astronomy

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This month four astronauts arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) thanks to the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

It was a milestone for both NASA and SpaceX as the Crew Dragon’s first fully operational mission, and marks its second crewed flight. The U.S. government and private agencies have been working together for about a decade to get more people into space.

Updated at 7:48 p.m. ET

Four astronauts lifted off Sunday night from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard a SpaceX rocket bound for the International Space Station.

Liftoff occurred right on schedule at 7:27 p.m., despite concerns about weather earlier in the day. NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi reached orbit after a 12-minute ride to space.

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Every year in October, Nobel Prizes are awarded to people throughout the world. This year, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to three astrophysicists for their work in advancing black hole discoveries.

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As the weather shifts to fall, there’s also a shift in the sky. While it’s now technically autumn, the fall sky offers us the best of both summer and winter stargazing.

Lake Effect astronomy contributor Jean Creighton shares how to find the best constellations and planets the fall sky has to offer:

1. Summer Triangle

NASA

The primary pieces of the International Space Station (ISS) were delivered over 42 assembly flights more than 20 years ago. Independent elements were constructed around the globe and assembled for the first time in space, starting the groundwork of nearly continuous human presence in space. 

The ISS has grown into an impressive research complex that continues to model not just international cooperation, but research that can help solve problems in space and on Earth.

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Every year the Perseid meteor shower is one of the highlights of summer stargazing. It started about a week ago and will peak Aug. 11-13.

These shooting stars are debris left by the passing Swift-Tuttle comet burning in the Earth’s atmosphere. The Perseids are known for bright, frequent meteor sightings.

Photograph by L Calçada / European Southern Observatory

While 1,000 light-years may seem like a vast distance away from Earth, it’s practically in our backyard because of the scale of the universe. And it’s just 1,000 light-years away from Earth where astronomers found the closest black hole to the Earth in the double-star system HR 6819

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While Wisconsin is having a hard time keeping consistent spring weather, one thing we do notice this time of year is more daylight.

But how does the positioning of the sun change course over the year? And how does it affect us? Our astronomy contributor Jean Creighton says that now is a great time for us to ask these questions. As we all spend more time in the same place, we can be more purposeful in observing the sun’s patterns.

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Spring has arrived and we’re starting to enjoy more pleasant weather. And as we practice social distancing, people are still encouraged to go outside for exercise, walking pets, and to maintain their sanity.

While the meteorological spring starts earlier in the month with the first signs of warmer weather, the astronomical spring starts when the day is longer than the night, Jean Creighton explains. With the March equinox comes a chance of scenery in the sky — making it a perfect opportunity to go outside by yourself or people you live with and simply look up.

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The process of making new scientific discoveries can be unclear. Sometimes, it seems like these scientists are possessed by divine spirits, translating the unimaginable to the unwashed masses. Astrophysicst Jean Creighton believes that's a misperception that can alienate the scientific process from so-called "non-scientists." 

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It’s no secret that the universe is vast. The distances between us and our closest astronomical neighbors are huge and the numbers only get bigger the farther away those stars and galaxies are from us. So, how do astronomers grapple with it to make the size of the universe understandable to the rest of us?

Jean Creighton, Lake Effect's astronomy contributor, says one way we do it is by using orders of magnitude. Another way is by using time as a measure. That seems odd until you realize we do it all the time:

What Cool Things Happened In Astronomy In 2019

Dec 19, 2019
Event Horizon Telescope collaboration et al. / NASA

Any number of scientific discoveries or events make the "best of" lists every year. Well, our astronomy contributor Jean Creighton is no different, and she shares her picks for 2019:

First all-female spacewalk

The first all-female spacewalk took place on Oct. 18. Astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir made the historic excursion.

The initial all-female spacewalk was planned in March, but it was canceled.

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We talk with our astronomy contributor Jean Creighton regularly about the latest discoveries in astrophysics, but we've never really talked about how those discoveries are paid for. So, for November's astro chat, Creighton explains the process of writing a grant proposal for the National Science Foundation:

After a record-breaking 780 days circling the Earth, the U.S. Air Force's mysterious X-37B unmanned space plane dropped out of orbit and landed safely on the same runway that the space shuttle once used.

It was the fifth acknowledged mission for the vehicle, built by Boeing at the aerospace company's Phantom Works.

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When people think of astronomers, several names come to mind: Isaac Newton, Galileo Galilei, or Carl Sagan — all white men. But throughout history, women and other people of color have made huge contributions to our understanding of the cosmos.

Astronomy contributor Jean Creighton says that highlighting that diversity in the field is necessary for both kids and adults. 

"It's so important to break those barriers, no matter who you are, no matter what you do, so that the stereotypes that people put in their heads are set aside," says Creighton.

The Autumnal Equinox Is More Than Just A Day — Here's Why

Sep 26, 2019
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Our astronomy contributor, Jean Creighton, says it’s a special time of year. Earlier this week, we officially slid into fall and experienced the autumnal equinox (or we did if we were up at 2:50 a.m. on Monday, Sept. 23). While our calendars mark the first official day of fall, the autumnal equinox is more than just a day. 

