Monthly Archives: October 2014

NASA’s Orion Spacecraft AstroCamp Style

NASA’s first launch of Orion draws closer!

The new spacecraft is fascinating, and models of it were difficult to find, so we designed our own! This is the result!

For those of you who don’t know, Orion is NASA’s new spacecraft, filling the role of the retired space shuttle program. It is designed with versatility in mind, so if you go searching for pictures of it, you are likely to find lots of different things. In the video, the red piece that snaps on top is the Orion capsule, and is included in any of the pictures you will find, but the other modular parts change drastically.

One of the lesser known features is the Launch Abort System, which attaches to the top of the capsule during its ride into space on a Delta Heavy Rocket. Future launches will instead use the Space Launch System (SLS) which is still in development. The Launch Abort System is an added safety mechanism designed to pull the capsule–and crew inside–away should anything go wrong with the rocket behind them! This is the gray piece on the top.

The bottom gray pieces are the propulsion system. This is probably the most widely varied part of the Orion Spacecraft in pictures that you will see. The solar panels fold out–a feature that didn’t quite make it into the 3D printed version (although they do fold on a single hinge!) and that portion can also separate from the larger propulsion system sitting below.

Perhaps if there is interest, we’ll put together another video showing how each of the components work!

NASA’s Orion Spacecraft will make its first foray into space on December 4th, from Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex!

Darth Vader and a Tesla Coil

What do Darth Vader and Tesla have in Common? Well the answer is AstroCamp!

We had a little fun playing with our giant Tesla Coil as Darth Vader from Star Wars.  The tesla coil is the most iconic and well known invention from the proud inventor Nikola Tesla. Tesla’s inventions helped pioneer the modern use of Alternating Current electricity or AC.  Most of his inventions made use of high voltage high frequency electricity.  The tesla coil appropriately named after Nikola is an excellent example of such a device.

The coil uses a property of electromagnetism called “inductance” to create a high voltage current.  The process begins by sending a low voltage current through a primary coil of wire that has a few turns in the wire.  If the electricity is AC current, it will create a magnetic field inside the coil.  If a secondary coil of wire wrapped just above the primary coil, the magnetic field created by the first coil will create a new current of electricity in the secondary coil.  When the secondary coil of wire has significantly more turns of wire in it than the primary, the voltage will be increase many times over.  The increase in voltage will cause the tesla coil to discharge the classic bolts of lightning from the top.

Tesla imagined that this setup could be used to transfer energy wirelessly from one place to another.  Sadly for Tesla, the idea never caught on.  Part of this might be due to the large amounts of noise that the tesla coil produces.  It might also be due to the fact that the bolts of electricity could be very dangerous if they were to hit a person.  Still, the Darth Vader controlled Tesla Coil never fails to impress an audience, which is something that would probably make Tesla proud.

Exploring Magnets with Ferrofluid

Magnets can do some pretty strange things. In first year physics classes, people are usually introduced to a mysterious thing called a magnetic field. These are invisible lines that help describe how magnets interact. This can make thinking about magnets rather intimidating, as it seems that they must be taken on faith. However, this doesn’t have to be the case!

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Classic drawing of a magnetic field for a single magnet. Lines leave the north pole and enter the south pole. Credit: Tutorvista

Magnets interact with lots of things, but in particular are fond of iron. In fact, magnetism as we know it is known as ferromagnetism. In chemistry, “ferrous” means “containing iron”. With this in mind, carefully using tiny bits of iron known as iron filings, magnetic field lines can be seen!

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Magnetic field viewed with iron filings. Credit: Henry Black, Practical Physics (1913)

See how the two pictures above line up? This particular picture is very accurate and mapped in painstaking detail. It tells us a lot about the magnet. Magnetic strength is indicated by the density of the magnetic field. In the image above, this shows us that–not surprisingly–the north and south poles of the magnet are the strongest!

We decided to take it one step further by using ferrofluid. By dissolving  this bits of iron in oil, the whole process becomes more dynamic–and a whole lot messier! If you are a follower of this blog, you probably realize this is pretty much exactly what we live for. You might expect when we bring our magnet next to it that it will just cover the whole magnet. However, that’s not quite what happens.

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Magnet and ferrofluid. The magnet isn’t completely covered. There are small spikes where the magnetic field is.

Our magnet is a bit strange, it’s actually two iron spheres attached to two strong neodymium magnets. When arranged in this manner, the entire thing acts as one large magnet. This is sort of the inverse of an important magnetic property: All magnets have a north and a south pole. This means that if you were to cut a magnet in half, it would become two magnets, each with its own north and south pole. This essentially means that each magnet is a stack of smaller magnets, just like the one we are using! Lots of research has been dedicated to finding just a single pole, but these mysterious monopoles remain undiscovered.

ferrofluid

 

Note that because ferrofluid is just iron filings and oil, it isn’t dangerous. It does leave a bit of a stain on skin, like oil can. In the animation above, you can see that our conglomeration of magnets has some cool features where the magnets connect. Using ferrofluid in this way makes magnets a bit less mystifying, and a lot more fun!

WELCOME TO OUR ASTROCAMP BLOG

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.astrocampschool.org for additional information. Happy Reading!

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