Tag Archives: Space

Microgravity at AstroCamp in the Summer

How do astronauts train for the microgravity of space when they’re on Earth? One well-used method is clever, effective, and simple: they use a pool! A water environment simulates the feeling of near weightlessness, or microgravity. It makes the perfect space to engineer, build, and get comfortable moving around in space-like conditions. NASA astronauts use the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory in Houston Texas. Bigger than an olympic sized pool, it contains over 6.2 million gallons of water! 


Buoyancy Lab NASA

Why does a pool simulate microgravity? It’s not that objects in water are pulled on by gravity less, because the amount of gravity is the same regardless of the medium you’re in. It’s just that water is more dense than what we’re used to being in, air. Because of this density difference, we feel another force opposing gravity. The buoyant force! We’ve all felt the buoyant force and seen buoyancy in action, even if you didn’t know what to call it. The buoyant force is the force that springs a beach ball to the surface when you shove it under water, the force that makes a helium balloon float in air, and the force that makes humans feel like they’re floating when they’re in water.

force buoyancy diagram

 In a pool, it’s buoyancy that opposes gravity, and effectively makes gravity feel less intense when we’re in it. As long as you’re in something denser than our average density, you’ll feel the buoyant force pushing up on you, and feel lighter! That’s why people float even more on saltwater than freshwater; saltwater is more dense. Our microgravity activity challenges campers in the same way astronauts are challenged in space. Their mission is to work together and build a “satellite communication system” with pipes and other pieces while floating and communicating without words.


underwater astronaut building

 After debriefing the mission to hear about the hardships and victories during their underwater adventure, campers may also have time to learn, hands-on, about the interesting physics of space and pool physics (think buoyancy, density, and pressure) with instructors. This activity is adapted to the needs of the group, to ensure each camper is sufficiently challenged but poised to succeed in the pool, both school year and summer. Lifeguards are on deck to supervise and create a safe space! There are many ways to do this class, but each camper should walk away feeling a little more confident working together, engineering in a unique environment, and with the experience of training like an astronaut in the AstroCamp pool! 

Micorgravity Success

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.

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.

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!