How to Make Astronomical Units Less Daunting

Feb 23, 2017

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.

"I think what people are really asking is give me some context. Because I can see so many millions of miles, but what does that really mean?"she says.

Creighton explains that there are three key issues that can confuse people when it comes to distance in space: the "funky units" used in astronomy, large numbers that can cause people to shut down and a curiosity as to how one can know a definitive answer to measurement in space.

This month, Creighton tells Lake Effect’s Bonnie North about how she develops public programs and learns about what people want to know: