Tag Archives: Science

Cosmic Lander: An Engineering Challenge

Here is an engineering challenge for you. Drop a water balloon from the second story of a building onto a rocky bottom and have it survive. In Cosmic Lander, our students do just that!

In this popular class at AstroCamp, our campers transform into teams of engineers. They model landing fragile scientific gear (the water balloon) onto a hard and rocky surface (Mars). They learn that sending rovers and probes to other places in our solar system takes a process of steps.

Step 1: Plan it
Work with teammates. Design it, draw it out and make a plan. Know what you are going to do and how much it’ll cost. NASA has a budget, therefore so do our students. Different materials are worth different amounts of points.


Step 2: Build It
Bring the design into reality. Use appropriate materials. Figure out a way to make it work together.

engineer 1 engineering build

Step 3: Test It
Give it a try. See if it works. If it didn’t, then analyze what went wrong, make a correction, and test it again. If necessary, start the process over until you are successful (you will be successful). Never give up!

engineering done

It is unusual for scientists and engineers to find the best and most successful way of doing something the very first time. Keep in mind the words of Thomas Edison, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Every attempt is a new piece of knowledge.

Written by: Mimi Garai

Exploring 1

Exploring New World

AstroCamp: the summer frontier. These are the voyages of the campers who attend. Their one or two-week mission: exploring strange new worlds, to seek out new friends and new interests. To boldly go where they have never gone before.

There are so many strange new worlds to explore during a summer at AstroCamp, from the fantasy world of Dungeons and Dragons to the bridge of a spaceship in Artemis. These new worlds offer not only a sense of discovery for our campers, but a creative outlet.


Exploring 2

When playing D&D, there are rules in place, but the real limit is the imagination of the player. You decide what your character is like as a person, how they interact with the world and characters around them, and what they do. The dice and dungeon master tell you if your actions are successful, but the more creativity you apply to it, the more fun it is for you and all the other players.


With Artemis, campers each play a role (engineering, navigation, etc.) on the bridge of a fictional spacecraft. Each person needs to complete their job and work together for the mission to run smoothly. Again, the more creativity they bring to the task at hand, the more enjoyable it is. Campers will even play characters rather than just participate as themselves, engaging creativity, teamwork, and problem solving at once.


Technology vs. Technology!

Technology is practically inescapable in today’s day and age. Everyone has a smart phone, computer, tablet, gaming system, or some combination. It is used every single day for communication, entertainment, or as a tool.

Here at camp we highly encourage all of our students to put away their electronics and focus on the experience at hand. However that is not to say that we don’t love using technology. In fact, we try to focus on technology that is mindful rather than mindless.  But how can you tell the difference between mindless technology and mindful technology?

Mindless technology can be the use of cell phones, video games, surfing the internet, etc. It is a way to simply pass the time with minimal interactions of thought processes or other people. It is the scrolling through a news feed or flicking through images. This is the technology that we are ditching at AstroCamp.

Instead, we have a few classes focused on mindful technology, the use of electronics to expand your brain. A few example are building robots in our robotics class, using special programs to design something to be 3D printed, making a windmill, creating extreme videos of awesome adventures such as mountain biking or scuba diving. Mindful technology is using computers, cameras, and other electronics as a resource and tool. This is the type of technology that we want our campers to get experience with and their hands on.

So the next time you are on your computer or smart phone ask yourself, is this for mindless or mindful reasons? If it is for mindless, is there a way that you can turn it into mindful? Your time is valuable and important. Don’t cheat yourself by wasting it away. Rather, create something or learn about something every chance you get.


Dance or Shake into Registration

Dance, move, harlem shake or do whatever you have to, to get to AstroCamp Today!

Registration NOW Open with Early Bird Incentive Program

Register your camper on or before December 24th, 2016 and save money with our Early Bird Incentive Program!
Incentive pricing indicated in RED!

AstroCamp Summer • One-Week Sessions

Coed Ages 8 – 13

One-Week Session 1:  June 10 – June 16        $1,300 (Before December 24th – $1,200)
One-Week Session 2:  June 17 – June 23        $1,400 (Before December 24th – $1,300)
One-Week Session 3:  June 24 – June 30        $1,400 (Before December 24th – $1,300)

Please Note: AstroCamp One-Week Sessions Run From Saturday To Friday!

NON-REFUNDABLE deposit of $200 is required to register. Register HERE.

AstroCamp Summer • Two-Week Sessions

Coed Ages 12 – 17

Two-Week Session 1:  July 2 – July 14        $2,400 (Before December 24th – $2,300)
Two-Week Session 2:  July 16 – July 28      $2,400 (Before December 24th – $2,300)

Please Note: AstroCamp Two-Week Sessions Run From Sunday To Friday!

A NON-REFUNDABLE deposit of $200 is required to register. Register HERE.

Applying and Registration 

All of our camp sessions fill up very quickly, so APPLY EARLY!

