Amateur Space Weekly - January 10

Kids building rocket cars, a DIY moonyard, and an 11-year-old radio astronomer. Every week I recap headlines like these from around the world the feature the growing number of people taking space exploration in their own hands.

Space Makers

3,672 kids in Cornwall signed up for Bloodhound SSC's model rocket car competition, the Holsworthy Post reported. This education outreach program challenges British students to design a small car powered by a model rocket motor. A series of qualifiers and regional tournaments leads to a national tournament later this year. The grand champion team will get an expenses-paid trip to South Africa to visit Bloodhound SSC and get an up-close look at a full-size supersonic rocket car that will reach 1000 miles-per-hour.

The Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) is one of the largest STEM outreach programs in the US. Thousands of kids get introduced to rocket science by building model rockets for the competition. This summer one hundred teams will gather in Virginia for the national championships - and a chance to represent the US in international competition. TARC posted an essay from one of its participants, Suvas Kota, who explains how he got into rocketry and how TARC has helped keep his dreams of space alive.

Here's a quick project for the weekend. Make your own telescope with only $28 in materials. Popular Scientist says it will match the abilities of Galileo's telescope and let you discover Jupiter and Saturn for yourself.

Amateurs in Space

US astronaut Jeff Williams and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka monitoring the SPHERES satellites (the red and orange objects to the right) during the 2016 Middle School Zero Robotics Tournament last summer. Credits: Nasa Ames

MIT and Nasa conduct the annual Zero Robotics Tournament to give teens a chance to control robots on the International Space Station. The coding contest has teenagers in the United States, Japan, and ESA-member countries program the space station's Sphere robots. After a series of virtual tournaments, the top schools are invited to compete in the finals where their code actually gets uploaded into space. Business Review EU reported that, when high travel costs threatened to keep Romanian teens out of the finals, a Romanian bank stepped in to sponsor the kids.

Space Nation announced their competition to win a ride into space. You start by using a social gaming app to prepare mentally, physically, and socially for an astronaut bootcamp. The top-scoring contests will go through the same training process as Nasa's own astronauts. Space Nation will live stream the whole thing in a reality/HungerGames format (nobody dies though). The winner will ride into space as soon as co-sponsor Axiom Space completes its space station module.

The Quest Institute has helped dozens of schools and youth organizations send science experiments to the International Space Station. This article from the San Jose Mercury News looks at a California public school giving academically struggling students a second chance through space research. Their research project will ride into space in March

The Student Spaceflight Experiments Program helps communities send middle and high school research projects to the International Space Station. More than sixty-one thousand students in the United States and Canada have participated in the SSEP in its six year history. Nearly 500 students at a New Jersey middle school took part in the program, the Independent Tribune reported. Spectrum News interviewed students at a New York high school participating in the SSEP.

Exploring the Solar System

Google Lunar X-Prize contender Team Indus built their own moonyard, the India Times reported. Space agencies use moonyards and marsyards to simulate the terrain over which their rovers will drive. But simulated regolith is expensive and difficult to get. Team Indus created their own from local quarry dust.

India’s amateur astronomers measured the size and shape of an asteroid without seeing it, the Times of India reported. They used an astronomical technique called occultation to measure 22 Kalliope's 166 kilometer diameter. When an asteroid passes in front of a star it casts a shadow on the Earth's surface. A video camera attached to a telescope records the star as it disappears and then reappears. The amateur astronomers spread out along a line tens of kilometers long and perpendicular to the shadow's path. Each astronomer will measure a different duration for the occultation corresponding to the size of the shadow at that point. Stacking all of the measurements together lets astronomers reconstruct the size and shape of the asteroid - even though it is too small for any telescope to see it.

Interested in Mars? Miss the Thunderbirds? Puppeteer Bertrand Dezoteux has an exhibit called “En Attendant Mars” (Waiting for Mars) on display in Paris. It is inspired by Mars500, a simulated mission to the red planet conducted by Russian scientists. Volunteers spent 500 days in a mock Mars habitat with limited contact to the outside world. Dezoteux uses marionettes to create his interpretation of the boredom, isolation, and interpersonal relationships of a long-duration space mission. 

Exploring Deep Space

The fifty teachers and students participating in the Nasa/Ipac Teacher Archive Research Program joined the weeklong winter meeting of the American Astronomical Society. Credit: Caltech

The Nasa/Ipac Teacher Archive Research Program lets science teachers take part in a year-long astronomy research project. Caltech announced that fifty teachers and students attended last week’s American Astronomical Society winter meeting. They presented the results of their research side-by-side with PhD astronomers. To learn more, check out my interview with science teacher Linda Childs about her experience conducting astrophysics research.

Sky & Telescope posted this great article about an 11-year old kid who is studying clouds of gas orbiting the Milky Way. Canann Huey-You used data from the Greenbank Radio Telescope - the largest movable telescope in the world - to measure the interaction between the cloud of hydrogen gas, the Milky Way's gravity, and radiation from neighboring galaxies. What's just as impressive is that Canann is the son of a single mom who homeschooled him for five years before getting him into a school that fosters advanced learners. 

Outreach, Tourism, and Other News

Virginia optometrist Myron Wasiuta plans to use his backyard observatory to host astronomy outreach programs, the Fredericksburg’s Free Lance Star repoted. Built with the help of a local telescope-maker, local Scouts and students will get to observe the night sky. Wasiuta explained how the local community and crowdfunding helped make the observatory possible.