Exploring the Universe from the Laboratory


What sort of crater will a meteorite impact leave on a rocky or icy moon? At the University of Kent, we simulate such impact events to improve our understanding of them and the materials of the target and projectile bodies. We experiment to fire the right projectiles at the right speeds (up to 8 kilometres per second) to investigate the effect of impact collisions on different materials found in the solar system. Our experiments range from looking at how impact collisions form large craters on rocky bodies to testing out suitable space craft shielding materials, which will provide the best protection for astronauts. The equipment used is called the Two Stage Light Gas Gun (LGG) and actually fills a whole room. You can see a 3D 360 VR tour explaining how the Light Gas Gun works here.


In this competition, we invite individuals or schools to tackle the challenge that we face, mimicking the surface of solar system bodies in the lab. Our challenge is to build a model of a solar system surface that students think we should study. Students should use everyday, easily accessible materials to design a model of a solar system body (e.g. the surface of a moon or a planet). Students should justify the material choice and explain why the design is a good model for the chosen solar system body. For example, what material would be best to model an icy moon, an asteroid, or even a particular area of the earth? How could we simulate it in the lab? The model can be made up of several layers, if that is representative of the chosen surface, and can contain solids and liquids (for example to model an impact into Earth’s oceans you could use a bag of water over a layer of sand).

Competition Process

Step 1: The research phase. Investigate the different solar system bodies, for instance the planets or small solar system bodies like comets and asteroids.

Step 2: The design phase. Investigate different materials to model the chosen surface. Experiment with different materials and build the final model.

Step 3: Prepare the submission. Put together an A4 page explaining why the chosen solar system body is interesting, and why the materials are the best for modelling it in the lab.

Model Specifications

  • The target must be at least 10 cm x 10 cm x 10 cm but no larger than 50 cm x 50 cm x 30 cm
  • Do not use flammable/explosive materials
  • No animals/plants/lifeforms of any kind
  • The target must be able to survive at room temperature and a pressure of 0.2 millibar for 20 minutes
  • No rubber
  • No carcinogenic material

Judging Criteria

The submitted designs will be judged for creativity and justification of materials and the winning model will be built and impacted using the LGG. Video recordings of impacts will be made available to the winners and any other interested parties.

Competition Timeline

  • Please submit entries via email to science@kent.ac.uk by 5pm Friday 5th July 2019
  • Winners will be informed on Friday 12th July 2019
  • The winning team will receive £20 amazon voucher each and the winning team’s school will receive a day of outreach activities of their choosing from the School of Physical Sciences (examples: Liquid Nitrogen Show, Planetarium, Forensic Science CSI)

Any queries please do not hesitate to contact us at science@kent.ac.uk.