Tag Archives: Space

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)

You Are Here! It’s Earth Day!

We live in a tiny place in the middle of a vast emptiness. Our rocky planet orbits an average-sized home star at an almost unimaginable distance of 93 million miles.The fastest spacecraft in history, as of this writing, are Helios I and II; at their peak speeds of over 150,000mph, they’d take three and a half weeks to make the trip– one way. Even light, so fast that to the human eye it appears to travel instantaneously, takes more than eight minutes to reach Earth from the sun.

Earth Day - clustercollision

The scope of this image is absolutely incredible. It shows four entire clusters of galaxies colliding! Credit: NASA/ESA.

Beyond our solar system, the space between objects scales up exponentially. Light takes eight minutes to travel from the sun to Earth; it takes more than four years to reach us from Proxima Centauri, the next-closest star. This stellar neighbor, like our own sun, is one of hundreds of billions of stars in the Milky Way galaxy– which is one of hundreds of billions of galaxies spread throughout the observable universe. Our closest neighbor galaxy, Andromeda, is two and a half million light-years away, and contains about ten times as many stars as the Milky Way. By order-of-magnitude estimates, there are more stars in the cosmos than there are grains of sand on Earth.

This planet is a small home in an immense universe, but it’s probably far from unique. Our knowledge of other, relatively Earth-like planets has exploded in recent years thanks to the Kepler telescope. This space-based giant surveys the sky near the constellation Cygnus, looking for dips in the brightness of stars between a few hundred and a few thousand light-years away. If the same star dims by the same amount at least three times at regular intervals, an orbiting planet is likely to be blocking some of its light.

Earth Day - KeplerFOV

The Kepler Space Telescope’s field of view. Credit: NASA.

Since its launch in 2009, Kepler has directly observed 2,700 planet candidates. Keep in mind that this telescope scans just one-quarter of one percent of the night sky, chosen for its conveniently observable location. We have no reason to believe that this patch of sky is particularly rich in planets or otherwise special. If there are 2,700 planets in this tiny field of view, it’s likely that the whole sky hides over a million! With so many exoplanets out there, some will probably have habitable conditions.

The question of whether another Earth exists is, however, mostly an academic one. At this stage in history, humanity is taking baby steps towards visiting (and eventually colonizing) another rock in our own solar system: Mars. It seems to be an achievable goal, and organizations like NASA have outlined plans to make it a reality within a handful of decades. The spacecraft and life support systems necessary for such a trip are currently being developed and tested.

Earth Day - PaleBlueDot

Earth from four billion miles away, as seen by the Voyager 1 spacecraft. This iconic image inspired Carl Sagan’s description of Earth as “a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.” Credit: NASA.

At its shortest, the journey from Earth to Mars covers about 55 million miles. The closest known exoplanets are millions of times farther away, well outside the reach of foreseeable space travel technology. A visit to our red neighbor planet represents a physically small step into space, but nonetheless a monumental development in our species’ practical abilities. Until that happens, this pale blue dot in space, as Sagan famously said, is where we make our stand.

Cover Photo Credit: NASA

Written By: Caela Barry

Gear Up for Summer Giveaway

We are excited to announce the Gear Up for Summer Giveaway! Check out what you can win.

AstroCamp Gear Up for Summer Giveaway prize includes an AstroCamp hoodie, t-shirt, frisbee, and water bottle, AstroCamp created 3D Print, fun science t-shirt, as well as a large poster and NASA Goodies. AstroCamp instructors not included.

You can earn entires by registering for camp, writing a camp review, submitting Throwback Thursday Photos or commenting on our blog post. Please take a look at the contest and feel free to make multiple entries to increase your chances! Prizes can only be delivered to those within the United States and photos submitted will be shared on AstroCamp Social Media sites. Fun science t-shirt and poster sizes and pictures vary. When submitting photos please email them to Alisa VinZant at alisa.gdi.org. Happy contest entering and Good Luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


Observing the Opposition of Jupiter


Jupiter is one of the marvels in our solar system. Appropriately named after Zeus, it has a tremendous mass. In fact, it  outweighs the rest of the planets of the solar system by a factor of two–and it knows how to throw its weight around! Its gravity holds 67 confirmed moons in orbit, including the largest four moons first discovered by Galileo known as the Galilean moons.

It also spins with incredible speed. Despite being large enough to hold 1300 Earths inside, it completes its daily rotation in only 10 hours! This means that at the equator, it is moving at 28000 miles per hour! Slight deviations from this speed cause its atmosphere contains incredible bands of clouds of different colors, including the famous Great Red Spot, a hurricane-like storm several times the size of Earth where two of these bands meet that has been raging on for at least 300 years!

