Category Archives: Explore

AstroCamp Lights and Lasers

Ever stepped foot in our Lights and Lasers classroom? There are so many cool activities inside that it might be overwhelming. From ultraviolet lights to lasers criss-crossing the room, this classroom offers tons of opportunities for hands-on learning. Light comes in many forms, but even the visible spectrum is made up of many different energies. In fact, every color of light that you can see is made up of a unique wavelength and energy. But you don’t have to take our word for it!

Lights and Lasers Glow Wall

The more energy light has, the more it will cause the wall to glow! For instance, violet is a more energetic color than red, so a violet flashlight will do a much better job causing the wall to illuminate than a red flashlight will. Campers will perform this experiment and learn for themselves about different energies of light.

Light also has very predictable properties, such as its tendency to travel in straight lines. This causes our eyes to perceive the world upside-down — our brain usually fixes this for us so we don’t get confused! But in this class, we have specially-built goggles that invert our view of the world. Campers will use these goggles to perform seemingly simple tasks such as tossing bean bags, walking across the meadow, or dueling with pool noodles.

Lights and Lasers Goggles

Lights and Lasers is a valuable part of summer camp. It allows kids to experience the phenomena associated with light while working together and having fun. This is one of many classes that will teach skills that campers will carry for the rest of their lives. Lights and lasers is available during summer and school year.

Written by Amanda Williams and Scott Yarbrough

Take Summer Camp Home with You

The time has come for summer camp to end. It’s been full of adventures, silliness, and memories. But that doesn’t  mean that it has to be gone from your hearts forever. Here are a few ways to keep living the camp life style even as the new school year comes rolling on in.summer camp

Sing and play often. You made a bunch of new friends, have tons of inside jokes, and learned a ton of new songs and games. An easy way to keep the spirit of camp alive is to pay it forward. Teach your friends back at home the songs and games. In no time at all it’ll feel like you are breathing that mountain air again!

summer camp 2

Turn those new camp friends into lifelong friendships. A great way to help make that happen is by being each other’s pen pal. Sit down a write out a thoughtful letter. Writing by hand not only allows you to think longer about the person, but it takes more time, energy, thought, and meaning than just a simple text message.

Summer Camp 3

Reminisce about camp. Take out those pictures, sit down with friends or family, and tell them all about your crazy adventure. As you tell the silly, crazy, and fantastic stories, more details may come to light that you may have overlooked the first time.

summer camp 4

Follow AstroCamp on our journey. We are on Instagram, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. We post fun science videos and pictures of space and camp life. If you ever feel like camp is too far away from your heart, just look us up online and remember that AstroCamp is always right around the corner!


Experiencing Nature Hikes at AstroCamp

When campers come to AstroCamp, the cool classes and challenge of the ropes course are just part of the benefits. With our camp located right next to the San Bernardino National Forest, students can gain a better appreciation for nature; made stronger by engaging in the day/night hike and wilderness survival courses.

There are several hiking trails nearby students and campers can follow with their instructor, but the most common one is an offshoot of the nearby fire road. Students don’t just learn from being out in nature, but actually learn about the things they’re passing along the way. After their initial climb, there’s a quick water break where students learn about two of the most common trees we have in and around camp: the manzanita and the Jeffrey pine.

The manzanita, seen here, is also called the “zombie tree” because of its special adaptation to the desert climate. Sections of its body die and the bark shrinks back in periods of low rainfall, but these are revitalized once the rain returns. Any hiker learns that while its name may come from the small fruit it produces, anyone eating them will get sick. The Jeffrey pine draws students in because of a chemical inside it that smells like butterscotch, but that chemical is actually toxic and quite flammable.

From there, the hike diverges to a narrow trail splitting off from the fire road. Along the way, there are many opportunities to see nature in action, like trees filled with acorns by woodpeckers, hoping to keep them from squirrels, or ivy taking over the oak tree above.

While hikers are looking down, making sure they don’t trip on roots or leave the path, the Coulter pines above hold a surprise. Coulter pine cones are HUGE, growing over a foot and weighing between four and ten pounds on average. The trail avoids the drop zone for these behemoths, which are nicknamed “widowmakers” for obvious reasons.

