Projecting Stars, Inspiring Futures

Black and white photo of Ana holding a piece of paper above her head as her father Nigaraj looks at her fondly

Learning about the night sky can be difficult to come by, especially at an early age. Fortunately, kids all across North Carolina have the opportunity to experience and learn about the night sky through the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center’s Mobile Planetarium program.

Since its inception in 2010, Mobile Planetarium has served as a valuable resource for schools across North Carolina, traveling to between 40-60 schools each year, reaching nearly 10,000 students annually. Nicknamed the giant blueberry, standing 13 feet in height and 20 feet in diameter, the dome travels from place to place bringing space right into the learning arena for so many children.

After knowing the state of the current projecting system, lifelong astronomy enthusiast Sunil Nagaraj ’04 knew he could provide a gift that would inspire future generations.

“In my mind, this gift has the very specific goal of sparking interest in astronomy — and astronomy often serves as the gateway for kids to fall in love with science and math,” said Nagaraj.

Growing up in Raleigh, Nagaraj would check out every library book about the solar system and spend his evenings gazing at the night sky while dreaming of becoming an astronaut. He went on to study computer science at Carolina, attending live shows at Morehead’s Fulldome Theatre during his undergrad years.

Now based in California, Nagaraj continues to actively engage in space, astronomy and science-related initiatives both professionally and in his space time. Nagaraj previously held the position of president at the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, the world’s largest astronomy education society. He has also supported organizations such as the SETI Institute, UC Berkeley Astronomy and the Computer History Museum.

After providing a major gift to UNC Computer Science to help renovate their facilities, Nagaraj returned to Chapel Hill with his 7-year-old daughter Anavi to show her the planetarium where he once watched the night sky come alive.

The new state-of-the-art projector was gifted by Nagaraj on behalf of his daughter.

“To see how excited she was, and then to think about this mobile planetarium going around to all the schools across North Carolina and the science coming to people who wouldn’t be able to access it otherwise, was incredibly inspiring,” said Nagaraj.

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