Date: Friday Jan. 23rd, 2009
Figuring out exactly how asteroids formed and what they can tell us about the origin of the solar system are big questions.
University of Central Florida Assistant Professor Josh Colwell is working on solving these mysteries. This month, he had a chance to conduct experiments that may help in the quest, while floating in zero gravity.
Colwell was one of several educators on a Zero G flight out of Brevard County on Dec. 7. Zero Gravity Corporation is a privately held space entertainment and tourism company, according to the company Web site. It is headquartered in Las Vegas and is the first and only FAA-approved provider of commercial weightless flights for the general public.
Participants are loaded into a specially modified Boeing 727, which performs parabolic flight maneuver that achieves weightlessness. Specially trained pilots fly these maneuvers between approximately 24,000 and 34,000 feet altitude. Each parabola takes 10 miles of airspace to perform and lasts approximately one minute from start to finish, according to the company.
Colwell used a modified version of an experiment he has flown on previous flights. For this one, he adapted the experiment at UCF to be operated while floating freely instead of attached to the airplane floor. The experiment consists of videotaping a projectile impacting a target composed of sand at speeds too low to achieve in normal gravity. Then he will study the amount and speed of material knocked off in the impact. The results are important to understand how the precursors to planets formed from colliding dust particles.
“Weightlessness is an amazing experience,” Colwell said. “Objects don’t behave the way we intuitively expect them to, and that’s part of what makes it such a valuable and unique environment for the kinds of experiments I’m doing.”
The microgravity flight was part of Space Florida’s teacher education program that included 30 teachers.