A common stopping point on the trail looks over to Lily Rock and also happens to be a great echo spot. It’s hard to demonstrate echoes in a classroom, so this is just one more unique experience to our hiking classes.

At the top, we’ve reached an overlook for all of May Valley. This is a great time to sit and just reflect on everything around you. During the night hikes, groups often have moments of silence up here to just reflect and look up at the stars. It’s one of the experiences students say had the biggest impact on them during their stay at camp.

Sadly, we can’t stay up the mountain all day. Once everyone’s had some time to rest, reflect, drink water, and maybe play some games with their instructors, it’s back down the trail to camp.

The Coolest Thing About Gemini

June 14, 2016, Cerro Tololo

We started the day by visiting AURA Recinto to listen to presentations from staff in different scientific areas that all work for the observatory. It takes all sciences to make an observatory run.

We then loaded up and started our trek to Cerro Pachon and Cerro Tololo. Leaving the city of La Serena we saw many vineyards. As we continued into the foothills, it looked very much like the road to AstroCamp. However, the mountains grew a little bigger down here!


T. Spuck (AUI/NSF)

We went to Cerro Pachon first to visit Gemini South, an 8 meter telescope. This means that the primary mirror in this telescope is 8 meters (over 25 feet). In this picture taken by Tim Spuck, you can see that it takes 5 adults lying head to toe to cover the distance.

Besides being really big, the coolest thing about this telescope is the adaptive optics that it uses.


M. F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

The silver box on the left labeled GeMS is the housing for the gigantic LASERs that help with the adaptive optics.


M. F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

This is the business end of the telescope. These are the instruments. They have to be engineered to be able to handle moving around with the telescope. Not always an easy task. One last cool fact about this telescope is that the mirrors are coated with silver instead of the standard aluminum. This makes it more reflective in infrared. The views are incredible everywhere but especially from the top deck of this telescope.


M. F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

Cerro Tololo, seen from Gemini


M. F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

Gemini and the future site of LSST to the right (where the crane is)


M. F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

Even the Andes Condors like the views from up here!

We ended the evening with some telescope viewing led by our wonderful host, Juan. He brought out an 11” and a 6” Celestron. Even with light cloud coverage, I can’t even begin to tell you how amazing the objects looked. Omega Centauri popped out of the sky as if we had 3-D glasses on. Amazing! The planets were just breathtaking. I always get excited by them, but holy cannoli were they clear!


J. Blackwell (ACEAP/NSF)

Here is an amazing picture taken by a fellow ambassador, John Blackwell.

Written By: Michelle Ferrara Peterson


A Haven for Stargazing

June 12, 2016, Observatorio Astronómico Andino

Today’s highlight was visiting our first of many observatories, the Observatorio Astronómico Andino ( just outside of Santiago.  Unfortunately, it was cloudy.  However, that did not stop our wonderful hosts from putting on an incredible spread and showing us what astrotourism is all about.


Beautiful metal sculptures adorned the whole facility. Image courtesy of Observatorio Astronómico Andino.

The mountain retreat not only has some pretty impressive telescopes located in a very secluded area, but it is a breathtaking building as well. The owners spared little expense when designing and decorating this place.  They made it feel like a haven from the city to enjoy the stars.


Patio areas complete with propane heaters and a bar. Image courtesy of Observatorio Astronómico Andino.

It was supposed to rain, so initially the dome cover was kept on, but then our host decided to remove it to give us a feel of what it would be like if there were no clouds.

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M.F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

June 13, 2016, AURA Recinto

Today we flew north to begin our journey of really big telescopes in a lovely city called La Serena.  


M.F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

After we arrived, we went to the AURA Recinto (Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy).  This group manages the National Optical Astronomy Observatories which include CTIO, SOAR, Gemini, and LSST.  It was a very interesting afternoon.  We heard presentations from tourist observatories, teachers as well as staff from AURO.  Even though half of the room only spoke English and half the room only spoke Spanish, you could help but feel the passion that everyone possessed for astronomy education and outreach.  It was delightful.

