Published on September 19, 2014  
front view of Christenberry Planetarium

Samford’s Christenberry Planetarium will debut its completed upgrades in a free Alabama Autumn Skies show at 8 p.m. Sept. 25. Weather permitting, the show will be followed by a telescope viewing of the sky from the Quad. Planetarium seating is limited to 94, so it’s always a good idea to arrive early to ensure a place.

David Weigel, Christenberry Planetarium’s new director, is leading the exciting changes in the unique campus venue. The goal, he said, is “to get as large a population as possible as excited as possible about science.”

To do that, Weigel is completing installation of new software and hardware upgrades that include a new high-definition projector that provides a dramatic improvement in image quality over the old system. Specialized new mirrors will match the projected image to the curvature of the planetarium’s screen.

The new system allows Weigel to control a show in real time to create an interactive audience experience. He can provide a custom fly-through of the galaxy. If someone has a question about an area of Mars where NASA’s Curiosity rover is working, Weigel can steer the projected image to show that area. In fact, Weigel hopes to develop a new show based on Curiosity’s groundbreaking mission.

Public response will determine the development schedule for the Mars show as well as the schedule for existing offerings. At minimum, the planetarium will feature repeated seasonal night skies shows throughout the year and special programs for Homecoming and the holiday season.

As impressive as the renewed planetarium is as a tool for astronomy, Weigel said it’s also a tool for all of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. “We’re trying to engage people in science education, get them excited about STEM opportunities and get them excited about the world around them.”

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.