North Carolina Astronomers' Meeting (NCAM)

×NCAM 2021 is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, 25 September. Check this page for details. The meeting should be similar in format to the 2019 edition described below. NCAM 2020 was not held because of the pandemic.

NCAM 2019

Saturday, Sept. 28, at GTCC, Jamestown, NC

Featured Speaker:  Cathy Olkin, Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colo.

NCAM is an annual technical meeting that seeks to bring members of the NC professional astronomy community together to network and share research.  The meeting usually draws 50+ attendees from institutions around North Carolina and surrounding states.  For the past two decades, NCAM has been held annually in late September or early October, and includes a plenary presentation from an invited researcher, short oral sessions scheduled throughout the day, and space for research posters.  We especially encourage presentations of student research.  The meeting also usually includes two special sessions:  the annual business meeting of the NC Section of the International Dark-sky Association, and a Center for Astronomy Education Regional Teaching Exchange.

Morning Plenary Lecture, Cathy Olkin (SWRI):

What we have learned about Pluto and the Kuiper Belt from NASA’s New Horizons Mission

In July 2015, the New Horizons spacecraft flew through the Pluto system providing high spatial resolution panchromatic and color visible light imaging, near-infrared composition mapping spectroscopy, UV airglow measurements, UV solar and radio uplink occultations for atmospheric sounding, and in situ plasma and dust measurements that have transformed our understanding of Pluto and its moons. Results from the science investigations focusing on geology, surface composition and atmospheric studies of Pluto and its largest satellite Charon will be presented.

Another three and a half years later after the Pluto encounter, on New Year’s Day 2019, New Horizons accomplished the prime goal of its extended mission, a flyby of the cold classical Kuiper Belt Object (486958) 2014 MU69. The discovery of 2014 MU69 and refinement of its ephemeris using stellar occultation will be presented. This talk will discuss the challenges of a planetary encounter at a distance of 43 AU and also the results from the MU69 encounter.

About the Speaker:   Cathy Olkin is a planetary scientist at Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo. Her main topic of research is the outer solar system, specifically planetary atmospheres and surfaces. She carries out ground-based observations to learn about the size and atmospheres of small worlds. She also works on NASA’s New Horizons mission that provided the first close up images of the Pluto system and was the deputy project scientist. Cathy is also the lead of one of the scientific instruments, the color camera and composition mapper. Dr. Olkin is the deputy principal investigator for NASA’s Lucy mission, which will launch in October 2021.

In her free time, Cathy mentors FIRST robotics programs providing hands-on STEM education for students from fourth grade to 12th grade.

More information about Dr. Olkin and her work can be found at her SWRI web page.  She will also give a free public lecture at GTCC the evening before NCAM.

Meeting Registration

There is no registration fee for the NCA meeting. We will have a sign-in table in the Koury Building on GTCC’s Jamestown campus.

We would like to get a reasonably accurate head count for the meeting, so that we can let the site committee know how much food/drink to order for break refreshments. Please let us know beforehand by registering through the online registration form if you are planning on coming. Registrations for presentations should be completed by Monday,  Sept. 23. If you plan to come but NOT to present, we would still like for you to register beforehand – you can do this up until Thursday, Sept. 26.

Directions and Maps To The Meeting

The meeting is held in the Koury Hospitality Careers Building on the Jamestown campus of GTCC. Koury is building 19 on the Jamestown campus map. Park in Lot F. Use the interactive map below to find the best route from where you are.

Local Lodging

There are plenty of hotels around the area. Use the Greensboro Convention and Visitors Bureau website to find accommodations if you plan to stay overnight.

Abstract Submission

If you would like to present an oral or display presentation at the NCA meeting, please fill out and submit an online registration form by Monday, Sept. 23.

Display Presentations

There will be room for approximately 20 posters to be displayed. The available space is approximately 44 in. x 44 in. Access to power and tables will be limited, but there is local wireless access.

Oral Presentations

The proposed plan is for standard oral presentations to be 10 minutes including Q&A, though this could change, depending on the number of submissions. A podium/microphone/computer/projector will be provided for oral presentations. A wireless microphone is also provided. Wireless internet access will be available in the presentation space.

Registration Forms are submitted to Tom English (336-334-4822, Ext. 50023). You should receive confirmation of receipt within a day of submission – if not, call or e-mail to verify.

