astronomy

NASA/JPL-Caltech

It’s been almost 30 years since scientists first discovered their first exoplanet - a planet orbiting a star other than our own sun. But the scientific community is especially excited now with the discovery late last month of the most earth-like exoplanets yet.

allexxandarx / Fotolia

If you had an astronomer next to you, what would you ask them? When astronomy contributor Jean Creighton isn't in the Lake Effect studio, she is very much still in the public eye, leading the Manfred Olson Planetarium at UW-Milwaukee. And part of her job is to do research among the public to find out what people are naturally curious about.

Upon occasion Creighton will approach people not as the leader of a planetarium, but as another civilian interested in space, and ask them what they are interested in. Surprisingly, most people want to know about distance.

A small, faint star relatively close by is home to seven Earth-size planets with conditions that could be right for liquid water and maybe even life.

The discovery sets a record for both the most Earth-size planets and the most potentially habitable planets ever discovered around a single star.

UWSSEC YouTube Screen Capture

If you were outside in the Midwest at around 1:30 a.m. local time this morning, you might have received quite a shock.

A meteor streaked across the sky in a vivid, bright green flash. It set off sonic booms that were loud enough to shake houses in east-central Wisconsin, as National Weather Service meteorologist Jeff Last tells The Two-Way.

Take a look at this video, captured on a police dashcam in Lisle, Ill.:

Hubble Site

Many are familiar with the concept of citizen science: opportunities for amateurs to play a role in helping researchers gather or process scientific data. That could involve a backyard bird count, or the use of a home computer to sift through terrabytes of data.

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.

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