Physics Workshop – 17th November 2014

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On Monday 17th November, Ratcliffe welcomed Mr Anu Ojha OBE to the school to host a Physics Workshop for our Year 13 Physicists. It was an extremely interesting session, with Anu providing insight into the many interesting facets of his life as Director of Education at the National Space Centre, and Director of the National Space Academy Programme. Anu spoke about a range of different space themed topics, and the students and I were thrilled from start to finish, with such a thought provoking presentation.

Anu began by explaining the difficulties of getting a heavy rocket into orbit, and of the huge amounts of energy needed. He demonstrated how just a tiny amount of volatile ethanol can release huge amounts of energy when ignited – imitating the reaction in a space rocket launch but on a much smaller scale!

Anu also explained his views on the awkward topic of the costs involved in space exploration, and reassured us all of what satellite data can tell us about the world we live in, not to mention the importance of satellites in the role of transmitting Sky Sports around the world!

Finally, Anu turned his attention to comets, a topic heavily reported on at present due to the live mission to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. Incredibly, Anu used a combination of Carbon, Lea and Perrins, for the amino acid content, red wine for the ethanol, water and dry ice (carbon dioxide at – 800C) to create a model of the nucleus of a comet! It was incredible to watch as the mixture reacted in such spectacular fashion, resulting in a definite ‘dirty snowball’ appearance, a comparison once made by Fred Whipple in the 1950s.

Anu finished by discussing the recent ‘Rosetta’ mission to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, outlining the mission details and all the problems that have had to be overcome, such as how to land the probe on such an irregular shaped celestial body, with such a low gravitational pull – and how to keep it there! Anu explained the nature of comets and asteroids, and what could happen if one hit the Earth. He explained that Jupiter’s gravity vacuums up such space debris, meaning we are very unlikely to experience such an event, but it could happen. Looking at the effect of such collisions on Jupiter has allowed us to model such an event on Earth – and the results are very scary!

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Anu for this most memorable workshop.