8 Astronomy Competitions for High School Students

January 25, 2024
By AdmissionSight
a view of planet Earth from outer space

8 Astronomy Competitions for High School Students

Are you a high school student fascinated by the stars and the vastness of space? Do you dream of contributing to the field of astronomy or space exploration? Participating in competitions can be a fantastic way to showcase your talents, deepen your understanding, and make your college application stand out.

In astronomy and space exploration, your enthusiasm and creativity can take you far beyond the classroom. These astronomy competitions offer a unique chance for you to showcase your skills, enhance your college application, and maybe even set the course for a future in the cosmos.

1. Team America Rocketry Challenge

  • Location: Great Meadow in The Plains, Virginia
  • Cost: $165
  • Program Date: May 2024
  • Application Deadline: December 4, 2023
  • Eligibility: Students in 6th through 12th grades

The Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) is the world’s largest student rocket competition, sponsored by the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) and the National Association of Rocketry (NAR). Participants design, build, and fly model rockets, competing for prizes and the opportunity to represent the United States internationally. Registration for the 2024 challenge has closed, with a limit of 1,000 teams

Teams design rockets to meet specific annual criteria, focusing on factors like aerodynamics, stability, weight, and recovery systems. They conduct qualification flights to ensure compliance. The competition culminates in national finals, and successful teams may compete internationally. TARC provides hands-on engineering experience, fosters teamwork, problem-solving skills, and offers exposure to STEM careers in aerospace. It serves as a valuable foundation for future educational and career pursuits in STEM fields.

Two astronauts walking on a planet.

2. The International Space Settlement Design Competition (ISSDC)

  • Location: Kennedy Space Center in Florida, U.S.A
  • Cost: Unspecified
  • Program Date: Unspecified
  • Application Deadline: Unspecified
  • Eligibility: High school students

The International Space Settlement Design Competition (ISSDC) is a prestigious astronomy competition that challenges high school students to design space settlements for human habitation, fostering STEM skills and career aspirations in aerospace. It consists of qualifying rounds called Space Settlement Design Competitions (SSDC) held globally, with winning teams advancing to the international finals, typically at the Kennedy Space Center. 

Teams work on various engineering disciplines such as structural design, operations, human factors, automation, and business development, addressing aspects of space settlement. The competition promotes collaboration, cross-cultural understanding, problem-solving, critical thinking, and leadership skills, enhancing technical and management abilities. Participation is facilitated through regional partners across the world, with finalists earning a place at the ISSDC Finals.

a male astronomer looking through his telescope

3. The Conrad Challenge

  • Location: Space Center Houston, 1601 E NASA Pkwy, Houston, TX 77058, USA
  • Cost: $499 entry fee for the Innovation Stage of the Conrad Challenge
  • Program Date: April 23-26, 2024
  • Application Deadline: November 3, 2023 for the Activation Stage and the Lean Canvas Stage. For the Innovation Stage, the submission deadline is January 12, 2024
  • Eligibility: Students between the ages of 13 and 18

The Conrad Challenge is an innovation competition open to students aged 13 to 18 worldwide. It encourages entrepreneurship and innovation in categories like Aerospace & Aviation, Cyber-Technology & Security, Energy & Environment, and Health & Nutrition. Participants form teams of 2 to 5 students and go through four stages: Activation, where teams brainstorm challenges and create a Lean Canvas; Innovation, involving an entry fee, Innovation Brief, Video, and website development; and the Power Pitch Stage, where finalists pitch their innovations at the Conrad Challenge Innovation Summit

Winners receive scholarships, legal services, and laptops. The challenge promotes collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and communication skills, preparing students for the future and allowing them to make a positive impact on global issues.

4. The National Young Astronomer Award

  • Location: The Astronomical League, which sponsors the NYAA
  • Cost: Unspecified
  • Program Date: Unspecified
  • Application Deadline: The application deadline for the NYAA is March 31
  • Eligibility: Students between the ages of 14 to 19 as of the application deadline and not yet enrolled in college

The National Young Astronomer Award (NYAA) is a prestigious recognition program by the Astronomical League, celebrating the achievements of high school-aged astronomers in the United States. Eligibility includes ages 14 to 19, not yet in college, with international students in U.S. secondary schools also eligible. While membership in the Astronomical League is recommended, it’s not mandatory. Applicants submit a comprehensive package with an application form, an astronomy project, and activity summaries by March 31. 

Winners receive high-quality telescopes, an expense-paid trip to the Astronomical League’s national convention (AlCon), plaques, and networking opportunities with professionals in the field. The NYAA recognizes and supports young astronomy enthusiasts, providing resources and opportunities for their passion.

