting you can also enroll your children to attend one of their research camps where the love of the cosmos will certainly be lit in their minds and hearts. The question after that is where will that new passion take them, the skys the limit, or is it really when it comes to space exploration?

According to Crowson, many other scientists have gotten their start at P.A.R.I. including a member of the Mars Exploration Team. Keep that in mind as organizations like Space X and NASA are preparing to colonize the moon and Mars in the next several decades. P.A.R.I. may just be the perfect fit for you and your child as mankind reaches for the stars. Who knows where their new found love may take them, or the rest of us for that matter?

If you have any questions about P.A.R.I., reach out to Melanie Crowson;

Or visit P.A.R.I. online;

Crowson said they will be happy to tailor design your tour to fit your interests, no matter if it is just photographing the night sky, because P.A.R.I. is an official Dark Sky Park, or if you wish to hold a moon rock in your hand, they will accomodate.

Special thanks to BClip and Ingles Markets for giving me the opportunity to explore the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, and thank you to Education Director Melanie Crowson for her time in conducting our interview for this blog and podcast.



Thank you for taking the time to read about the adventures I take, the people I meet and the places I see.  

Please get out into the natural world and enjoy all the beauty and spender that is God's artistry...

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