For David Dundee, revealing the wonders of the night’s sky turned into an “extraordinary” experience Feb. 5. As the astronomer for Tellus Science Museum, he was honored to locate Ellie’s star for a group of special guests commemorating the one-year “angelversary” of their loved one’s death.
“First, I showed everyone in [Janet Price’s] group the Orion Nebula, which was one of the sights our telescope was already aimed to view, and then I adjusted the telescope to find the star they all really came to see,” said Dundee, adding he assisted the Cherokee County elementary school teacher’s group after a sold-out observatory event. “At the time of speaking with Ms. Price, I didn’t know of Ellie’s death.
“Sharing my love for astronomy is easy for me and something I love doing, so it wasn’t a big deal for me to find the star and show it to her. When I learned of why they were all gathered to see this special star, I was really moved that I was allowed to be a part of something so extraordinary. I hope I was able to help them reconnect with Ellie when they look up at the night sky.”
Known for her friendly nature, Price shared Ellie Pruitt was a member of her second grade class at Carmel Elementary during the 2019-2020 school year.
“Ellie stood out when she walked in a room,” she said. “She was taller than the average second-grader and had this beautiful long hair with a tint of red. And she always wore a smile and a dress.
“She was very girlie and friendly. She was popular with classmates and teachers too because she was so friendly and positive. Everyone knew Ellie at Carmel and everyone was her friend. She shined so bright that it’s fitting that she have a star named after her.”
Price said Ellie died suddenly at the age of 8 after falling ill. An expired Facebook fundraising page noted she was hospitalized with an “undiagnosed autoimmune disease” and her condition quickly turned critical.
“Ellie became ill in February 2020 and within a week of her symptoms starting she was admitted to Egleston Hospital where she passed February 6, 2020, due to autoimmune illnesses and a brain bleed,” she said. “Her death was very sudden and unexpected. It left our school community and her family completely devastated.”
Ellie’s parents received the star from an individual attending a visitation after their daughter’s passing, Price said. Once she learned about the gift, Price reached out to Tellus for help in locating this celestial body.
“We soon realized we didn’t know how to find this star in the night sky on our own,” she said. “I contacted Tellus museum and asked for help.
“David Dundee who is an astronomer at Tellus so kindly reached out to me. We had several phone exchanges where he inquired about the coordinates and magnitude of Ellie’s star. Once he was able to locate our star, he contacted me and set up a time for us to visit.”
While at Tellus, Price and her family and Ellie’s loved ones viewed the special star with a 20-inch telescope in the museum’s observatory. Ellie’s star rests in one of the big bear Ursa Major’s front paws, near the Big Dipper.
“So the evening of Feb. 5 — which was [the] one-year angelversary — Ellie’s parents, Chuck and Heather Pruitt, along with little brother, Luke, as well as myself and my husband and two daughters went to Tellus and viewed Ellie’s star,” Price said. “It was an exciting and emotional moment to look through the telescope at Ellie’s star.
“We really appreciate the kindness shown to us at the Tellus museum, especially from David Dundee. He took a lot of time with us, showing the family Ellie’s star through the telescope and also using a laser just in the night sky. He gave us a new connection to Ellie that night.”
An expansion of the former Weinman Mineral Museum, Tellus is a program of Georgia Museums Inc. The museum at 100 Tellus Drive in Cartersville became a Smithsonian affiliate during its opening year in 2009.
Along with the observatory, the 120,000-square-foot venue is comprised of four main galleries — Collins Family My Big Backyard, Millar Science in Motion, Weinman Mineral Gallery and the Fossil Gallery — a 120-seat digital planetarium and solar house. Since reopening to the general public June 20, Tellus has implemented various social distancing and sanitary measures, including requiring the public to purchase advance tickets.
“I don’t want [to] hurt anyone’s feelings who have purchased stars to honor a loved one, but this is a commercial enterprise,” Dundee said. “There are more than one company selling all the rights they have to stars, which are none. Also, more than one company can sell the same star. The actual naming of anything in space is done through the International Astronomical Union and no money is involved.
“The commercial naming of stars is not recognized on official charts of the sky. However, if the gesture of buying a star brings someone joy or comfort, then that’s a good thing. It certainly meant a lot for everyone to see ‘Ellie’ that night. I’m glad I could help.”