Monthly Archives: April 2015

Train Like an Astronaut

What does it take to get into space? A great place to start that journey is tons and tons of training. For NASA astronauts, training can come in a variety of different ways. The Neutral Buoyancy lab in Austin, Texas is one of the best training facilities in the country. At the Neutral Bouyancy lab astronauts suit up and SCUBA dive to complete mock missions just as they would if they were in outer space. This training is possible because the buoyancy force of water simulates the weightless effect of being in orbit. Click the link below for additional information on the Johnson Space Center’s Neutral Buoyancy Lab: http://www.nasa.gov/centers/johnson/home/index.html#.U9KYqPldVzo

Here at Astrocamp, we have created our own Astronaut training program that mimics the one done at the Neutral Buoyancy Lab. Students get trained in SCUBA diving procedures and safety, then they eventually complete a mock mission to repair a broken satellite. The neutral buoyancy for the water also makes it easy to bust some funky moves in what we like to call, the turtle dance!

Feature Image Provided By: Hodel Family

 

Earth Day & the Greenhouse Effect

Since today, April 22nd, is Earth Day we decided to take a look at one of the most important phenomena on our planet: the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is when some material – like glass, plastic, or the gases in our atmosphere – allows visible light to pass through it easily but traps heat. Without the greenhouse effect, the average temperature on Earth would be a chilly -2℉, but with its help we can instead enjoy a comfortable 57℉. Too much greenhouse effect, on the other hand, and a planet could end up like Venus, the surface of which can reach a whopping 800 degrees!

 Greenhouse Effect diagram

In the video, we harness the greenhouse effect and the power of our sun to heat water. The black background of the solar water heater is very good at absorbing the energy contained in the sunlight. It then re-emits this energy as infrared radiation, or heat. This heat becomes trapped by the plastic cover, warming the interior of the solar heater. When cold water is passed through the pipe it collects the heat that has been gathered from the sun, emerging from the other side 70℉  warmer than it went in! 

Below you can see the same thing as in the video, but in infrared! Infrared light allows us to see the temperature of everyday objects, instead of their normal color. Then, the infrared camera produces what is known as a false color image, changing it back to visible light. Since we can’t see in the infrared, it wouldn’t do any good without this step. At the bottom, it shows which temperatures correspond to which colors. This is constantly updating depending on the hottest and coldest objects in view.

Greeenhouse in Infrared

We can see another example of this effect using our solar ovens.The only difference between the two is that one of them has the cover open. The oven without the cover has only heated up to about 140℉, while the covered oven is able to achieve a temperature of 280℉. When it comes to keeping you warm, or even sun baked treats, the greenhouse effect has got you covered!

Ovens Arrows

Sources and Additional Information:

Earth temperature with and w/o greenhouse effect: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report. Chapter 1: Historical overview of climate change science – http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg1/ar4-wg1-chapter1.pdf
Greenhouse effect image: http://www.globaled.uconn.edu/teachers_climate/images/greenhouse_effect.jpg

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.  http://www.naturalhistorymag.com/universe/201367/cosmic-perspective?page=2

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!

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!

IMG_0086

Whoa!

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.

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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