Health & Science
5:45 pm
Fri February 28, 2014

How Astronomers Conduct Research

Astronomers who stay Earth-bound use telescopes to collect data of objects in space. Here is a telescope at the George Observatory. home to the 36-inch Gueymard Research Telescope.
Credit Bill Jacobus, flickr
Lake Effect's Bonnie North speaks with Lake Effect contributor Dr. Jean Creighton.

When the whole universe is out there to explore, how do astronomers decide what questions they want to ask?

And when they have the whole universe's worth of answers, how do collect the data they need to answer those questions?

Contributor Jean Creighton, the director of the Manfred Olson Planetarium on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus, says the problem most researchers face is that more questions and surprises come up once you've gotten your data.

“You think you know what the data’s going to be,” Creighton says. “You think you know what’s going to come out of it, and sometimes you get a little bit of that. But often you get a surprise.”

While most data collection and analysis is painstaking work, sometimes the most unlikely of events offer the kind of eureka moment that later leads to a Nobel Prize.

Contributor Jean Creighton teaches astronomy and is the director of the Manfred Olson Planetarium on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee campus.