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Science, Engineering, Mathematics, Technology
Grade Levels (K-2, 3-5, 6-8): 6-8
Deep Space Network
Ratios and Proportions
Time Required: 1-2 class periods (45-90 minutes)
Next Generation Science Standards (Website) (hover)
Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (Website)
time, atomic clock
Testing Data Table
Final Design Summary
Quality Assurance Form
Educator Guide Intro (PDF)
Tech Report Scoring Guide
One-Paragraph Essay Directions and Scoring Guide
EDP Scoring Guide
Teamwork Scoring Guide
If you want to mark the passage of time, you need something to occur repeatedly and regularly, that you can use as a consistent measure for keeping time. Throughout history, humans have used several options for this:
Artificial devices may rely on mechanical or chemical means. This includes clocks that measure time by the rotation of gears, or an hourglass that uses the flow of a specific volume of water or sand to represent a specific period of time.
One example of a clock built by humans but relying on a natural phenomenon is an atomic clock. Earth-based atomic clocks keep very precise time. The best will be off by only one second in 300,000 years. Atomic clocks work not by counting grains of sand or drops of water, but by counting the movement of electrons. These clocks are important for government, military, and astronomy applications, but also for everyday use -- like using GPS to find the nearest gas station!
NASA’s study of Atomic Clocks for use in space is changing the way we conduct deep space navigation. Earlier missions have needed to communicate with Earth or another satellite in order to process data and navigate, which itself takes time and may affect the course of the spacecraft. By keeping time onboard the spacecraft, spacecraft computers will be able to process data immediately, which will allow for better handling of time-sensitive events.
Challenges to Deep Space Time Monitoring
Just like Earth-based atomic clocks, the Deep Space Atomic Clock is a very complicated machine that will also have to be able to survive the harsh environment of space travel. Spacecraft travel through space at about 17,000–36,000 miles per hour. The spacecraft needs to be responsive to external and internal factors in order to make landings and critical changes to orbits possible.
Today, you will create a water clock, which is different from an atomic clock. A water clock is one of the oldest types of clocks, and has been used by humans for thousands of years. Water clocks use the flow of water as a means of measurement, comparing water levels with pre-determined measurements in order to measure the passage of time. There are many different types of water clocks, but the underlying principles of measuring changes in water volume or counting flow rate are the same.
While the basic setup of a water clock seems simple, you may discover that creating an accurate timepiece using only water can have some challenges. In particular, accurate timepieces require both precision and accuracy. Read the sidebar to learn more about these important features.
What is the difference between precision and accuracy?
Precision and accuracy are often confused. What is the difference?
accurate, but you are precise! Something may be accurate, but not precise; precise, but not accurate; accurate and precise; or neither! Your water clock should be both accurate and precise! It should measure time accurately, and each measured interval should be the same value.
How might you remember the difference between these two important terms?
ENGINEERING DESIGN CHALLENGE
Your challenge is to design a durable water clock that will record precise and accurate measurement of the passing of time. You will revise your design to improve your device’s performance for multiple tests.
ENGINEERING DESIGN PROCESS
MORE FUN WITH ENGINEERING
Extend Your Study of Water Clocks
Explore More About Deep Space Atomic Clocks
In your experiments today, you replicated a form of timekeeping that has been around for a very long time: a water clock. Just as you found ways to improve upon your water clock, NASA is constantly looking for ways to improve upon atomic clocks. Learn about some ways NASA does this at the link below.During your design challenge, you did not have to worry about the harsh conditions in space. For example, how do you think a microgravity environment would affect the performance of your water clock?
NASA engineers have previously used atomic clocks in space, and in preparing for future missions, such as the Deep Space Atomic Clock, they must make changes and improve on current technology. Data on how atomic clocks withstand various conditions will allow NASA to further improve time measurement devices, which will help ensure mission success as we explore the universe.
Use the links above to research the history of atomic clocks and about future NASA missions regarding them. Then answer the following questions:
USE OF TECHNOLOGY