Category Archives: Just For Fun

DIY: Clock Reaction Experiment

Check out this tricky science for April Fools, and no it’s not magic! This is a clock reaction, meaning that it takes some time to see the effects of the reaction. However, there are actually two reactions taking place.

What we used:

  1. To two beakers  add about 150 mL of water.  
  2. In the first beaker add ½ of a tsp of sodium Iodate.
  3. To the second beaker add ¼ tsp sodium sulphide, ½ tsp citric acid, and 12 drops of a starch indicator.
  4. Make sure to stir well, so that the solutes are dissolved.


Now you are ready to mix it all together. For a little added drama, try pouring them back and forth into each other.

In the first, slower reaction the sodium iodate reacts with the sodium sulphide and turns iodide into triiodine. The triiodine then reacts with the citric acid and the result is that the solution stays clear. But, when all of the citric acid is used up, then the second reaction can start! This quicker reaction turns triiodine back into iodide and there is a very evident color change. The solution turns dark blue, indicating when the freed iodide is in the presence of starch.

Now it’s your turn to trick your friends this April Fools! Try this out at home and see if you can catch them off guard in mixing two clear liquids together.

NOTE: Use adult supervision. Many of the chemicals used in this experiment are toxic. Do not consume, but do have fun! Happy April Fools Day from all of us at AstroCamp.

Meet Your Teachers

How does a person end up teaching at AstroCamp? Most instructors study physics as undergraduates. Mathematicians and biologists are represented on staff, too! All share a passion for communicating science to children.

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 11.38.56 AM L: Caity helps a student look for micrometeorites. During summer camp, she teaches rock climbing on Idyllwild’s iconic granite. R: Christian debriefs students as part of their wind turbine engineering process. He plans to move to Europe for graduate study this fall.

Some pursue advanced degrees before coming to camp. This season’s teaching pool includes experts in fusion plasma dynamics and group theory.

DanJpg1 Dan, Ph.D. (physics, UW Madison) and extreme endurance athlete, guides students through an interactive exploration of electromagnetism.

AstroCamp balances hands-on lab time, science outreach, and outdoor recreation. This unusual combination draws a unique applicant pool from all over the country. Before they get here, they’re students, teachers, Scouts, park rangers, band members, and more. Some arrive straight from school, while others wrap up long-term adventures at camp, happy to find a haven of STEM education and like-minded scientists in a mountain playground.

Screen Shot 2016-05-03 at 11.39.12 AM L: Britta takes in the view from Tahquitz Peak, five miles’ hike from AstroCamp. R: Kyle catches sunset on the mountainside. During summer camp, Britta and Kyle lead trail running classes.

The people who find themselves at home here are kids at heart. Instructors are drawn to AstroCamp by a desire to share their perspective and excitement about science: it’s all around us, it’s fun, and the best way to “get it” is by getting your hands dirty!

EvaColleenjpg Eva (L) and Colleen (R) are all smiles after the spring color throw. Eva and Colleen both worked as planetarium presenters before coming to AstroCamp.

DIY Invisible Ink

The simplest invisible inks consist of organic compounds like lemon juice, vinegar, diluted honey, and even white wine– all substances that subtly weaken paper fiber. Once the liquid dries, it’s undetectable under normal circumstances. Apply heat, however, and the hidden message seems to appear out of nowhere.


Organic ink makes the painted area more susceptible to oxidation. When it’s heated, it browns before the rest of the page. If you try this at home, keep a close eye on the developing ink, and be careful not to actually set the paper on fire!

LaundryUVGifFor an even more dramatic hidden ink DIY, paint your message in laundry detergent (dilute if necessary to make the ink invisible), then expose it to a blacklight. Your missive will glow!

Modern invisible inks take advantage of chemical reactions to hide, then reveal, secret communication. Phenolphthalein, for instance, is perfectly clear except in a slightly basic environment. Between pH 8 and 10, it turns pink! A dilute solution of this chemical makes a great hidden message medium– just spray it with watered-down ammonia to see the concealed writing take shape.


Note: phenolphthalein is toxic and should only be handled with proper safety gear and training. As always, ask for adult permission and have a fire extinguisher on hand when experimenting with heat & flames. Last but not least, have fun! Happy April Fools Day from Astrocamp!

Written By: Caela Barry

Looking for Order in March Madness

Why is it so hard to pick the perfect bracket? Let’s take a look at the mathematics of March Madness!!
BracketThis year’s complete printable March Madness bracket by ESPN.

It all comes down to probability. Let’s start by making things simple before we truly delve into the madness. Imagine two perfectly even teams are about to play a single basketball game. Each team is equally likely to win. Who is going to win? Quite clearly in this scenario, anyone would have a one in two shot to get the winner right. In this simple one game bracket, you would have a 50% chance of having a perfect bracket!

Coin Flip crop

Credit: Joseph Smith

In the NCAA tournament, there is a field of 68 teams. Only one team can win, and one team is eliminated in each game, meaning there 67 games must be played. If each team were evenly matched (we’ll deal with the alternative in a moment), then the odds to pick the winner of every game correctly is a paltry one in 267, or one in 147,573,952,589,676,412,928. That’s over 147 quintillion! Not coincidentally, these are the same odds as picking heads or tails on a flipped coin 67 times in a row1.

