News and Media Room
45 Years of Seeing Stars
By Matt Karwoski
The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee's Manfred Olson Planetarium is celebrating 45 years of storied history this year. In the past four decades the Planetarium has held numerous successful shows and events.
The UWM Planetarium was erected in 1965 and named after Manfred Olson (1905-1966), a physics professor from 1931 to 1963. Olson worked at the University of Chicago in 1943, and from 1947 to 1949 was a senior physicist at Los Alamos, New Mexico, where he worked on Geiger counter systems. After retiring from UWM, he became the Planetarium Director and part-time lecturer in the Physics Department.
Jean Creighton is the current director. She was born in Toronto, Canada, and moved as a child to Athens, Greece. Creighton obtained a Bachelor of Science degree in physics from the University of Athens-Greece. She crossed the Atlantic again to earn a degree in Astronomy from Saint Mary's University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and a PhD in Astrophysics from the University of Waterloo. In addition, Creighton did infrared satellite research at the California Institute of Technology from 1998-1999 before coming to Milwaukee to teach astronomy.
Creighton became the Planetarium director in January 2007, and in the past four years she has organized approximately a thousand shows and special events.
One example was the total eclipse of the Moon on February 20th, 2008. Despite sub-zero temperatures, hundreds gathered outside the Planetarium to view the spectacle with telescopes and binoculars. The lunar eclipse took place between 7:43 and 11:09 PM CST, rising through the southeastern sky. The Moon darkened and reddened as it was enveloped by the Earth's shadow. Guests were also treated to a multimedia presentation inside the Planetarium to learn more about the phenomenon.
In spring 2008, the Planetarium experience was enhanced with major renovations to the theater. The $40,000 project was funded primarily by the Halbert & Alice Kadish Foundation, and also by the UWM College of Letters & Sciences and the UWM Physics department. Updates included cosmetic improvements such as carpentry and painting, as well as electrical work and a high quality sound system. The theater also received a new tri-color LED cove lighting system, furniture, computers, and multimedia systems.
Schools groups are always taking advantage of the new and improved Planetarium. They constitute about 40% of the Planetarium's total attendees. Creighton also puts on regular Friday night shows on select topics, and even does occasional birthday party shows.
Another kind of celebration was held during the International Year of Astronomy on September 25th and 26th of 2009. To honor the 400 year anniversary of the observations of Galileo Galilei, the Planetarium co-sponsored "100 Telescopes in The Park," along with other astronomy-related organizations. The event united stellar enthusiasts from all over Southeastern Wisconsin at Greenfield Park in West Allis.
Also in reverence of the legendary astronomer, "Galileo's Skies" was held on September 25th, 2009. Dava Sobel, author of "Galileo's Daughter" and other bestselling books, co-presented Galileo's mind-shattering discoveries with Creighton.
After the successful "Stars in the Tropics" in 2010, the Planetarium hosted its 2nd annual benefit event, "Art in Space," on Saturday, April 16th. The physics hallway was transformed into a beautiful art gallery featuring 33 works by UWM students, staff, and other local artists. Prints, paintings, and sculptures relating to space were auctioned to the highest bidders. There were about 60 guests total; almost a full house. Many artistic astronomical images were shown in the Planetarium during the event. "Art in Space" was a major success, raising a total of $1,400 to support the Planetarium's free shows throughout the year. About $400 was given back to the contributing artists.
Throughout the past four decades the Planetarium has been an integral part of UWM. Creighton continues to deliver hundreds of shows a year to an awe-inspired audience of children and adults. And as Creighton looks up to the stars on a clear spring night, she can only wonder what the future has in store.