5. International Astronomical Youth Camp

  • Location: Youth Hostel Klingenthal, Germany
  • Cost: 1090 EUR
  • Program Date: August 4, 2024 – August 24, 2024
  • Application Deadline: March 17, 2024
  • Eligibility: Ages 16 to 24 

The International Astronomical Youth Camp (IAYC) is a three-week summer camp designed to ignite your passion for astronomy and related sciences. Scheduled from August 4 to August 24, it will be hosted at the Youth Hostel Klingenthal in Germany. This camp is a unique blend of astronomical learning and cultural exchange, welcoming enthusiastic students aged 16 to 24 from around the globe. 

The camp is well-known for its blend of hands-on astronomical experience and the development of international friendships. Participants will have the opportunity to engage in various projects under the guidance of experienced leaders, covering topics from computational cosmology to debunking space-related conspiracy theories. Additionally, the camp includes night-time observations in an area with low light pollution, perfect for stargazing and astrophotography. The program also offers a chance to develop film pictures in a dark room and encourages bringing personal telescopes or binoculars​​​​​​.

6. Advanced Teen Astronomy Camp

  • Location: Mt. Lemmon Observatory, Tucson, Arizona
  • Cost: $1900
  • Program Date: June 22 – 30, 2024
  • Application Deadline: May 6, 2024
  • Eligibility: Students between ages 14 – 18

The Advanced Teen Astronomy Camp, held at Mt. Lemmon Observatory, offers a deep dive into astronomical studies for students aged 14-19. You will engage in hands-on projects such as digital imaging, spectroscopy, and photometry, focusing on topics like variable stars, asteroid orbit determination, and more

The camp includes an overnight trip to the Large Binocular Telescope and uses a variety of observatories for practical learning. The experience emphasizes teamwork, with participants staying in astronomers’ dormitories and working together on various projects. The next camp is scheduled for June 22-30, 2024. 

a male astronomer looking at the night sky through his telescope

7. Yale Summer Program In Astrophysics

  • Location: Yale’s Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium
  • Cost: $6,900
  • Program Date: July 7 – August 4, 2024
  • Application Deadline: March 8, 2024
  • Eligibility: Rising high school seniors

The Yale Summer Program in Astrophysics (YSPA) is a unique opportunity for rising high school seniors interested in astronomy, physics, mathematics, computer programming, and related scientific fields. This program blends a two-week online course with a four-week residential stay at Yale University’s Leitner Family Observatory and Planetarium. The curriculum covers a wide range of topics, including stellar physics, calculus, observational techniques, and hands-on experience with data analysis and Python programming

YSPA is highly selective and focuses on personal and academic development in a collaborative environment. You will stay in a dormitory suite with a roommate, supervised by Teaching Assistants and a Program Manager, ensuring a safe and enriching experience. In addition to classroom and lab work, the program includes observing sessions at the observatory, typically running from 8 pm until 2 am. Beyond academics, you’ll have access to various Yale facilities, such as the Payne Whitney Gymnasium and the Yale library system.

8. USA Astronomy and Astrophysics Olympiad

  • Location: Online and in all participating schools
  • Cost: $30
  • Program Date: February 10, 2024
  • Application Deadline: January 31, 2024
  • Eligibility: U.S. citizens or permanent residents

The USA Astronomy and Astrophysics Olympiad (USAAAO) is an educational initiative that culminates in a national team of high school students representing the USA at the International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA). This non-profit organization focuses on nurturing a deep interest and excellence in the fields of astronomy and astrophysics among American youth. The selection of the national team is a meticulous process that begins with the National Astronomy Competition (NAC), which consists of two rounds of examinations, typically held in February and March or April. 

The NAC is a rigorous test, with free-response questions covering the full IOAA Syllabus. Students who excel in these rounds are then offered the chance to undergo an extensive online training program, spanning several months, in preparation for the IOAA. The USAAAO competition offers a platform for participants to showcase their skills and passion in astronomy and astrophysics

Final Thoughts

Your journey through the cosmos of high school astronomy and space exploration is just beginning. These astronomy competitions offer more than just a chance to win awards; they’re stepping stones to your future. Whether you’re aiming for a top-tier college or dreaming of a career among the stars, participating in these events will equip you with skills, experiences, and a sense of achievement that will resonate far beyond your high school years.

So, set your sights high, reach for the stars, and who knows – you might just be the next big name in the world of astronomy and space exploration.

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