"How Does Solar Activity Affect the Earth's Atmosphere and Satellite Orbits?"

Here is an excellent science fair project that was done in early 2000 by Phoy St. John, a freshman at Sandia High School in Albuquerque, NM. Phoy studied how solar activity impacts the earth's atmosphere and thus the lifetime of low-earth-orbiting satellites. When radiation from solar storms reaches the earth, the upper atmosphere expands. The expanding atmosphere increases the drag on satellites, causing a decay in their orbits. By observing the orbital decay of Starshine, Phoy was able to measure fluctuations in the atmosphere's density at high altitudes. His project was awarded second place in the physical science division of the New Mexico State Science Fair. He is now extending his studies to include the effect of solar extreme ultraviolet (EUV) on the atmosphere, at the suggestion of Dr. Judith Lean of the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

Download the complete project: 2402 Kb MS PowerPoint File.

Image of graph of solar wind and Starshine orbital height.

Alabama Student Performs First Starshine Science Fair Project

Scott Stepko from Discovery Middle School in Madison Alabama becomes the first student to conduct a science experiment under the STARSHINE theme.
For his 1998 science fair project, Scott Stepko from Discovery Middle School in Madison, Alabama, polished a series of aluminum Starshine test mirrors on various thicknesses of glass backing plates to determine whether the final mirror flatness that he was able to produce would be a function of backing plate thickness. (Figure 1.) He found that the final mirror flatness was essentially identical in all his tests, without regard for backing plate thickness. This means that the Starshine project can save a thousand dollars a year by using one-quarter-inch-thick backing plates, which cost fifty cents each, instead of three-eighths-inch-thick backing plates, which cost a dollar and a half each.

The project had initially chosen the thicker plates for students around the world to use to polish mirrors for the first Starshine spacecraft, because it was felt that the thicker plates would be stiffer and would thus bend less under polishing pressures exerted by the students. Scott's results proved that the thinner plates were adequately stiff, however, when used on a reasonably flat table or laboratory bench, so the project will utilize them to polish mirrors for the second through the eleventh spacecraft, which will fly in space annually throughout a sun spot cycle. It is expected that many Starshine-related school science fair projects will be performed in 1999, following Scott Stepko's pioneering example.

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