Welcome to the Big Science project. This will be updated throughout the closure period and will have science challenges for you and others at home to join in with.

Each challenge will be outlined with a description and photos or a video. For each one you complete, you need to either submit a photo of your experiment, or the finished result along with an explanation of what you have discovered or created.

Good Luck from The Physics Department!

  1. How about taking a picture of another galaxy using a smartphone, perhaps Venus or maybe a nebula (M42 in Orion is the easiest to find).

You can do this without fancy equipment, a pair of basic binoculars (10×50 are really good for this) and a smartphone will get some amazing images.

Have a look at this Youtube video by Astrobiscuit to see how it can be done:

So all you need is a good pair of binoculars; 10 times magnification or more and an objective lens size of at least 30mm will do fine for starters. Ideally you need a holder for your smartphone (these are available on Amazon or other on-line retailers for less than £10), but if you are creative you can rig something up with an old car phone mount.

2.This is an experiment to measure the size of two of our nearest neighbours in the universe, the sun and moon. Send in a photo of your pinhoe camera or you carrying out the experiment, along with your results. All entries will be published on Firefly. One essential safety precautions with this, NEVER LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN.

You will need: a shoebox, some aluminium foil, sticky tape, a sheet of white paper, a ruler and a pin or needle.

Although the Sun is nearly 150 million km away from us and huge, you can measure its size from your living room.

You’re going to build a simple pinhole camera. Cut a 2x2cm square out of the centre of one of the short sides of the shoebox. Place the aluminium foil over the cut-out and tape it down.

Then, use the pin or needle to pierce the foil. Line the inside of the opposite end of the box with the white paper.


You now have a pinhole camera. Measure the length of the box, from the hole to the sheet of paper.

Point the foil-covered front end towards the Sun, being careful to never look directly at it!

An image of the Sun will appear on the piece of paper and you can measure it with a ruler. With that measurement and a bit of simple maths, you can calculate the Sun’s diameter:

  • Diameter of Sun = size of image ÷ length of box x 149,600,000km

As 149,600,000km is the distance to the Sun and the ratio of size to distance from the hole is the same for both, this should give you a decent estimate of the Sun’s size.

You can use the same method for the Moon, but replace the number at the end with 384,000km.

Check your result when you’ve finished to see how close you are. The bigger the box, the more accurate you’ll be.

Credit: Credit: Michael Moltenbrey for the photo and BBC Sky at Night magazine for the project



With the time you have on your hands now, you could get involved in real exploration of the surface of Mars. Zooniverse is looking for people to get involved with its review of phots of the surface of Mars, identifying ‘fans’ and ‘blotches’ from the images. These are features that indicate particular sorts of activity on the surface and the intention is that they are used to guide further exploration.

Your part in this is to review the photos and tag the fans and blotches on these. This is done alongside all the other contributors and the photos which have the highest ‘hit’ rates for these will be passed to the planetary scientists co-ordinating the project.

Why you?

The website explains: ‘There are far too many images for a group of scientists to get through alone and computers are just no good at detecting the features we are trying to mark. The human mind is far superior at analyzing images with the complexity of the Martian surface!’

To find out more, follow this link: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/mschwamb/planet-four/about/research

To start research, follow this link: https://www.zooniverse.org/projects/mschwamb/planet-four/classify

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