By Chris Barlow

If you enjoy gazing at the stars then some freshly installed twenty first century equipment and software make a trip to the Gary E. Sampson Planetarium at Wauwatosa West High School more enjoyable then ever before.

The new system, installed this past summer, creates a night sky that is projected on to the dome and gives Planetarium Director Todd DeZeeuw more flexibility in creating night skies.  It has allowed DeZeeuw to create perspectives of the night sky that cannot be seen from Earth.

“It is really a remarkable piece of software…” DeZeeuw said. “The American Museum of Natural History and NASA have collaborated on producing a database that includes the entire documented Universe.  The software that we have streams data from that database and (the hardware) projects it onto the dome.”

The Elumenati a company from Milwaukee built the Projection system and they are conveniently located near The Bay View neighborhood on South Greeley St.

“From the computer we can fly anywhere in the known Universe.” DeZeeuw said.  “We can fly to the nearest star and turn around and see what the sky looks like towards our Sun.”

The Sampson Planetarium is a state-of-the-art facility specifically designed for the study of astronomy.  Installed when the high school was built, the planetarium was also updated in 2005 to include advanced automation and multimedia capabilities.  It is named after former Director Gary Sampson who taught at the facility until DeZeeuw arrived in 2001.

DeZeeuw enjoys the new tools at his disposal and is appreciative of those that have supported him in creating a great experience for his students and the public that attend his shows.  “I have always had strong administrative support here in Wauwatosa,” he said.

The main purpose for the Planetarium is a field trip destination and a lab classroom for the Advanced Astronomy course at West High School.   In addition they offer shows to the general public free of charge.  Shows they have had this fall include “Cosmic Colors” and Space Aliens.  The next shows are December 17,18 and 21 and are appropriately called “Tis the Season.”

When asked what types of people regularly attend these shows DeZeeuw said, “It’s a real mix of people.  Everywhere from families and preschoolers up to Senior Citizens.”

The shows DeZeeuw puts on are a fantastic display of the beauty that is our night sky free of the light pollution we experience in the city.  In addition at each viewing DeZeeuw makes certain that the shows are timely and topical by displaying the night sky, as it would be seen during the same time of year.

“We focus on what is visible right now,” he said.

DeZeeuw matriculated to Wauwatosa West after pursuing planetarium work at St. Cloud St. University.  He received his undergraduate degree in Science and Education in the fall of 1989.  He raised his hand when a Professor asked if anyone in his Astronomy class would like to assist in running the Planetarium at the school.

Before the job at West he got his start in Manitowoc where he taught Astronomy and Physics.  He and his family were looking to relocate to the Milwaukee area when he spotted the opportunity at West.

If you would like to attend a show, schedule a field trip or organize a group outing you can call 414-773-3390.  Reservations are not required for shows but recommended due to the limited number of seats in the Planetarium.  Wauwatosa West High School is located at 11400 Center St.