UKSDC: Space Science Club Makes Comets at Sussex University


Some of Bede’s best mathematicians, scientists, and thinkers headed for Sussex University in Brighton and Brighton last week to partake in a session to help us learn a little bit more about our galaxy and the galaxies surrounding us.

As we arrived, we were greeted by a group of current physicists, with their specialties ranging from theoretical physics to astrophysics. Everyone was excited to get started, with the hope of gathering knowledge to help them in their applications to the 2016 UK Space Design Competition.


Our first activity was using spectroscopy to first identify different elements and then estimate the age of the universe. Spectroscopy involves using the light photons that different elements absorb or emit to predict a range of things, to the composition of a star to the make-up of chemical compounds.

After observing the spectra of different atoms, and using a homemade spectrometer, using a CD and toilet roll strangely enough, we set about deciding how old everything actually is.

This involved a few unknown equations and the converting seconds into years (a lot of seconds); Mr. Richards’ famous quote of ‘Do the Maths!’ echoed during this period and, eventually, the groups came out with an estimation of 14 billion years, which is surprisingly accurate.

Our next activity was a talk from a researcher at the university who specialised in all things galactic. He talked about our closest galaxy, Andromeda, and what galaxies are actually made up of.


We learnt that the supposed ‘dark halo’ surrounding most galaxies is made up of the mysterious dark matter, something that scientists still do not truly understand. We all found this lecture very interesting, and helped us comprehend just how big the Milky Way is.

A final challenge involved something somewhat out of the ordinary - making our own comets. These burning clumps of rock, dust, and ice are formed in the Asteroid Belt and orbit our Sun at incredible speeds.

In order to construct our miniaturised versions, we concocted a mix of all the vital ingredients; water, sand, ammonia, soy sauce, charcoal, and most importantly, dry ice. This solid, which is actually very cold solidified carbon dioxide, creates huge plumes of gas and bubbles, which are very entertaining to watch!

As we crushed this mixture into crude snowball-like comets, we had a great time attempting to control the flood of carbon dioxide, while forming tiny Rosettas.


Using a thermal camera, we could see that the material was roughly -23 degrees Celsius - so cold it would burn you!

At the end of the day, we all agreed that our visit was a very worthwhile experience, and now we look towards the rapidly approaching regional heats, where Summer, Claudia, Jack, Henry, John, Milo, Rosie, and leader Ben shall battle against other schools for a coveted place at the National finals in March.

Look out for news on their progress soon!


Learn more about Bede's Space Science Club >