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Program Overview

Each summer, academically-gifted high school students study mathematics, physics, astronomy, and programming at the Summer Science Program (SSP). The program is held at two locations: in Boulder, Colorado (on the campus of the University of Colorado), and Socorro, New Mexico (on the campus of New Mexico Tech), with 36 students and 7 faculty at each campus.

Orientation on arrival day, Socorro
The curriculum is organized around a central research project: to determine the orbit of a near-earth asteroid (minor planet) from direct astronomical observations.

Along the way, students obtain in-depth, hands-on experience with advanced topics in the physical sciences, mathematics, and computer science through a combination of lectures, guest speakers, field trips, and research work. Students are not interns or lab assistants; they perform the entire research project from start to finish ... observations, measurements, and calculations.

Working in teams of three, students learn to:
  • calculate the expected celestial coordinates of their chosen asteroid based on published data;
  • point the telescope to that exact location in the sky;
  • take digital images of their asteroid;
  • locate the asteroid on the image;
  • write software to measure the precise and changing positions of the asteroid relative to stars at known coordinates;
  • write software to convert those positions into the size, shape, and orientation of the asteroid's orbit around the Sun.
Day 1: orientation on the telescopes

Doing homework together in the dorm
By departure, each student will have many hours of experience with the collection, measurement, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of scientific data. Each team's observations will be submitted to the Minor Planet Center at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (of which the Summer Science Program is an accredited observing affiliate).

Students also enjoy activities such as hiking, swimming, volleyball, tennis, basketball, soccer, frisbee, card games, a talent show -- and will even get a little sleep from time to time. They will come to know and appreciate each other very well, and many will remain friends long after Closing Exercises. [ Read what SSP alumni have to say about it ]