After being closed for nearly two years, Samford University’s Christenberry Planetarium has reopened and is presenting new shows this spring semester. On Friday April 16, the Planetarium held an encore showing of “Forgotten Women in Astronomy,” which sold out.
The new Planetarium Director and Chair of the Physics Department Don Olive joined the Samford faculty after working at Gardner Webb University in North Carolina.
“I grew up when people were landing on the moon during the Apollo missions,” Olive said. “As a young boy, I would sit in front of the TV, just glued to it, and I wanted to be an astronaut, I wanted to be a scientist and do all that fun, cool, hard stuff.”
At Gardner Webb, Olive was the director of an observatory, but due to light pollution, Olive said that a planetarium is much more useful in a college community like Samford.
“It’s much better for public outreach and science education in a city like Birmingham,” Olive said.
Emma Griffith is a senior physics major and currently the Christenberry Planetarium intern this year.
“I was just emailing Dr. Olive about plans and registration stuff and he was like ‘Oh, well we need help in the planetarium. Wanna do it?’ I said yes I would love to,” Griffith said.
Griffith runs the Instagram account for the planetarium and helps brainstorm and create shows for the planetarium, including the recent “Forgotten Women in Astronomy” show. She said she was always fascinated with space and loved the idea of science communication.
“I grew up going to planetariums, science centers and museums,” Griffith said. “I love the idea of taking kind of an arbitrary, harder concept and explaining it to somebody that has no idea what it is and see them get inspired by it and they learn something new.”
Griffith loves seeing people be inspired by the shows and learn something new.
“Getting to share my obsession with space with other people is so much fun,” Griffith said.
Griffith explained that working at the planetarium involves editing, teaching people, creating content and presenting in front of an audience. She will spend around two weeks researching and organizing what she finds into a script, using the Worldwide Telescope software to fly around and see pictures of data from everywhere in space.
“Then I’ll organize my research into making a film, I’ll export it, I’ll find stuff from NASA or (European Space Administration), put it all together in Adobe Premiere into almost like a movie,” Griffith said.
Since the reopening of the Christenberry Planetarium, Griffith and Olive said that they have received a lot of positive feedback from the Samford community.
“It’s sold out every single time,” Griffith said. “I hear people from all over campus talking about it, and that’s really exciting.”
The Christenberry Planetarium was named after Boyd E. Christenberry, who was a Samford Life Trustee. The planetarium dome is 40 feet in diameter and is the biggest planetarium at a college campus in Alabama. Inside the planetarium are models, newspapers, posters, magazines and photos. The planetarium has also been used by other campus organizations for movie nights and other events.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, the usual 100-seat limit in the planetarium had to be reduced to 30 seats in order to comply with Samford and CDC guidelines. However, with the announcement of Samford returning to normal operations this fall, they hope to have the planetarium open, have more events on campus and welcome more people outside of Samford.
“Hopefully in the fall, we can open back up and do shows for the public, bring school children in and classes in,” Olive said.
Visit the Christenberry Planetarium on Instagram for news on upcoming shows and more @samfordplanetarium.