Astronomy

R. Hurt/Caltech-JPL / NASA

As 2016 draws to a close, Manfred Olson Planetarium at UW-Milwaukee director and Lake Effect contributor Jean Creighton highlights the important astronomy stories of the past year:

Highlights of 2016:

1. Discovery of Gravitational Waves

NASA

Every few years, it seems we’re treated to photography from outer space that gives us a brand-new perspective on the universe. Missions like the Mars Pathfinder, with its Sojourner rover, have allowed people to see places humans will probably not experience in the near future – though they might, someday.

NASA / mars.nasa.gov

On this day in 1964, the Spacecraft Mariner 4 was launched into its 228 day mission that would bring the spacecraft within about 6,000 miles of Mars. That mission resulted in the first close-up photos of the Red Planet.

In celebration of that historic mission, November 28th is known as Red Planet Day.

"At first, all we wanted to do was learn more about the environment, but now, of course we want to get [to Mars]. We want to send a person there," says astronomy contributor and director of the Manfred Olson Planetarium at UW-Milwaukee, Jean Creighton.

NASA / Wikimedia

Saturn has 62 moons. One of them is Enceladus, which on first glance doesn’t look like much – kind of like a huge galactic golf ball. But this small moon, about the size of England, is a lot more interesting that you might imagine. Enceladus provides almost all of the material that makes up Saturn's E Ring. 

"It turns out that this whole ring is material that came, ultimately, from the moon itself," says astronomy contributor, Jean Creighton. 

Library of Congress / Wikimedia

Many of the star constellations we see from the Northern Hemisphere have names that derive from Greek myths and legends.

Astronomer and Greece-native, Jean Creighton, knows both the science and the myths. One such tale is the story of the Corona Borealis constellation, also known as the Northern Crown.

“There was a huge battle between the Minoans and the Athenians, and the Athenians lost. So the king, Minos, said, ‘Okay. As your punishment, you’re going to be sending seven young women and seven young men to Crete to feed the Minotaur,’” says Creighton

Hubble ESA / Flickr

Astronomers were excited to learn of the discovery of a new object in the Kuiper Belt recently. The Kuiper Belt is a distant part of the solar system, past the orbit of Neptune, estimated at more than 4 billion miles from the sun. 

The belt is believed to contain comets, icy bodies, dwarf planets and asteroids. Since the Kuiper Belt is relatively distant, it's difficult to know exactly what the object is or even get basic facts like size. 

A potentially habitable planet about the size of Earth is orbiting the star that is nearest our solar system, according to scientists who describe the find Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Night owls and stargazers, get ready for something spectacular on Thursday.

The annual Perseid meteor shower, already one of the most reliably impressive celestial events, promises to be especially good this year.

The Perseid shower happens every year in August "when Earth ventures through trails of debris left behind by an ancient comet," according to NASA.

Kevin Gill / Flickr

Every month Lake Effect contributor Jean Creighton discusses new and exciting happenings in the world of astronomy and astrophysics, but this month we’re taking a bit of a look back.

In July of 1976, the American Viking shuttle had a soft landing on Mars to capture a 20 second video before going silent, most likely due to a dust storm.

"I don't think they understood at that time truly how magnificent it was, because it was two decades before we were able to do that again," says the director of the UW-Milwaukee Manfred Olson Planetarium, Jean Creighton.

Updated 1:40 a.m. ET with Juno orbit maneuver

After a nearly five-year journey, NASA's solar-powered Juno spacecraft achieved orbit around Jupiter on Monday night. Juno navigated a tricky maneuver — including slowing by around 1,212 mph — to insert itself into orbit in what NASA calls "the king of our solar system."

At 11:18 p.m. ET, Juno transmitted a radio signal to Earth that meant its main engine had switched on. It stayed on for 35 minutes, placing Juno into exactly the orbit that mission managers had planned for.

Bill Ingalls/NASA

On July 4th, NASA’s Juno spacecraft will enter orbit around Jupiter, and it's been a long time in the making. An Atlas V rocket launched with the Juno spacecraft from Cape Canaveral, Florida on August 5, 2011. It's five-year, 400 million mile voyage to Jupiter will soon have it orbiting the planet to investigate its origin.

vchalup / Fotolia

Every month we talk with astronomer Jean Creighton about goings on in the night sky. 

This month, she talks with us about how to wrap your head around the night vista you have – or how to wrap the night vista around your head:

Jean Creighton directs the Manfred Olson Planetarium at UW-Milwaukee.

Judy Schmidt / Flickr

Explaining complex concepts or theories to a general audience can be tricky. It's a problem many experts face when trying to describe their work. How do you explain it in a way that makes it understandable, without dumbing it down? 

Longtime Lake Effect contributor Jean Creighton is pretty good at doing that when it comes to astronomy. Not only does she help visitors at the Manfred Olson Planetarium, she's also been helping the Lake Effect team understand how the universe works for almost a decade and.

peresanz / Fotolia

Despite the winter-like conditions to the west of us, we know that warmer weather is on its way. And with warmer weather comes a new spring sky to gaze at.

Astronomy contributor Jean Creighton notes that the Big Dipper and Cassiopeia are circumpolar, or visible in our latitude year round, but will change positions to be closer to the horizon.

Henze/NASA / ligo.caltech.edu

News of the discovery of gravitational waves dominated the news a couple of weeks ago, and UWM scientists were among those who played a large role in that discovery.

Our astronomy contributor and the director of the Manfred Olson Planetarium, Jean Creighton, was not only excited about the discovery for its scientific importance, but also personal significance.

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