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Top 10 Astrophysics/Space Science Competitions for High Schoolers

6 minute read

Astrophysics is one of the most interesting fields, allowing us to understand concepts ranging from interplanetary travel to where we originated from. For high school students passionate about astrophysics and space science, participating in competitions can be a fantastic way to deepen their knowledge and showcase their skills. This post will explore the ten best astrophysics and space science competitions that offer a stellar platform for young astrophysicists. 

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#1 Gerard K. O’Neill Space Settlement Contest

  1. Hosting Institution: National Space Society

  2. Location: Online

  3. Awards: Cash prize, scholarship, published on the website

  4. Cost: $15

  5. Entry Deadline: February 15

  6. Competition Date: March

The National Space Society’s Space Settlement Contest invites high school students to envision the future of humanity beyond Earth by designing innovative outer space settlements. The competition challenges participants to address the complicated issues of space exploration and colonization, from engineering challenges to social considerations. This is a great competition to enter today, as the prospects of humans colonizing Mars and exploring the rest of the solar system are at an all-time high.

#2 International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics

  1. Hosting Institution: International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics

  2. Location: Brazil

  3. Awards: Medals or certificates

  4. Cost: Free

  5. Entry Deadline: TBA

  6. Competition Date: August

The International Olympiad on Astronomy and Astrophysics (IOAA) is a global competition that brings together young astrophysicists from around the world. Hosted by different countries each year, and held in Brazil for 2024, the IOAA tests participants’ knowledge, problem-solving abilities, and observational skills in astronomy and astrophysics. This challenging competition not only provides students with a platform for showcasing their academic prowess but also encourages cultural exchange and collaboration among young minds. 

#3 Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair

  1. Hosting Institution: Society for Science/Regeneron

  2. Location: Varies each year

  3. Awards: Scholarships and cash prizes

  4. Cost: Free

  5. Entry Deadline: Early spring

  6. Competition Date: April-May

Regeneron’s International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) is a premier global competition where high school students from diverse scientific backgrounds showcase their groundbreaking space research. Although not exclusive to space science, ISEF offers a platform for young astrophysicists to present their innovative projects, receive feedback from experts, and compete for scholarships and cash prizes. This dynamic event fosters a spirit of scientific inquiry and collaboration, inspiring the next generation of leaders in astrophysics and other related science fields.

#4 European Space Agency (ESA) CanSat Competition

  1. Hosting Institution: European Space Agency

  2. Location: Home country

  3. Awards: Trip to ESA in the Netherlands

  4. Cost: Any costs associated with starting kits

  5. Entry Deadline: Dependent on country

  6. Competition Date: Mid-May

The European Space Agency CanSat Competition challenges student teams to design and launch a simulated satellite, known as a CanSat. The challenge lies in fitting all of the major subsystems found in a satellite - power, sensors, communication systems, etc. - inside of a soda can. This hands-on competition not only hones engineering skills but also provides a real-world experience of a satellite space mission, as students will have to launch their satellite to an altitude of 1 km. With awards including a trip to ESSA ESTEC in the Netherlands, this competition is a unique opportunity for high school students to delve into the practical aspects of space science and technology. 

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#5 NASA Human Exploration Rover Challenge

  1. Hosting Institution: NASA

  2. Location: Huntsville, AL

  3. Awards: Trophies and certificates

  4. Cost: Any costs associated with building

  5. Entry Deadline: September

  6. Competition Date: April 19-20

NASA’s Human Exploration Rover Challenge invites student teams to design, build, and race human-powered rovers over a simulated planet terrain. This hands-on engineering competition not only emphasizes problem-solving and teamwork but also connects participants with the challenges of planetary science and exploration. Teams succeed by completing design reviews and designing, and assembling a rover that can complete a course and various mission tasks. 

#6 International Astronomy and Astrophysics Competition

  1. Hosting Institution: Edu.Harbour

  2. Location: Online

  3. Awards: Cash prizes, special awards

  4. Cost: €8

  5. Entry Deadline: April 26

  6. Competition Date: Throughout June

The International Astronomy and Astrophysics Competition brings together students from around the world who are passionate about astrophysics. Students begin in the qualification round where they develop solutions for five problems in the astrophysics field. They then move on to the pre-final round, which consists of solving six problems, and end with the final round which is a multiple-choice exam. Looking at past problems indicates that you do need prior physics knowledge, so keep this in mind as you study to enter the competition. 

#7 Science Olympiad (Astronomy)

  1. Hosting Institution: Science Olympiad

  2. Location: Varies year by year

  3. Awards: Cash prizes, various awards

  4. Cost: $225

  5. Entry Deadline: Varies by state

  6. Competition Date: May 24-25

Science Olympiad, focused on astronomy, stands as an unparalleled platform for high school students to delve into the vast realm of space exploration. Students are expected to demonstrate an understanding of stellar evolution, specifically with star formation and exoplanets. If you are interested in astronomy along with other science fields, Science Olympiad is the competition for you. 

#8 Johns Hopkins Annual Physics Fair

  1. Hosting Institution: Johns Hopkins University

  2. Location: Baltimore, MD

  3. Awards: Dependent on competition

  4. Cost: Free

  5. Entry Deadline: March

  6. Competition Date: April

The Johns Hopkins Annual Physics Fair is an amalgam of events offered by the prestigious university. Students have the chance to not only compete in competitions such as the Physics Challenge and Science Challenge, Physics Bowl and Science Bowl, and Balloon Rocket Contest, but also get to take part in dozens of hands-on demonstrations, scavenger hunts, and more. This is one of the most well-rounded competitions on this list, as students get to compete as well as interact with professionals in the field. 

#9 MIT Think Scholars Program

  1. Hosting Institution: Massachusetts Institute of Technology

  2. Location: Cambridge, MA

  3. Awards: Four-day all-expenses paid trip to MIT

  4. Cost: Free

  5. Entry Deadline: January 1

  6. Competition Date: February

MIT Think Scholars is a program that allows six high school students to work closely with MIT faculty to bring a science idea of theirs to life. Students begin by submitting a proposal for a research project that they are interested in. From here, semifinalists are selected and interviewed, and six final candidates are selected to receive $1,000 of funding and mentorship from MIT faculty to bring their research project to life. This competition is tailored for students who may already know their research interests and need help taking their research project to the next level. 

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#10 Astro Pi

  1. Hosting Institution: European Space Agency

  2. Location: Online

  3. Awards: Live Q&A session with astronaut

  4. Cost: Free

  5. Entry Deadline: February 19

  6. Competition Date: N/A

Astro Pi, hosted by the European Space Agency, brings together students with an interest in the interdisciplinary fields of astrophysics and computer science. Students are tasked with writing a program in Python that can gather data to calculate the speed at which the International Space Station is currently traveling as accurately as possible. Your program will be run on the International Space Station, so students are working on real-world problems in this competition. 
These ten competitions provide a launchpad for high school students who are passionate about applied and theoretical astrophysics and space science. From designing outer space settlements to programming solutions for the ISS, these opportunities not only foster scientific knowledge but also nurture creativity, teamwork, and a lifelong love for the cosmos.

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