Tag Archives: space

International Asteroid Day!

What is an asteroid?

You may be wondering what the difference is between an asteroid, meteor, meteorite and every other name given to a shooting star or flying clump of rock in space. Well we have broken it down into an answer that is simple….. Sort of. It all starts with an asteroid.

An asteroid is a large rocky (planet looking) body, in orbit of the sun, that is too small to be classified as a planet. In space there are millions of asteroids and lots of them are a potential threat to Earth. Asteroids range in size from hundreds of miles to several feet in diameter.

A meteoroid is a particle of an meteoroid that has broken off and is now orbiting the sun. If a meteoroid enters the Earth’s atmosphere it is then known as a meteor. A meteor shower is a group of meteoroids all travelling in parallel trajectories from one point in space. Most meteors burn up when they are travelling through our atmosphere and therefore never hit the earth’s surface. The meteors that do hit earth are called meteorites.

Asteroid defence?

Over the past 4.5 billion years since the Earth was formed, about 4.5 billion meteors (the sizes of cars) have made their way through its atmosphere. Yes, that’s around one automobile sized meteor every year. Although, these are meteors and not meteorites, therefore they create a substantial fireball but burn out before hitting the ground.

Scientists these days are able to tell if an asteroid or meteor is en route to earth 30-40 years before it does. This is enough time for us to destroy it before it destroys us. We can do this by exploding the asteroid or meteor, although sometimes we can divert them away from earth instead.

When is the next meteor shower?

Unfortunately you will have to wait a couple months for our next meteor shower, it is called Perseid and will be peaking in our skies on the 12- 13th of August. In order to get the most out of your meteor shower view, we recommend getting out into the middle of nowhere where there is little to no light pollution; bringing a friend or your family and a warm blanket (also a telescope if you’ve got one). Once you’re comfortable, sit tight and wait for the spectacular starry show!

Visit asteroidday.org to find out more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

International Day of Human Space Flight

On this day in 1961 Yuri Gagarin, a Soviet citizen, became the first human to travel into space, leading mankind into an era of space exploration. Hundreds of astronauts have since travelled to the stars, but only a small handful of them have been British. Seven people born in the UK have become astronauts, although all but 2 hold dual nationality or American citizenship’s.

British Astronauts

  1. Helen Sharman

    Born: Sheffield
    Citizenship: British
    First launch: 18th May 1991
    A unique astronaut in many respects, Helen’s route into space wasn’t typical. Having studied Chemistry at university, Helen was working as a chemist for Mars chocolate company when she responded to a radio advertisement saying “Astronaut wanted: no experience necessary.” A scientific background, an ability to learn foreign languages and a high level of fitness helped Helen beat nearly 13,000 other applicants to take part in Project Juno, a collaboration between the Soviet Union and private British companies to send a group of astronauts to the Mir Space Station. At just 27 years old at the time of her flight, Sharman is the sixth youngest person to fly into space and remains the only female British astronaut to date.

  2. Michael Foale

    Born: Louth
    Citizenship: Dual – British/American
    First launch: 24th March 1992
    Born in Louth to a British father and an American mother, Michael considers Cambridge to be his home town. It was at Cambridge University that he studied, achieving both an undergraduate degree and a doctorate before moving to Texas to pursue a career in the U.S Space Program. Throughout his career at NASA, Michael became the most experienced British-born astronaut in the history of human space flight as a crew member of a total of 6 missions, totalling 375 days in space.

  3. Piers Sellers

    Born: Crowborough
    Citizenship: Naturalized citizen of the United States
    First launch: 7th October 2002
    During his school years Piers trained as a Royal Air Force cadet to pilot gliders and powered aircraft. After studying an undergraduate degree at Edinburgh University, Piers earned a doctorate in biometeorology from the University of Leeds before moving to the United States to begin a NASA career as a research meteorologist. In 1984 he began applying to become an astronaut, but this was hindered by his lack of US citizenship. In 1991 he became a citizen of the United States and in 1996 he was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA. Throughout his career Piers spent over 35 days in space.

  4. Nicholas Patrick

    Born: Saltburn-by-the-Sea
    Citizenship: Dual – British/American
    First launch: 9th December 2006
    Born in Yorkshire, Nicholas studied an undergraduate and masters degree in engineering at Cambridge University, during this time he learned to fly as a member of the Royal Air Force’s Cambridge University Air Squadron. After a move to Massachusetts, where he initially worked as an aircraft engineer, he pursued Mechanical Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In June 1998 Patrick was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA. Before his retirement from NASA in June 2012, Nicholas clocked up just over 26 days in space.

  5. Gregory H. Johnson

    Born: South Ruislip
    Citizenship: American
    First launch: 11th March 2008
    Although born in England, Gregory grew up in America. He earned an undergraduate degree in aeronautical engineering from the United States Air Force Academy in 1984, before going on to complete a Masters in flight structures engineering at Columbia University. Johnson was a pilot in the United States Air Force before being selected by NASA for astronaut training in 1988. During his career at NASA, Gregory spent a total of one month in space, in this time he orbited the earth nearly 500 times and travelled over 12 million miles.

  6. Richard Garriot

    Born: Cambridge
    Citizenship: Dual – British/American
    First launch: 12th October 2008
    Born in Cambridge to American parents, Richard’s life in the UK was short-lived as he was raised in the United States from 2 months old. Nevertheless we shall still claim him as our own, in which case he is the only British “space tourist”. Richard earned his fortune as a video games developer. Keen to follow in the footsteps of his astronaut father, Owen Garriot, in 2007 Richard used his fortune to buy a $30 million ticket to space. Richard’s space “holiday” lasted 12 days. He spent his time on the International Space Station conducting a variety of experiments. These included studying the effects of space flight on the human body for NASA and the European Space Agency.

