Monthly Archives: October 2017

America Recycles Day

Jack Johnson sang it best in his song “The 3 R’s”. Reduce, reuse, recycle. This is how to live a more sustainable life, and leave a smaller carbon footprint. First, try to reduce the amount of waste you produce. Second, reuse items as much as possible. Third, recycle appropriate waste products as to have them not end up in our oceans or atmosphere.

November 15 is America Recycles Day. Each year millions of people across the U.S. take part in bringing awareness to the importances of recycling and creating less waste on our beautiful planet. Help teach others the benefits of recycling and continue to do so each day.

How you can participate:

  • Reduce
    • Lose the single use items and invest in reusable ones. Whether it’s changing from plastic shopping bags to cloth bags, disposable water bottles to those from companies like Camelbak and Nalgene, or to-go paper coffee cups to ceramic mugs or aluminum travel mugs, there are hundreds of options to reduce your impact on the world.


  • Reuse
    • When reducing what items you use is not a viable option, you should reuse them! Try reusable containers for lunch, rather than brown paper bags. Repair items rather than buying new ones, or shop at thrift shops. There is almost always some alternative option to buying new.


  • Recycle
    • If single use items must be a part of your day, then recycle. Papers, plastics, or aluminum can be recycled and made into new products, so try to do your part. You can also try to buy products that are made from those recycled goods.


Small changes in your day and your habits can have huge impacts on the world around you. Here’s how:

  • Reduces greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming
  • Reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills and combustion facilities.
  • Conserves natural resources such as timber, water, and minerals.
  • Prevents pollution by reducing the need to collect new raw materials.
  • Saves energy

Space Exploration with the Rover

We are extremely lucky to have a rare piece of equipment on display here at AstroCamp. On loan from JPL, we have the model of the Spirit and Opportunity rovers! As a part of our Mars exploration class, “Expedition Valles Marineris”, the model is used to show our campers a full scale example of what NASA and other space agencies have sent to explore our solar system.

Spirit and Opportunity are just two of 14 artificial objects on Mars, landing on the red planet in January 2004. NASA last communicated with Spirit on March 22, 2010, but Opportunity is still going strong!


They were sent to explore two different sites on opposite sides of Mars and their purpose was to collect rocks and soil samples looking for clues of past water activity. A few characteristics built into them to enable this exploration are: Solar panels, the PanCam, a visible light spectrometer, an x-ray spectrometer, rock abrasion tool, and microscope, to name a few. A fun characteristic that they share is that they have tire markings which spell out “NASA” in morse code as they roll through the red dust.

rover 1

However, did you know that rovers are not the only types of explorers that we have sent or will send to space? There are also:

  • Astronauts and cosmonauts
  • Drones
  • The Gecko Gripper
  • Satellites
  • Landers

But, with the help from our future scientists and engineers, like those campers who attend AstroCamp, there is no telling what the future can hold! So what impact do you think you could create for the future of space?

Written by: Mimi Garai

Fiber Optics: Continuing the Light Discussion

Fiber optics allow for the transmission of information, like the internet and cable TV. They carry information between two places using entirely light-based technology. In a cable, there can be as little as two fibers, or as many as several hundreds. Each fiber is about as thick as a human hair. But how does it work?

fiber optics

For the clearest example, a laser beam can be sent down the fiber. The laser is always one color of light that travels coherently. Coherence is when waves of light line up to be in phase. Two different colors of light can never be coherent because they have different wavelengths.

fiber optics 1

The light from a laser (Light Amplified by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) will also always travel in a straight line. So why can it bend around and through a fiber or stream of water?

fiber optics light

The fibers being used are made of glass, plastic, or a combination of the two. These all have a higher index of refraction than the air, causing the light to bend from one medium to the next. If the angle that the light is being bent is less than 42˚, then the light will bounce backwards as if it hit a mirror. This is called total internal reflection.

fiber optics light 1

The light waves are guided through the optical fibers due to this phenomenon of light bouncing back and forth down the cable. This allows the light information from the beginning to be able to make it all the way to the other side without losing much energy along the way.


