Watch an astronaut use LEGOs to make a square planet orbit a cylinder

See Don Pettit play with LEGOs! See him make sparks! See him make a block of styrofoam orbit a Van de Graaff generator like a little square planet! See it — and remember for the billionth time why nerds in space are awesome.


There are a couple of things I like about this video. The first is that NASA has an official LEGO instruction booklet. My heart warms to whoever wrote that. I'm guessing that, "Seriously, you really have to clean up all the blocks when you're done," featured prominently on at least three pages. While I'm sure that Don Pettit, our favorite scientist in orbit, adhered to the safety restrictions, he clearly went off-book when he made a LEGO Van de Graaff generator, with a rubber band and some wire, and then a Leyden Jar.

A Van de Graaff generator, in this case, involves a rubber band being moved repeatedly over wire, stripping away electrons and making it positive. Eventually the electron deficit grows great enough that electrons from the aluminum foil zap to it. A Leyden Jar is two pieces of aluminum foil wrapped around both sides of a nonconducting surface. The difference in charge between the inside piece of aluminum foil and the outside piece will cause a shock for anyone who connects the two.


But there's only so much anyone can see with sparks, which means it's time to set up a little square piece of styrofoam close enough that it's attracted to the jar. On Earth, it might stick, or it might fall to the ground. Since this is on the International Space Station, the charged foam can orbit the jar, like a really cool square planet!

Via Physics Central.

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Dapper Lion

Everything about this video causes smiles. NASA LEGO instruction manuals, the MacGyvering a Leyden Jar and Van de Graaff generator, watching an inanimate object orbit something while in space orbiting the planet. Thank you for making my day.