"The definition of an equinox is when the path of the sun, which is called the ecliptic, crosses the equator of the Earth, projected on the sky," Creighton explains. "It's a time and a place in the sky." 

Does The Full Moon Really Affect Us?

Aug 22, 2019
NASA

2019 has been the summer of the moon. Man first stepped on the moon 50 years ago, and over the past few months we've been looking at back at the history of the space race and ahead at what future missions might look like.

READ: 50th Anniversary Of Apollo 11 Moon Landing Has Wisconsin Scientists Looking Back, Forward

The Journey To Mars: Former NASA Astronaut Discusses Progress & The Unknown

Aug 8, 2019
NASA Image and Video Library / NASA

Humans first left Earth 59 years ago, landing on the moon nine years later. Since then, we’ve orbited the Earth, sent rovers to Mars, and sent people to live on the international space station. And it won’t be too long before we make the journey to Mars to begin our extraterrestrial colonization.

One of NASA's first employees, key to creating the U.S. space program, has died at 95. Chris Kraft was the agency's first flight director and managed all of the Mercury missions, as well some of the Gemini flights. He was a senior planner during the Apollo lunar program. Later he led the Johnson Space Center in Houston and oversaw development of the space shuttle.

NASA

Every month, Lake Effect contributor and astronomer Jean Creighton joins us to talk about the universe and our solar system within it. This time, she talks about the resources, effort, and partnerships that made sending Apollo 11 to the moon possible.

LISTEN: Celebrating The 50th Anniversary Of Apollo 11

Creighton says NASA had to work with 20,000 companies to make the mission possible.

NASA History Office and the NASA JSC Media Services Center / NASA

The 50th anniversary of the first astronaut moon landing comes as NASA is talking of another trip to the moon within five years, and of taking people to Mars by the mid-2030s.

Astronomers, engineers, and human health experts across Wisconsin have been tracking the discussion. And some are working on projects potentially tied to more space travel.

In the summer of 1962, Walter Schirra — who would soon become America's third man to orbit the Earth — walked into a Houston photo supply shop looking for a camera he could take into space.

He came out with a Hasselblad 500C, a high-end Swedish import that had been recommended to him by photographers from Life and National Geographic.

NASA History Office and the NASA JSC Media Services Center / NASA

On July 20, 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon. The Apollo 11 mission was the pinnacle of NASA’s decade long efforts to conquer space flight. It occurred just eight years after President John F. Kennedy announced a national goal of landing a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

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Every month, astronomer and contributor Jean Creighton joins us to talk about the cosmos. While the cosmos, full of its different stars, planets, and physics concepts can be intimidating, Creighton says we should allow ourselves to wonder at the beauty. Plus, it's actually healthy if you feel like some of the concepts allude you.

What Is A Star's 'Proper Motion?'

Apr 25, 2019
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Whether it's an accelerating car, a person biking or a thrown object, most motion is visible to the human eye. However, even at rest we all are in motion - at least on a cosmic scale.

Lake Effect's Bonnie North and astronomy contributor Jean Creighton started a conversation last month about celestial motion, and Creighton picks up the story by explaining another kind of motion - proper motion:

The world is seeing the first-ever image of a black hole Wednesday, as an international team of researchers from the Event Horizon Telescope project released their look at the supermassive black hole at the center of galaxy Messier 87 (M87). The image shows a dark disc "outlined by emission from hot gas swirling around it under the influence of strong gravity near its event horizon," the consortium said.

"As an astrophysicist, this is a thrilling day for me," said National Science Foundation Director France A. Córdova.

NASA Goddard

Contributor Jean Creighton, who is the Director of the Manfred Olson Planetarium on the UW-Milwaukee campus, joins us each month to talk about all things astronomical. Today we learn about celestial motion, and when we first knew that stars move through space.

NASA / Flickr

Astronomers, astrophysicists and fans of space travel marked the end of an era earlier in February. After 15 years on the surface of Mars, the Opportunity Rover mission finally ended, after more than six months had gone by with no success in communicating with the craft.

Lake Effect astronomy contributor, Jean Creighton, joins Bonnie North to talk about the legacy and impact of the Opportunity Rover. Creighton also explains the reason behind all seasons here on earth, and the difference between seasonal changes, the climate and weather. 

NASA/ESA/Hubble Heritage Team

"In the beginning, the universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and has widely been regarded as a bad idea," wrote Douglas Adams in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.

Lake Effect astronomy contributor Jean Creighton disagrees with that sentiment. In fact, she’s been dedicating her current shows at UWM’s Manfred Olson Planetarium to the beginning of said universe.

PHOTOS: Super 'Blood Moon' Wows

Jan 21, 2019

The huge, red moon awed viewers across the Americas and parts of western Europe and Africa on Sunday night and early Monday morning.

It was the only total lunar eclipse of the year, a "blood moon" in which sunlight leaking around the edges of the Earth makes the moon appear red. And it was also a supermoon, when a full moon appears larger than usual because it has neared the closest point to Earth in its orbit.

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