SAN ANGELO, Texas — Every Texan knows at least two things about the stars:
1. They're big.
2. They're bright.
But Assistant Physics Professor/Planetarium Director Kenneth Carrell would like to tell you much more.
Angelo State University Planetarium opened its doors recently for the first time since COVID hit back in March of last year, and Carrell is happy to see the shows already selling out in the 122-seat dome.
The planetarium was built in 1982, and although the actual dome is still original, just about everything else has been revamped in the last decade.
“We have the projectors now where we can play full movies on the dome, instead of just showing stars and planets and things,” Carrell said. “So it’s a much more immersive experience now because of the shows. It’s similar to an IMAX-type format, but it’s around you and above you.”
A Mertzon native, Carrell earned a PhD at Texas Tech before joining the ASU faculty in 2016, and was recently awarded a two-year, $105,535 National Science Foundation grant, funding an astrophysics research project involving undergraduate students.
“The NSF grant is actually really exciting. The focus of this grant is to increase the participation of women and minorities specifically. So I’m really excited for the opportunity to help underrepresented groups in those STEM fields become more engaged and hopefully create some more astronomers,” Carrell said. “Most of the funds will go to travel."
"We go to McDonald Observatory in Fort Davis pretty often. It’ll also fund student trips to American Astronomical Society meetings, so that they can not only do the research at the observatory but present that to their peers in astronomy.”
The planetarium shows take place at 7 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays. Admission is $3 for adults, $2 for children, senior citizens and active military. There is no charge for ASU students, faculty and staff. Tickets are only available at the door at the moment, but Carrell said online ticket purchase is coming soon.
This Thursday’s show is called “The Cowboy Astronomer” and Carrell said it’s a good presentation for lawn chair astronomers to ignite or reignite their love for the stars.
“That one is great. It talks about the night sky and about how normal people view constellations and some of the stories that go along with them and why the night sky is important, those types of things, but in a way that’s relatable, especially for people in West Texas.”
Carrell hopes people who attend the shows will take advantage of San Angelo’s relatively remote location to enjoy the wonders of the sky.
"You know, we’re really lucky here in West Texas. We’ve got pretty dark skies in San Angelo. The city lights make it where we can’t see a lot, but just outside of town you can see a really dark, beautiful sky. So hopefully people come in and see these shows and make that connection with the sky again and realize how lucky we are, and have a chance to go out and enjoy the night sky maybe a little bit more, knowing a few constellations and the planets they can see.”
Turns out they really are bigger and brighter deep in the heart of Texas.