Click HERE to register now!

For additional information or questions, please contact us.
Phone: 800.645.1423 or 909.625.6194
Fax: 909.625.9977 or 909.625.7305
AstroCamp • 27282 Calle Arroyo • San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
Email: AstroCamp Registrar
Office Hours M-F: 8:00 AM – 4:30 PM (Lunch 12:30-1:00)

Colored Fire for a Happy Halloween!

Note: This involves combining fire which can always be dangerous with chemicals that can irritate skin or badly hurt eyes! Only do this with proper supervision and safety equipment including goggles, gloves, and a fire extinguisher!

The classic Jack-o-lantern has been around for hundreds of years. The tradition was brought to America by the Irish, who had originally started carving the spooky faces into turnips based on a folk tale. Moving to pumpkins was undoubtedly an upgrade, and we think it’s about time for another one!


The lighting of a jack-o-lantern is classically done by candles. Candles burn with a yellowish flame giving off a special glow, but there are ways to make flame in different colors! To do this, the fuel simply needs to have different kinds of salts added. When you think of salt, it probably conjures images of a table seasoning known as sodium chloride, but this is not the only possibility.

Salt actually a scientific term referring to the category of molecule that is left over from pouring acidic and basic solutions together. Fortunately, to acquire these salts, you don’t need to risk working with potentially dangerous acids that could leave you with a costume you couldn’t take off!

Most of these are the result of mixing something with hydrochloric acid, which means that they are often chlorine combined with another molecule, just like sodium chloride! Adding energy in the form of fire causes these molecules to give off unique energy in the form of differently colored light!


Caption: Different salts give off different colors of light. This can come in many forms including from red strontium chloride and green from cupric chloride.

jackolantern-colorOur fire source was rubbing alcohol, with the chosen salt stirred in. To keep it from going everywhere, we used a small glass jar instead of the dishes above. To make sure the liquid burned easily and evenly, we used a cotton ball as a wick like a candle, and put it in the jack-o-lantern!.

CO2 Fire Extinguisher

“Fire… begone!” These words aren’t magic, they’re science! We’ve harnessed the unique properties of a certain gas, carbon dioxide, to make our own version of a fire extinguisher. To understand how this works, we need to start with an understanding of fire. Fire requires two things in order to continue burning: fuel and oxygen. Without those fire will cease to exist. Our homemade fire extinguisher deprives fire of the second ingredient: oxygen.

We start with some dry ice. Dry ice is simply the solid form of carbon dioxide. When the dry ice heats up, it sublimates and turns into its gaseous form. Carbon Dioxide in its gas form is invisible and very dense. It’s density allows you to scoop it in a pitcher the same as you would a liquid, except that you can’t see it. When poured out it is heavy enough to push away all of the oxygen around the fire. No oxygen, no fire! Tada!

A Scientist’s April Fools

Warning: Don’t do this at home!  When a scientist decides to play an April Fools prank on someone, it gets pretty serious.  We pull out all the stops.  One experiment that is guaranteed to both terrify and delight is the classic alcohol money burn.

The experiment is pretty simple.  Mix some rubbing alcohol and water until your solution is about 50% alcohol.  Take a bill (we would recommend a small one in case something goes bad) and dip it into the alcohol.  Get any excess liquid off of the bill so that it isn’t dripping,  Light it on fire!



The amazing thing about this experiment is that the money doesn’t actually burn.  The fire goes out after a few seconds and the bill is unharmed.  April Fools!  But why?  The secret lies in the water.  The water mixed in with the alcohol is what is absorbing the heat of the fire, not the money.  If the bill was soaked in pure alcohol it would be roasted in seconds.  But water has a really good specific heat, meaning it takes a lot of energy to heat it up.  The alcohol doesn’t burn hot enough to overcome this specific heat,  and as a result the money stays safe.

DIY Fluorescent Bubbles

If you’ve ever seen objects under a blacklight – like clothes or highlighters – you may have noticed that some things glow when they’re hit by that kind of light, and others don’t. The things that are glowing are fluorescing! Fluorescence in this case is caused by an interaction between high energy UV light (from the blacklight) and some of the electrons in that object. When that high energy light strikes the object, those electrons are able to absorb the energy from the light for a short period of time. However, the electrons soon let go of that energy, emitting it as a slightly lower energy light. The light that they release is the glowing that we see!

Today at Astrocamp, we wanted to see if we could make fluorescent soap-bubbles. It not only worked, but also turned out to be pretty easy and something you can do at home! We’ll show what we did, step by step, so that you might be able to recreate this experiment yourself!

Making the Fluorescent bubble mixture:




  • Bubble Solution. We made our own with dish soap and water. If starting with bubble solution, skip steps 1 & 3!
  • Fluorescent Highlighters. Yellow tends to work best!
  • Bubble Wand
  • Blacklight
  • A knife or scissors



First, add a bit of dish-soap so a container. We used a small styrofoam bowl, but you can use whatever you like.. A tablespoon of soap should be enough, but you may need more depending on the amount of water you add later.