  7. Tim Peake

    Born: Chicester
    Citizenship: British
    First launch: 15th December 2015
    Finally, our most recent astronaut and only the second, after Helen Sharman, to travel under the British flag. Tim began his career as an Officer in the British Army Air Corps. After many successful years as a helicopter flight instructor and test-pilot, Tim retired from the army in 2009 – the year he was selected as an ESA astronaut. Years of training and various missions on earth culminated in a six month trip to the International Space station throughout the start of 2016. Whilst aboard the ISS, Tim ran a virtual version of the London Marathon, completing it in 3 hours 35 minutes and becoming the second person ever to complete a marathon in space.

    The sky isn’t the limit when you choose to pursue a career in STEM. Find out about Newcastle University’s UK Space Agency funded research here.

Your Questions Answered!

As we have reached the end of the school year, here is a little round up of some of our favourite questions that children have asked us during STEM workshops.

1. Why doesn’t the energy ball give you an electric shock?

The energy ball is a little device we have that looks like a ping pong ball with two metal strips on top. Inside there is a light, a buzzer and a battery. If two people touch one metal strip each and then with their other hands touch each other, the ball lights up and buzzes. This works because we are conductors of electricity – electrons from the battery flow through us and back into the ball to complete the circuit.

The reason you don’t feel a shock when touching the energy ball because there isn’t enough electricity flowing through you to be able to feel it, and certainly not enough to harm you!

2. What do plants poo and wee? – St Wilfrids, Blyth

All living things have seven things in common – movement, respiration, sensitivity, growth, reproduction, excretion and nutrition. The sixth one, excretion, is a scientific word for producing waste. In humans, and many animals, that is our poo and our wee. They are the leftover waste products that our body doesn’t need so gets rid of.

Plants are living things, just like us, but you may have noticed they don’t poo or wee like we do. Rather than eat food like us, they make their own through photosynthesis. This produces a waste gas called oxygen which we breath in. Plants excrete oxygen rather than poo or wee.

3. Why does the moon control the sea? – Grange First School

Gravity is the force that keeps us close to the Earth, all really big things like planets and stars have a gravitational pull that attracts things near by. Because the moon is so big and so close to Earth it has quite a strong gravitational pull on our planet. The moon causes the water in the oceans facing it to pull towards it, resulting in a high tide. The pull of the sun’s gravity and the Earth’s own gravity also have an effect on the tides.

4. I’m the only one who can touch their nose with their tongue, is that because of my genes? – St Marys, Jarrow

Touching your nose with your tongue is known as Gorlin’s Sign. It is associated with a genetic disorder but not everyone that can do it has the disorder. About 10% of people without the disorder can touch their nose with their tongue and it does not appear to be due to genes you have inherited from your parents.

5. Why do we get goosebumps? – Billingham South Community School

We often get goosebumps when we’re cold, but they don’t do much to help us warm up, so why do we get them? Before we evolved to be modern humans, our ancestors were much hairier, we they got cold, getting goosebumps would cause their hairs to stand on end. As they had much more hair than us, they were able to trap a layer of air in the hair by doing this, providing them with extra insulation to keep them warm.

Although goosebumps are no longer helpful to us, we haven’t lost the trait through evolution because it doesn’t harm us. Therefore if a person was born with a mutation in their genes meaning they didn’t get goosebumps, they wouldn’t be at an advantage because of it so the non-goosebump genes wouldn’t necessarily be passed on more than the goosebump genes.

 

If you have any STEM related questions that you would like us to answer, just leave a comment in the box below!

Exoplanet discovery

Recently NASA have found the TRAPPIST-1 Solar System (named after the TRAnsmitting Planets and Plantisemals I Small Telescope). It is 40 light years away in the constellation of Aquarius and has seven Earth size Exoplanets (planets that orbit a star that isn’t the Sun) that have the potential to support life.

This is a big discovery as it is the largest amount of Earth sized planets ever found around a single star and it might help in the search for life on other planets. trappist

How did they find the TRAPPIST-1 Solar System?

  • The Star in the centre of the solar system glows brightest in infra-red light which can’t be detected by the human eye
  • The infra red light was detected by an infra red telescope called the Spitzer. This telescope is in space and follows the orbit of the Earth.
  • The radiation (light) detected from the TRAPPIST-1 star would periodically dim and then brighten again; this could show that a planet could be passing in front of the star.
  • The dips in light were not always the same amount, showing that there were actually seven exoplanets orbiting the star.
  • NASA used the dips in radiation to calculate the size of each planet in the solar system.
  • Space in between the dips in radiation means they can work out how it takes for a planet to orbit the star.
  • The planets were found to be very close together with orbits that interfere with each other due to gravity.
  • They used the estimated size of the planets to work out what the density of each planet is, to work out what the planet might be made of.
  • All seven planets may be suitable of supporting liquid water, with three in the habitable zone capable of having oceans.
spitzer
The Spitzer Telescope

What next?

It’s really rare to find this many planets that may support life in one solar system so its important to find out more about them. NASA are going to use transmission spectroscopy to study the composition of the seven exoplanets. This is a technique that gives information about the chemical composition of a planet and whether a planet has an atmosphere.

They are using more telescopes to study some of the other ultracool dwarf stars (like TRAPPIST-1), to see if they also have exoplanets that could support life.