Fortunately, most brackets don’t deal with the play in games, meaning they consider the field to be 64 teams, requiring 63 correct picks for the elusive perfect bracket. In addition, the top team in each region has never lost to the bottom team, giving four more games that stand as pillars of stability amongst the madness of March. Assuming this holds true, our odds have just improved tremendously to one in 259 or one in 576,460,752,303,423,488! This number also looks humongous, but the odds of a perfect bracket have improved by a factor of 256 (or 28)!

Probability has not been kind to President Barack Obama in his quest for the perfect bracket either. Photo credit ESPN

Of course, not all of the teams in March Madness are the same. Each one has its own players, strategies, strengths, and weaknesses. If someone really followed basketball, they might be able to use these to their advantage. Actually, that’s kind of the point! After all, knowledge is power, so let’s see how that knowledge holds up against the mighty bracket! If in each matchup, one team held an edge raising its win probability to 60% and someone knew enough to identify every one of these teams, the odds of each favored team winning is as follows:

Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 2.49.22 PM

mega-millionsThat’s still only one in 12 trillion–about 100 times worse than your odds of winning the Mega Millions jackpot! Here is where some of the struggle of the perfect bracket comes from. Even if each game has a favorite, the odds of the favorite always winning are not favored. The far more likely scenario is that some teams slip…but how can you tell which ones? So far, the answer has been resounding:

“You can’t”

  1. While certainly close enough for our purposes, flipping a coin is actually not truly random. Despite often being held up as the paragon of probability, a flipped coin shows a very slight preference towards the side that begins up.
  2. There is a very cool chart that takes this analysis further by FiveThirtyEight that uses each team’s actual probability to calculate their chances of winning or losing each game. Check it out here!

Love Pie? That’s Not Irrational! Happy Pi Day!

???? is the ratio between the diameter and the circumference of a circle. Any circle. It doesn’t matter how big or small a circle is, this ratio is always the same. This may not seem incredibly important, but many things are circular or spherical. This results in ???? showing up in all kinds of equations in science and math.

pi ratio

One especially weird thing about this number is that it is irrational. Most numbers can be written as a fraction, like ⅗ or ⅔, but irrational numbers just don’t fit not matter how big the top and bottom numbers become. Computers have calculated ???? to billions of digits, and even in that expanse of numbers, no pattern seems to emerge.

???? isn’t the only irrational number. Another famous one is e which is approximately 2.71828 but similarly continues on forever with no pattern in its decimal places.  Unfortunately, “e day” is a much less celebrated hlid, probably because it doesn’t share its phonetic name with a delicious dessert. It also doesn’t have such a nice definition as ????’s simple ratio. Instead, e is the result of the the following series:

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 1.34.58 PM

Where things get especially weird is when this numbers are put together with another famous number, i. As you may recall, i is an imaginary number, which has a value of sqrt(-1). In school, many students ask how this number can possibly be important if it is imaginary. Well, look at this:

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 1.35.09 PM

Woah! This happens because both e and ???? are important for the mathematics of waves. To learn more, check out Euler’s formula, preferably over some pie!


As noted previously, ???? is important because of its relationship with circles. It seems appropriate that we consume some pleasantly round delicious phonetic namesake to celebrate!

Written by Scott Alton

The Slinky: Mystery of a Childhood Toy

Everyone loves a Slinky, especially scientists! Most people know them as cool springy things that can go down the stairs or end up in a giant tangled mess. We want to focus on something else: what happens when you dangle a slinky from the top until it is fully extended, then drop it?  You might expect the whole slinky to fall to the ground. As you can see in the video, it’s a little more interesting than that. The bottom of the slinky stays completely motionless until the top of the slinky catches up. But why?

Slinky Drop

The slinky isn’t breaking physics or ruining science. It’s really just a loose spring. The more a spring is stretched, the more it pulls back towards the center. When the slinky is extended vertically like this, gravity pulls down on every part of it, including the bottom. Before the drop, we allow the slinky to hang until it stops moving, which means that the gravity pulling down on it is exactly countered by the spring force pulling back up.

The whole slinky is pulled down by gravity with the same acceleration. Both ends are also pulled towards the middle due to its springy characteristics. The top is pulled down by gravity and the spring, so it falls extra fast. The bottom, even as the slinky is dropped, is still being pulled up by the spring. With the bottom going nowhere, and the top going faster, it all averages out. The whole slinky together is falling at the exact rate that gravity dictates.

There is a bit more to this explanation. The slinky actually shows a wave and the transmission of information as well. The information from the top (“we’re falling!”) needs to get to the bottom before it can take effect there. You can see this wave– called a compression wave– if you watch the top of the slinky in the gif below. The spring clumps up as the fast-falling top part catches up with the parts below it.

Slinky High Res

There is nothing special about our Slinky. It doesn’t need to be rainbow colored or giant, any old Slinky will do the trick. Don’t believe us? Try this one at home! And when you’re done, take it to the stairs!


Five Great Google Surprises!