Written by: Mimi Garai

Light: Just Flip It and Look You Will See

It is no surprise that we experience and use scientific phenomenons every day. But, did you know that our eyes do that too? At camp, we have a science experiment that demonstrates how our eyes take in light. This hole in the wall is a great model for an eye. Your eye has a few major components: cornea, lens, iris, pupil, retina, and macula, to name a few. For our purposes, let us focus on the iris and pupil. The pupil in an eye is basically just a hole. The iris is a muscle that can expand and contract to change the size of the pupil. The purpose of the pupil is to allow light to enter your eye.


light eyeLight, on Earth’s scale, travels in straight lines. So how does any of that light ever make it into your eyes for you to see the world around you? The key is reflection. Light bounces off of objects, and if it bounces just right, that information will make it all the way to you. However, the only light you will ever see are the rays that make it all the way through those tiny holes.

So why is the image that is formed upside down? Due to light traveling in straight lines, when the light that bounces off of someone’s head, that same information makes it through the hole. Any other reflection of light will slam into the wall, unable to pass along the data. Same thing goes for light bouncing off of someone’s feet. Because the light is entering through the small hole, it must intersect and thus the image is inverted. However, we don’t see the world upside down. Our brains have adapted to this phenomenon, and flips the images automatically! Our brains are amazing!

light more

Written By: Mimi Garai

The Moon Phases

We can’t take our eyes off it, it helps control our tides, and wolves howl at it; can you name what “it” is? You probably guessed correctly, it’s Luna, also known as the moon! The moon is the largest satellite of Earth, and one of the only natural satellites. This means that there may be other satellites out there orbiting around Earth (thanks to space junk and our cell phone providers), but it is by far the largest and amongst the only that came from space to orbit our home planet. Our moon is also the brightest object in our night sky, so bright in fact that you can sometimes see it during the day. However, the moon seems to be constantly changing. How can that be possible?


To demonstrate what is happening, you can do an easy experiment at home. All you need is a single light source (representing the sun), your face (representing Earth), and a ball or your fist (modeling the moon).

Earth’s gravity has the moon tidally locked, meaning the same half of the moon is always facing Earth, and the other half is always facing away (the dark side of the moon). Since it is tidally locked, your model of the moon does not need to spin. All you have to do now is put your moon between your face and model of the sun and start to rotate counterclockwise (the same direction that Earth spins).

moon lunar

When the moon is between the sun and the Earth, light from the sun cannot reflect from the moon to Earth. This phase is called a “New Moon”. As you keep rotating you will first see a waxing crescent, then: the first quarter, waxing gibbous, full moon (Earth is between the moon and the sun), waning gibbous, third quarter, waning crescent, then back to New Moon. If you keep rotating the cycle will continue on and on.  For our real moon this cycle will take about 29 days to be completed.

moon phases

You can easily keep track of this cycle on your own as well. All you need to do is step outside each night and make some observations. Take note of what the day and time is, and what the moon looks like to you. Once you have done this for a couple of weeks you should be able to predict what you will see next! So go ahead, give it a try for yourself and have fun.

Written by: Mimi Garai

Effortless DIY Electric Train

The relationship between electricity and magnetism is as old as space and time, but is a complicated one. As light propagates, electricity and magnetism flow in and out of each other, forever connected. This connection can allow for some pretty interesting phenomenons in physics.

DIY trainDue to induction, we can get the “train” to propel forward.  Induction is the act or process by which an electric or magnetic effect is produced in an electrical conductor or magnetizable body when it is exposed to the influence or variation of a field of force. This means that moving electricity induces magnetism, and moving magnets induces electricity.

DIY train 1Our “train” is composed of a battery and two strong magnets whose fields are repelling each others. It’s track is a long solenoid, or tightly coiled copper wire. The battery sends a current through the solenoid, which creates a magnetic field. That induced magnetic field then interacts with the magnets, repelling one magnet (pushing it) and attracting the other (pulling it). This push from one end and pull from the other creates a net forward motion (or if it is the exact opposite, then it will bounce out of the track due to a net backward motion).

If the two magnets are aligned with the battery such that their fields are attracted to one another, then there will be a net of zero movement. This is due to the induced magnetic field pulling the magnets in opposing directions. But, don’t take my word for it, give it a try for yourself!

DIY train gif

Written by: Mimi Garai

DIY Polar Opposites

Oil and water won’t mix no matter how hard you try. They have different densities and different polarities. But what happens when you mix oil and milk?

Milk is an emulsion. It is made of mostly water with lipids throughout. Lipids are organic compounds that are fatty acids or their derivatives and are insoluble in water but soluble in organic solvents.