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Photon detector (left), test chamber (right). M.F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

After the presentations, we took a sneak peek tour of the machine and electronics shop.  It was so neat!  When stuff goes wrong or breaks, these folks create, fabricate and test new parts themselves.  (At right: a custom-built test chamber.)

And if you could look inside one of these engineer’s heads, this is what it would look like:


M.F. Peterson (ACEAP/NSF)

We finished the day with a visit to the Cerro Mayu Observatory.  It was a little cloudy but we still could see stars.  I took my first ever astrophotography pictures, coming soon!  Hopefully next time we will get a nice clear night and be able to see the Magellanic clouds. We’ll see what tomorrow brings, hopefully clear skies.

Written By: Michelle Ferrara Peterson

Kids And Their Robots

Rough terrain. Unsurpassable obstacles. Navigating the rocky unknown with little help from home. These are the challenges space robots face as they explore distant worlds– and the engineering problems summer campers solve as they build and program their own LEGO rovers.


Introductory classes focus on teamwork and getting familiar with the robot-building process. Campers are set up to succeed with a simple pre-programmed spider bot project. They have the option to play with visual coding, too!


In advanced classes, pairs of young engineers invent & build robots from scratch. Each step of the process requires cooperation, creativity, and plenty of persistence. Campers quickly discover that robotics is rarely a one-shot deal. Like grown-up rocket scientists, they must revise and re-test their designs to develop a working system.


Hands-on STEM electives like robotics lay the foundation for a lifetime of problem-solving on Earth and beyond. Students learn that failure provides valuable insights. They experience trial and error as necessary steps in the innovation process. They also gain practical knowledge as they’re exposed to the basics of design and programming. Any student who’s tackled practical engineering problems for fun is a step ahead when faced with similar challenges at school, work, and more!

Written By: Caela Barry

Blacksmithing: Forging Skills For Life

Where can you heat metal to over 1000 degrees and bend it to your will? Astrocamp, of course! Summer camp is the perfect place to develop and hone unique skills like blacksmithing.

bend it to our will

This rewarding and challenging course fosters campers’ creativity, strength, and determination. Some come looking for a new artistic outlet. Some have a finished product in mind. For campers who dream of battling evil amidst the clanging of swords against armor, an afternoon at the forge can provide a peek into the reality of medieval craftsmanship.


Blacksmithing is just one of many unique opportunities for personal growth for campers to explore. Children foster building and programming interests in Robotics, test their physical and mental limits in a safe environment with Rock Climbing, and seek new perspectives in Digital Photography. They develop underwater calm & competence in SCUBA. They tackle logistical challenges as Future Engineers. They master difficult terrain in Mountain Biking and explore the open skies in Rocketry. From rock climbing to astronomy, culinary arts to Dungeons & Dragons, camp provides endless opportunities for young people to discover their best selves.

pic stitch other activities for blacksmithing blog

In blacksmithing, they develop a technical skill set and come away with treasured souvenirs, but that’s not all. Under the watchful guidance of their instructors, they master the responsibility of working with molten materials. They practice sound safety procedures in an environment where real consequences are present. They endure the heat of the forge. Using these skills, they turn bands of metal like these…

metal stock

Into amazing works of art like these:

blacksmithing best

Archery, Skill, & Imagination

Take a moment out of your crazy day, close your eyes, clear your mind, and picture yourself or your child at our archery range. What are the first thoughts that come to mind? Possibly…dread of never hitting the target, or feelings of joy and excitement or maybe all you image is Katniss Everdeen. Now remove all your preconceived notions from your mind and remember this fact. Not only is archery fun but it also teach useful life skills so it doesn’t matter if the target it missed. There are numerous important skills that can be learned from archery however we are going to discuss three of them.


1.  Creativity and Imagination – Our archery range isn’t any ordinary place. It is a place where heroes live, where the helpless receive aid, and thieves steal from the rich and give to the poor. It is called Pendragon Pines and is modeled after the story of Robin Hood. The story can get as elaborate or as simple as the participants want. The sky and the imaginations of the participants are the only limits.