Googol is a really really big number. It is a one followed by 100 zeroes. As big as that number is, it seems appropriate for its named counterpart, Google, which celebrates its 17th birthday since its incorporation today!

googleWhile Google has exploded to the point where it is both a noun and a verb, it has retained its fun roots. The main headquarters of the Googleplex, a play on the googolplex, and every holiday or anniversary is covered by a doodle. Below are some of our favorite Google easter eggs.

  • Zerg Rush: An homage to the incredibly popular Starcraft franchise from Blizzard Entertainment. Simply typing this into the search bar will have you fighting for your life! GG!
    Zerg Rush2


  • Atari Breakout: Searching this seems mundane until moving over the the image search, at which point the screen morphs into the famous arcade game!Breakout2


  • Do A Barrel Roll! Straight out of Starfox!
    Barrell Roll2


  • Google Gravity! For a bunch of Physics people like us, this is oddly satisfying.
    Google Gravity2


  • My favorite one doesn’t involve the internet at all. Google Chrome users will recognize the image below as a symbol of broken internet. I always thought this was a play on the T-Rex and his short arms not being able to reach the internet.

Then I hit the spacebar!

2015 Space Tech Expo: Space Exploration

The 2015 Space Tech Expo is in full swing! Over 2000 people are attending the conference and festivities in Long Beach this week, including some of the biggest players in the industry like SpaceX and Boeing. With such a focus on the newest technology and ideas for space flight, we thought this would be a great time to take a look back at this exciting year in space exploration!

Dragon Big

The past year has been an especially exciting time for those of us always looking skywards!

NASA had its first test launch of the long-awaited Orion Spacecraft back in December. The world watched as Orion sat on the launch pad, and then watched again as its launch was rescheduled due to a faulty valve. The second launch went off without a hitch and NASA scientists are still going through the data after the successful test flight.

NASA Kennedy Space Center

Orion launches into the early morning sky on December 5th. Credit: NASA, Kennedy Space Center

There were also a couple of notable firsts. The ESA succeeded in the incredibly delicate task of landing Philae on the surface of a comet. As the Rosetta spacecraft stayed in orbit around the comet, it unearthed new information about their makeup and origins.

Philae ESA

Rosetta takes a selfie with Comet 67P and its Philae lander somewhere below. Credit ESA, Philae, Rosetta, CIVA

The first orbit of a dwarf planet when NASA’s Dawn spacecraft settled in above Ceres. In doing so, it revealed the now-famous mysterious white spots.


Rotation of Ceres from pictures taken by the Dawn spacecraft showing the mysterious white spots. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/UCLA/MPS/DLR/IDA

SpaceX continued to really push the limits, including their attempt to reuse the Falcon 9 rocket. This was closely followed by its “Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly”….perhaps one of the best phrases for such an event ever used.


The Falcon 9 recovery ends in a “Rapid Unscheduled Disassembly”. Photos from Elon Musk

2015 has more to offer as well, with New Horizons, the fastest spacecraft ever launched, closing in on Pluto having already sent back the best pictures of it to date! New Horizons will continue its mission, making the first ever flyby of Pluto on July 14 before heading further into the Kuiper Belt in search of a new target.


This animation of Pluto from New Horizons shows a light region that might indicate the presence of an ice cap! The animation makes it look as though Pluto stays still, but in reality it wobbles due to its relatively large moon. Credit NASA, New Horizons

We also had the start of the Year in Space. Astronaut Scott Kelly went back to the ISS for his second stint. This time, he will stay for a whole year. His twin brother, Mark Kelly who was also an astronaut, will remain on the ground. After this year, they will be examined back on Earth to try to get a better idea of how space affects the human body.


Astronauts Terry Virtz and Scott Kelly show off their space suits in the Quest Airlock. Credit NASA TV

The Orion Spacecraft and Scott Kelly’s year in space have generated a lot of excitement about Mars in people from AstroCamp staff and students, to President Obama himself. Whatever happens, the future of spaceflight isn’t set in stone. It’s set among the stars.

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!



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.

Future of CDs and DVDs

CDs are dying.  It’s an unfortunate but inescapable fact as the world transitions to digital downloading.  But while the end may be in site for CDs and DVDs, it hasn’t come yet.  Before that day actually comes, perhaps we should take a quick look at this awesome technology and how it works.

A CD’s base a a polycabonate plastic material that is transparent.  It provides the structure and protection for the layers above it.  Above the polycabonate is a thin layer of aluminum reflective coating followed by another thin layer of crylic and then the label.  The most important part of a CD is that the polycabonate sheet is imprinted with a series of miniscule bumps.  The details of the bumps is a code that is what stores the data on the disc.  The bumps move outward from the center of the CD in a spiral pattern all the way to the edge.  The CD reader move along this track using a precise laser to detect the changes in the bumps and decode the data stored on the CD.

As CDs become less and less useful, perhaps we need to find other uses for them.  One entertaining DIY science trick we can do is to melt part of the polycarbonate sheet and blow it out to create a giant bubble.  Make sure to scrape off the aluminum sheet or else it won’t expand to its full amount.  Enjoy!


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!