DIY Opposites

DIY oppositeWater is a “polar” molecule, meaning that there is an uneven distribution of electron density. Water has a partial negative charge (-) near the oxygen atom due the unshared pairs of electrons, and partial positive charges (+) near the hydrogen atoms. Due to the polarity, the attractive forces are very strong in water molecules. Oil is nonpolar, which means the attractive forces are pretty neutral.

diy spinning

Any liquid, to be able to mix with another needs to have nearly equal amounts of attractive forces among the molecules of both liquids. When you add oil to a bowl of milk something bizarre and amazing happens. You will see hundred of spheres form. The spheres are drops of milk which are surrounded by a layer of oil. These are technically bubbles!

But these bubbles are pretty hard to pop. You can even stir them and see how they move through the layer of oil! Give it a try for yourself.

Written by: Mimi Garai


DIY Limestone Caves

Most stone is made over millions of years, cooked in the core of our planet. That stone then erodes over time due to wind, acids found in rain and groundwater, and other natural weatherings. Chalk is a type of limestone formed by the shells of microscopic marine organisms.

diy caves

The process of erosion can produce beautiful features in earth’s crust, like arches, stacks, and caves. This process usually takes tens of thousands of years.

But we can make a limestone cave in just a matter of minutes. All you need for this DIY chalk cave is a block of chalk and vinegar.

cave diy

2CH3CO2H(aq) + CaCO3(s) > 2Ca(CH3CO2)2(aq) + CO2(g) + H2O(l)

cave diy crazy

The vinegar, a weak acid, reacts with the calcium compound, dissolving it. It then forms carbon dioxide gas, water, and an aqueous calcium solution. This same process takes place for real caves, but the acid in rain and ground water is much more diluted, therefore taking much much longer to see the results.

diy cave pic

Written by: Mimi Garai


A Planet Size Comparison

A planet is an astronomical body orbiting a star or stellar remnant that: is massive enough to be rounded by its own gravity, not massive enough to do fusion, and has cleared its neighboring region of planetesimals.

Our star (the sun) has 8 planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Though these planets share a common place in the Universe, they are vastly different in composition, temperature, distance from the sun, and size.


But how different are these sizes? To demonstrate this we can use a 1 pound chunk of clay. Roll it out into as symmetrical a log as you can. Cut it into 10 equal pieces.

Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, takes seven of those pieces, 70% of the solar system by mass (excluding the sun). Saturn, the second largest planet, will take two of the remaining chunks, 20% of the mass of the solar system. This means that the last 10% of mass of the solar system is the six remaining planets.

planet roll

Roll out the next chunk and cut it into ten more pieces. Uranus and Neptune are the next largest planets, the get 4 and 5 pieces respectively. The last four planets are the inner rocky planets. Earth and Venus are considered to be “sister planets”, they are roughly the same size and will get 5 and 4 pieces of the remaining clay. The last tiny chunk should be rolled out and cut into three pieces this time. Since Mars is larger than Mercury, it will get two of the pieces, and Mercury will get the last one.

planet model

There you go! A clay model of the planets in our solar system by mass. Try to test your friends, family, students, or teachers to see if they can get the scale right.

Written by: Mimi Garai

Look up and Constellations

A constellation is a group of stars that are considered to form imaginary outlines or meaningful patterns on the celestial sphere. They typically represent animals, mythological people, gods or creatures. There are 88 modern constellations, but just because those are the ones that are recognized doesn’t mean that one you make up is less valid.

The stars that constellations are comprised of are not necessarily stars that are near each other. So how do they appear that way? It’s all about perspective.


Take for example, The Big Dipper, an asterism in Ursa Major. An asterism is a smaller part of a constellation, usually with more noticeable stars. The Big Dipper is composed of seven bright stars: Alkaid, Mizar, Alioth, Megrez, Phecda, Merak, and Dubhe. Together, they appear to be in the shape of a spoon (use your imagination). However, they are all different distances away from Earth as well as from each other. Their distances from Earth respectively are roughly: 104 ly, 78 ly, 82.5 ly, 80.5 ly, 83 ly, 79.5 ly, and 123.6 ly.  

constellations gif

But if you simply change your perspective, or location from which you’re looking at them, then the picture changes! Unfortunately, since we are all on Earth, our perspective can not move enough to make a big difference.

Written by: Mimi Garai


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 for additional information. Happy Reading!