2.  Concentrations or Focused Attention – Pretend the arrow is already loaded on the bow. Although most of the time that process only takes a few seconds it also takes concentration. Loaded bow is ready to fire however there are more steps that take concentration. Breath in, breath out, aim and if luck is with you, you can fire. It sounds simple enough however there are several factors that take complete attention. Such as keeping both the bow and arrow steady, aiming, and firing without being distracted by any elements (aka other people, the wind, your arrow slipping from the bow) around you. It is much more difficult than it sounds.


3.  Determination and patience – Archery is a sport that takes time and practice. The more practice given to this sport the better and more accurate the arrows fly. Determination and patience are needed to make successful improvements.


At the end of the day participants leave the archery range with more refined skills, a feeling of accomplishment, and wonderful memories of a great time at AstroCamp.


Beware All Who Enter You Might Have Fun And Learn Something!

Music Credit: Robin Hood Prince Of Theives Theme Song Mp3


How Many Stars are Out There?

The numbers used in Astronomy are truly staggering. For starters, the Earth is about 25,000 miles around. The nearest star to us is–obviously–the sun, which is 93 million miles away. To travel that distance, you would have to circle the Earth nearly 4000 times! The larger the numbers get, the harder it gets to understand what they mean.

For example, if someone is a millionaire, they have at least a million dollars. If someone is a billionaire, they have at least a billion dollars. What is the difference between that million and billion? A factor of one thousand! That means that to be a billionaire, you have to make a million dollars one thousand times! Getting to trillions is similarly outrageous. To be a trillionaire, you would have to make a million dollars ONE MILLION TIMES!

Moving back to astronomy, the numbers naturally get even more difficult to understand! We learned from the video that our galaxy has around 300 billion stars! Remember how big a billion was!? Even when Max was typing 3,050,374 zeroes per day, he still had to go on for 270 years to type that many zeroes! Take into account that there are an estimated 100 billion galaxies in our universe, and things really start to get out of hand.

We estimate that the number of stars in the universe is around 70,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. Thats 70 sextillion, or 70 thousand million million million if that helps! For Max to type out that many zeroes would take 62,871,248,000,000 years (62 trillion!). Keep in mind that the accepted age of the universe is only 13.8 billion years. It would take Max over 1,000 times the age of the universe, just to type out the number of zeroes that there are stars in the universe!

Perhaps Neil Degrasse Tyson said it best: “There are more stars in the universe than grains of sand on any beach, more stars than seconds have passed since Earth formed, more stars than words and sounds ever uttered by all the humans who ever lived”.

And it isn’t particularly close.

Lasers and Fiber Optics

Lasers are awesome! We use them for medicine, science, and even entertainment.  But one of the most practical uses for a laser is the transmission of information.  The information can come in a variety of different forms, from music to television to internet.  This idea of information transfer just using light shouldn’t come as much of a shock.  Radio stations have been transmitting information using light waves for over a century.  Lasers just take this technology to the next level, allowing more data to be transferred at a quicker rate.  While radio waves can pass through most everyday objects, laser light would be blocked and the information lost.  To solve this problem engineers have invented the fiber optic cable.

A fiber optic cable is constructed in such a way that laser light cannot escape it, even though the cable is transparent.  We call this “total internal reflection”, meaning any light from inside the cable gets bounced back into the cable.  Long strings of fiber optic cables allow laser information to travel very far with very little loss of information.  If you have HD television or high speed internet, chances are that you are using a fiber optic cable and you don’t even know it.  Yay technology!


We would like to thank you for visiting our blog. AstroCamp is a hands-on physical science program with an emphasis on astronomy and space exploration. Our classes and activities are designed to inspire students toward future success in their academic and personal pursuits. This blog is intended to provide you with up-to-date news and information about our camp programs, as well as current science and astronomical happenings. This blog has been created by our staff who have at least a Bachelors Degree in Physics or Astronomy, however it is not uncommon for them to have a Masters Degree or PhD. We encourage you to also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Google+, Twitter, and Vine to see even more of our interesting science, space and astronomy information. Feel free to leave comments, questions, or share our blog with others. Please visit for additional information. Happy Reading!