Second, carefully cut the back-end off of a highlighter and remove the inkpad. You will need an adult for this part! Then do your best to squeeze as much highlighter-ink as you can into the bowl. In our experiment, we used a yellow highlighter. To cut our highlighter, we used a pair of scissors. For brighter bubbles, add more ink to your mixture by removing the inkpad from more highlighters! You will probably get a bunch of ink on your hands. Don’t worry! It is non-toxic, and will make you look very cool with the blacklight!


Finish up your bubble mixture by adding water. Your bubble mixture should appear still appear “soapy” after adding water. If you think you added too much water, add more soap!

Lastly, to make the mixture fluoresce, you’ll need a black light and a dark room. To make the bubbles, you’ll need a bubble wand. If your bubbles aren’t working well, add more soap or water. If they aren’t very bright, you can add more highlighter. One was enough for this video, but your blacklight may not be as bright.

What you’re seeing

When you’re blowing your bubbles and seeing them glow under the blacklight, you’re seeing fluorescence! The electrons from the atoms in the highlighter-ink are absorbing the high-energy, invisible UV light from the blacklight and emitting it as a slightly lower energy light that we can see – as a bright glowing.

Slinky: Mystery of a Childhood Toy

Everyone loves a Slinky!  Especially scientists! Most people know them as the cool springy things that can go down the stairs or end up in a giant tangled mess, but we wanted to focus on something else: What happens when you dangle a slinky from the top until it is fully extended and then drop it?  You would expect the whole slinky to fall to the ground, but as you can see in the video, you find its a little more interesting.  The bottom of the slinky stays completely motionless until the top of the slinky catches up.  But why?

Slinky DropA slinky is really just a loose spring. The more a spring is stretched, the more it pulls back towards the center. When the slinky is held out like this, gravity is pulling down on every part of it, including the bottom. We allowed the slinky so hang until it stopped moving, which means that the gravity pulling down on it is exactly countered by the spring pulling back up.

All objects are pulled down by gravity with the same acceleration, but the slinky isn’t breaking physics or ruining science. Both ends of the slinky are being pulled in due to its springy characteristics. The top is being pulled down by gravity and the spring, and it actually falls faster than it should. The bottom, even as the slinky is dropped, is still being pulled up by the spring. With the bottom going nowhere, and the top going faster, it all averages out. The whole slinky together though, is falling at the exact rate that gravity dictates.

There is a bit more to this explanation though. This is actually showing a wave and the transmission of information as well. Slinkys are often used in science classes as ways to demonstrate waves as well. In this case, the information from the drop needs to get to the bottom before it can start falling. You can actually see this wave–called a compression wave–if you watch the top of the slinky in the gif below. The tension from the spring doesn’t change until the wave reaches the bottom. You will see it clump up as it falls, as the fast falling top part catches up with the parts below it.

There is nothing special about our Slinky here. It doesn’t need to be rainbow colored or giant, any old Slinky will do the trick! Don’t believe us?  Try this one at home! All you need is a Slinky. And when you’re done, take it to the stairs!


Fireproof Balloon & How it Changed the World

The balloon in the video isn’t anything special. It’s a completely normal balloon filled with completely normal water. However, water is quite extraordinary!

We describe matter by listing its different properties. Some of these properties include how dense something is, its flexibility, its ability to conduct electricity, and even its color! Another less commonly known (but just as important!) property is called “specific heat”. This property is one of the things that makes water really interesting!

Specific heat indicates how difficult it is to heat up or cool down an object. For example, if you were to put two pots on a stove and fill one with air (by leaving it empty) and fill one with water, the air one would heat up much quicker even though the stove is adding the same amount of energy to each one! The water doesn’t heat up nearly as much while being given the same energy, meaning it has a very high specific heat.

This is exactly what happens in the video. The match is hot enough to melt the rubber and form a hole, causing the balloon to pop immediately! It actually pops before the fire even reaches the surface.Fire2!

With the water balloon through, the entire balloon can be engulfed in flame, and nothing happens! This is because the water absorbs the energy from the hot flame, but doesn’t heat up very much. The rubber never heats up enough to melt.Fire!

Specific heat works the other way too. Water also takes a long time to cool off. In this way, the specific heat of water actually shapes the climate on a global scale. Take a look at the image below. The snow cycles are much more visible in the Northern hemisphere because they only have to go over land. Ground has a lower specific heat than water, so during the winter it cools down more easily, allowing the cold to pass further south forming ice over most of the Northern continents. In the Southern Hemisphere, the water is much more difficult to cool down, and the icy chill barely even reaches the land!

Earth Seasons Specific Heat (1)

A Breathing Earth” by John Nelson, using images from NASA’s cloud free satellite imagery of Earth.


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 www.astrocampsummer.org for additional information. Happy Reading!