W.A. Gayle Planetarium to host national conference of planetarium professionals

Posted: Monday, 23 May 2016

MONTGOMERY - Close to 150 planetarium professionals are expected to attend the first-ever planetarium conference held in the state of Alabama, May 31-June 4, at Montgomery's W.A. Gayle Planetarium.

The Planetarium, operated for the City of Montgomery by Troy University, will host the joint conference of the Southeastern Planetarium Association (SEPA) and the Western Alliance Conference (WAC). In preparation for the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse, the theme of the conference is "Eclipsed by No Other."

"The conference will bring in people from 37 states and three foreign countries," said Rick Evans, director of the Gayle Planetarium. "This conference will help people working in this field be better prepared to provide information and answer questions about the 2017 solar eclipse."

Retired NASA astrophysicist Fred Espenak, known as Mr. Eclipse, will be the keynote speaker during the SEPA Banquet scheduled for 7:30 p.m., June 3, at the Embassy Suites in downtown Montgomery.

Espenak, who worked at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland before his retirement in 2009, became interested in astronomy as a young child. He earned his bachelor's degree in physics from Wagner College, where he worked in the planetarium, before earning his master's degree from the University of Toledo where he studied eruptive and flare stars among red dwarfs at the Kitt Peak Observatory.

Espenak is the author of several works on eclipse predictions, including "Fifty Year Canon of Solar Eclipses: 1986-2035" and "Fifty Year Canon of Lunar Eclipses: 1986-2035," and his astronomical photos have been published in publications such as "National Geographic," "Newsweek," "Nature," "New Scientist" and "Ceil et Espace."

At the Goddard Space Flight Center, Espenak utilized infrared spectrometers to measure the atmospheres of planets in the Solar System and had provided NASA's eclipse bulletins since 1978. He also served as the co-investigator of an atmospheric experiment flown aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.

Throughout the week, participants will view planetarium presentations and demonstrations, and take part in workshops, including "World-Wide Telescope," "Full-Dome and Panorama Photography," "Advanced Go Pro," and "Getting Ready for the Big One: Eclipse 2017." A Trade Show will also be ongoing throughout the event.

On Friday, June 3, conference participants will hear a lecture by Dr. David King, professor and director of Concepts of Science at Auburn University, on the Wetumpka Meteor Crater, one of the few above-ground impact crater locations in the United States and one of only about six in the world.