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Greenville observatory and science museum have big plans for 2023

A photograph showing how dark the skies in parts of Eastern North Carolina can be.
A Time for Science
/
B. Foley

The science museum in Greenville is in line for a big year in 2023. When renovations and upgrades are complete, it will serve as a destination for science learning for much of Eastern North Carolina.

A Time for Science is a nonprofit founded by John and Nancy Bray with the motto to get people "Experiencing nature. Doing science. Having fun." It started with an outdoor learning center in Grifton, close to where the Brays live.

John Bray was an early principal in Metrics, a Greenville-based company that provides contract services to the pharmaceutical industry. Metrics was sold to Mayne Pharma in 2012 in a deal worth up to $120 million. In August of this year, Mayne sold the business to Catalent for $475 million. Nancy Bray was a science teacher and the couple have always had a love for science.

In a 2017 response to requests for proposals from the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, the Brays' small science nonprofit sought a partnership. They were awarded the deal, which was signed in late 2019, shortly before the coronavirus pandemic.

Emily Jarvis is the director of A Time for Science in Greenville
Courtesy A Time for Science
Emily Jarvis is the director of A Time for Science in Greenville.

A Time for Science Nonprofit Director Emily Jarvis says that pause gave them an opportunity to do a lot of "behind the scenes work" and in September of 2021, they re-opened the museum in downtown Greenville. The local nonprofit still operates the facilities, but Jarvis says the partnership with the museum "allowed us to upgrade the quality of the exhibits."

Due largely to East Carolina University, Greenville is a medical hub for many people around Pitt County. Jarvis says the downtown museum sees families from surrounding counties who may have come to town for medical care and then learned about the museum's offerings. Of course, the science nonprofit does school tours as well, and Jarvis says about 25,000 people — mostly children — came through in the past year.

The original property in Grifton, called the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences at Contentnea Creek, is 400 acres and includes an observatory. While the east coast of North Carolina generally has more light pollution than less populated areas in the west, there's a pocket right around Grifton that has some of the darkest skies in the eastern time zone.

"Eastern North Carolina contains the largest and darkest stretch of dark skies along the Atlantic Coast," says Brian Baker, the nonprofit's Director of Astronomy. "The Albemarle Peninsula which is made up by Dare, Tyrrell, Washington, and Hyde counties is dominated by marshy, woodland areas sounded by several large bodies of water. Add in that fact that there are no large population centers in the area and you have a great environment for dark skies."

NASA satellite imagery shows the area around Pitt County has some of the darkest skies in the eastern time zone of the United States.
A Time for Science
/
NASA
NASA satellite imagery shows the area around Pitt County has some of the darkest skies in the eastern time zone of the United States.

A study even analyzed why the skies are so dark in that area, and Jarvis says the nonprofit encourages city and county leaders to strongly consider light pollution when making local zoning approvals and regulations.

Looking to next year, Jarvis says the nonprofit will build a 5,000-square-foot welcome center with more learning space at the Contentnea Creek location, which she expects will attract more people and give the nonprofit more space to house visitors if there's inclement weather.

They also have plans to move the Greenville museum to the Cupola building, a bigger location allowing for more and bigger exhibits.

"We have got a really big year ahead," Jarvis says.

Jason deBruyn is the WUNC health reporter, a beat he took in 2020. He has been in the WUNC newsroom since 2016.
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