Due to its larger orbit, Jupiter takes just shy of 12 years to go around the sun. This means that once every 13 months it forms a line with Earth and the Sun. With Earth squarely in the middle, the Sun and Jupiter are on opposite sides. This means that Jupiter is up while the sun is down. It is also the closest that the two planets get in their respective orbits. This year, it happens on February 6th and due to the shape of each planets’ orbit, it is the closest they will be until 2019! This arrangement is known as “Opposition”. Thirteen months later they will be back in opposition, so if you miss it, check back on March 8, 2016!

Due to the closeness of the two planets and the fact that Jupiter is up during the middle of the night during the time of greatest darkness, this is a great time to look at Jupiter. In fact, on a very dark night it is actually possible for the light from Jupiter to cast a shadow! With the 12” telescopes that we have at camp, we have a pretty big advantage over Galileo. His improved telescope in 1610 had a magnification of about 20x. The 12” telescopes are around 100x, allowing us to not only pick out its four Galilean moons, but also make out two reddish bands in Jupiter’s atmosphere, known as the North and South equatorial belts! It is truly an amazing sight.


Space Rocks!

Space is a place of extremes.  We have extremely large objects like stars and extremely small objects like dust particles in a stellar nebula.  And then there are the objects that are more in the middle.  A good example of these in between objects are comets, asteroids, and meteoroids.  However, when these rocks come into contact with the Earth, their impact can definitely fall into the extreme category.  Literally, space rocks.

There have been many famous impacts over the course of human history.  One of the more recent examples was the recent fireball that exploded over Chelyabinsk, Russia.  The main part of the meteor broke up a few miles above the city and the resulting shockwave blasted the glass from windows all around the city.  The size of the meteor was estimated at about 20 meters across and a weight of about 12,000 metric tons.  The amount of energy released when the meteor exploded was about 20-30 times the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima.  Because the Chelyabinsk meteor broke apart before impact, the signature crater that defines a meteorite hitting the Earth was never formed.  But there is a very famous meteorite crater found in Arizona.

The Arizona meteor crater was formed by an impact that occurred about 50,000 years ago.  The crater is about .7 miles across, which puts the estimate for the size of the meteor at around 50 meters, more than double the Chelyabinsk meteor.  Luckily no humans were around at the time of the impact or there would have been serious amounts of damage.

Fortunately, a large meteor impact has never happened in our lifetime, however scientists theorize that an impact large enough could have global consequences.  In the Yucatan Peninsula, the Chicxulub Crater crater measures at an enormous 110 miles in diameter.  The meteor that caused the impact was likely around 6 miles in diameter!  The impact was so powerful that dust would have been thrown so high in the atmosphere that it would have spread to the far reaches of the Earth.  The dust would have absorbed a good amount of sunlight from reaching the surface of the Earth, which would have caused a lowering of the Earth’s global temperature.  If the temperature change was extreme enough, it is likely that many of the species on the planet would not have been be able to adapt to their new environment and would have died.  We call this a mass extinction event.  Scientist continue to studies meteors in hopes of better understanding and predicting impacts.

Get Ready for the Geminid Meteor Shower

Want to watch possibly one of the best meteor showers of the year?  Then look up in the sky on the evening of Saturday, December 13th, or early the next morning to catch one of the most reliable meteor showers we have: the Geminid Meteor shower.  Every year around this time of year the Earth crosses the orbit of the odd asteroid 3200 Phaethon and collides with debris that the asteroid has left behind in its wake.  To get the best possible viewing experience, follow these handy tips.

  1. Hope for good weather.  Can’t see meteors if you can’t see the sky.

  2. If you live in or nearby a city, travel far enough away so that your view isn’t obstructed by light pollution.  While some of the brightest meteors will be visible even in a big city, you’ll miss all of the smaller dimmer meteors that make the wait in between the big ones that much more amazing.

  3. Dress warm, if the meteor shower is as good as we hope, you might be outside longer than you think.

The best time to watch this particular meteor shower is conveniently just after sunset.  The constellation Gemini, which is the radiant or origin point of these meteors will just be rising in the eastern sky.  Luckily, the moon won’t rise until around midnight.  You won’t have to worry about the meteors getting outshone by the moon until that time.  So grab a warm beverage, a blanket, and a friend and head outside to see what we hope is the best meteor shower of 2014.

What’s a Light Year?

Did you know the nearest star to our sun is 24,942,474,700,000 miles away? The nearest galaxy is about 14,919,633,000,000,000,000 miles away? Those are enormous numbers that are difficult to even imagine or understand!

Proxima Centauri, Our nearest star  Credit NASA/ESA/Hubble

This is why when scientists talk about the distance to nearest stars, they don’t use miles. Instead, they use a measurement known as a light year. Light is the fastest thing in the universe, traveling over 186,000 miles per second! Over the course of one year, it goes about 6 trillion (6,000,000,000,000!!!) miles. This is what we know as a light year.