Special Sessions

  • The annual business meeting of the North Carolina Section of the International Dark Sky Association will be held during the lunch break. (If you have questions about NCIDA or ideas for discussion at the meeting, contact Dan Caton (Appalachian State University Dark Sky Observatory).
  • NCAM acts as an annual site for a Regional ASTRO101 Teaching Exchange - a discussion/presentation session will be held during the afternoon. Anyone who currently teaches introductory college astronomy, or who expects to teach in the future, is encouraged to attend. (If you have ideas for the discussion, contact Tom English at GTCC.)

Saturday Lunch Options

Lunch options include a variety of nearby restaurants. Some of the attendees plan to place a group order in the morning to Jerusalem Market for box lunches. You will have the opportunity to indicate your lunch preference on your registration form, and if you plan to participate in the group order, you should bring payment to the registration table the morning of the event. On-site orders MUST be verified and paid for before 10 a.m. All sandwiches from Jerusalem Market are served on thin, lavash bread with chips, brine pickle, and olive on the side. Lettuce and tomato are added to all sandwiches.  This year’s lunch options are:

  • $7: Falafel (Falafel Patties with hummos and tahini sauce.)
  • $8: Turkey (Oven roasted turkey breast with black pepper and provolone cheese.)
  • $9: The Turk (Soujuk, a spicy, dried beef sausage, sliced thin with provolone cheese melted on top. Served with baba ghanouj and yogurt cucumber sauce on the sandwich.)

Refreshments will be offered throughout the day. If you have special dietary needs, mention them in the comments section of the registration form.

Meeting Agenda

Tentative Schedule (based on past meetings – the specific timing will depend on presentation submissions)

Time Session
8:45 a.m. Meeting opens
9:30 a.m. Plenary Lecture
10:30 a.m. Break
11:00 a.m. Oral Session I
12:15 p.m. Lunch
1:15 p.m. NCIDA Meeting
2:00 p.m. Oral Session II
3:15 p.m. Regional Teaching Exchange

NCAM Past Editions


Gabriela González, Louisiana State University/LIGO, “Gravitational Waves Astronomy”


John Mather, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, “From the Big Bang to the End of the Universe, and How We’ll Learn More with the James Webb Space Telescope”


David Charbonneau, Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, “The Compositions of Small Planets”


Sean Solomon, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory/Columbia Univ., “MESSENGER at Mercury: Technical Challenges and Implications for the Formation of the Inner Planets.”


Jocelyn Bell Burnell, University of Oxford, “Reflections on the Discovery of Pulsars”


Don Winget, University of Texas at Austin, “A Close-up Look at White Dwarf Stars: From Kiloparsecs to Centimeters”


Robert A. Benjamin, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, “How to Map the Milky Way”


Francis Halzen, University of Wisconsin-Madison, “IceCube: Particle Astrophysics with High Energy Neutrinos”


Giovanni Fazio, Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, “Observing the High Redshift (z > 5) Universe with the Spitzer Space Telescope”


Hal Levison, Southwest Research Institute, “The Early Dynamical Evolution of the Outer Solar System: A Nice Story”


Neil Gehrels, NASA Goddard, “Gamma Ray Burst Discoveries with the Swift Mission”


Michael Turner, University of Chicago, “Cosmic Acceleration: New Gravitational Physics or Mysterious Dark Energy”

Special Panel Discussion: The past 10 years in Astronomy and a Look to the Coming Decade
Moderated by Robert Naeye (NASA Goddard)

Panel: Jay Bergstralh (NASA Langley), Bruce Carney (UNC-Chapel Hill), Prasun Desai (NASA Langley), Virginia Trimble (U. Cal.-Irvine), Michael Turner (U. Chicago), John Wood (NASA Goddard)


Scott Ransom, NOAO-Charlottesville, “A Millisecond Pulsar (and Basic Physics) Bonanza with the GBT”


Jeff Hester, Arizona State University, “Understanding Our Origins:  Formation of Sun-like Stars in Massive Star Environments”


Paul Butler, Carnegie Institution, “Extrasolar Planets”


Prasun Desai, NASA Langley, “2003 Mars Exploration Rover Mission: Return to the Surface”


Steve Murray, Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics/Chandra, “Chandra 101: X-ray Astronomy Made Easy”