Some things are still really far away even in light years, but it makes it much easier to compare and understand what things are astronomically close to or far away from us. With our new way of measuring, the nearest star is about 4 light years away. The Andromeda Galaxy is 2,560,000 light years away! That’s still a big number, but its easier to understand how much further away it is than the nearest star.

Andromeda Galaxy (Creative Commons/flickr)

Light years have another convenient and very cool meaning. Since the light from a star or galaxy has to get to the Earth for us to see us, it means that the light had to travel here! Looking at that light means that we are looking at the star the way it was 4 years ago. Looking out in space is actually looking back in time, which can teach us lots of things about our universe.

Looking at the Andromeda galaxy, we are looking at it the way it was over 2 million years ago! Using the Hubble telescope, we have been able to look out at galaxies that are over 13 billion light years away, allowing us to look back to very early in the universe.

Hubble Ultra Deep Field Credit NASA/ESA/Hubble

Watch this video that further illustrates enormity of a light year!

AstroCamp’s “Winter is Coming” Space Contest!

Stay warm and curl up with some hot chocolate in new spacey AstroCamp gear! You can win by entering the “Winter is Coming” contest today!

Our Astro Goodie bag prize includes a hoodie, a beanie, a water bottle, and some tasty hot chocolate:)

You can earn entires by visiting the website or commenting on this blog post. Check it out and feel free to make multiple entries to increase your chances! Prizes can only be delivered to those within the United States.

Gravity and the Vortex Table

When a Line Isn’t a Line or Who’s Line is it Anyway?

What is the shortest path between two points?  I bet most of you said a line, and in a lot of circumstances you would be correct.  The problem is that this is only true if you are using a flat space like a sheet of paper.  When your space begins to curve, you need to become more creative.  Let’s take the cities of New York and Tokyo as an example.  The shortest distance between them would be a straight line going through the Earth, but that’s no help to planes that need to stay above the ground.  So airlines need to figure out a more complex path to make the journey as efficient as possible.  This path is called a great circle!  For our New York to Tokyo flight you need to travel north almost past Alaska to travel on the great circle.
Here is a fun site that you can use to map great circles connecting airports around the world: The Great Circle Mapper 

Now you might think that outer space would be an escape from these silly curved geometries, but you would be very wrong.  Einstein’s theory of General Relativity showed us that space is very far from flat.  Any object with mass will warp space much like a weight will warp a trampoline.  The heavier the object, the greater the warping.  This is the basic principle of gravity!  One of the interesting effects of this curving of space is that light will behave like our airplane and always follow the shortest path between two points, which often isn’t a line. That is what our vortex table is meant to show.  The marbles are trying to go from one side of the metal ball to the other.  If the ground was flat, they could simply go right next to it, but in our curved fabric space, the shortest path is a nice even circle several inches from the metal ball.

In space, we have even more extreme cases.  For example, the light from a star might be split going around an object like a black hole.  Some of the light goes around to the left, some of the light goes around to the right.  After navigating the black hole, the two beams of light might eventually converge when they get to the Earth.  A telescope detecting these two beams would see two identical stars on either side of the black hole, one on the right one on the left.  In reality, there is only one star behind the black hole, but the telescope doesn’t know any better.  We call this gravitational lensing, just one of the mind-bending things that can happen in space.  Here is a diagram to make things slightly less clear than mud. The gray stars are what you see, the black is what is real.

For more on gravitational lensing click here: NASA Gravitational Lenses

Rocketing into Space

Up, up, and away!!! From the ground of Cape Canaveral to the edges of our atmosphere and into the reaches of outer space, humans have pushed the field of rocketry to the final frontier. Many people believe that rocket design reached its peak with the development of NASA’s space shuttle, but the designs of current rockets are continuously changing and improving.

NASA is currently developing the Space Launch System, or SLS, to be an improved model of the space shuttle system. The emergence of private companies who are designing and building their own unique rockets is truly revolutionizing the space industry. Space X is currently one of the leading companies in the private space race, already using their Dragon and Falcon 9 rockets to send supplies up to the International Space Station. Virgin Galactic is also changing the game by developing spacecraft that will take people who can afford the cost of a ticket into outer space. As the field of rocketry is forever changing, who knows where the next big breakthrough in design will come from? Maybe it will be you. Here at AstroCamp, we create our own unique small scale rockets. The creation and design of each rocket is limited only by the mind of the builder.

Rocketing into Space References:

NASA SLS: http://www.nasa.gov/exploration/systems/sls/

Space X: http://www.spacex.com/news/2014/09/16/nasa-selects-spacex-be-part-americas-human-spaceflight-program

Virgin Galactic: http://www.virgingalactic.com/news/item/nasa-and-virgin-galactic-select-payloads-for-first-space-research-flight-onboard-spaceshiptwo/


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!