3D Universe Theater

If you are an astronomy buff, there are plenty of star maps you can find in print or online (or even on your Smartphone). But if you are a science fiction fan (or writer), you probably find those maps frustrating because they are flat. Two stars next to each other on the map might be light years apart in the axis coming out of the page. A star 3.2 light years from Sol (our sun) looks the same on the map as a star 100 light years away.

The Gaia satellite (an ESA project) orbits beyond the moon and is carefully mapping the 3D position of every point of light it sees. [Charlie Hoey] took the data for about 2 million stars and used WebGL to give you a 3D view of the data in your web browser.

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Baby’s first star light projector and a foil slip ring

For a newborn, everything is magical; a lack of object permanence means everything is new, wonderful, and novel. What then, could be better than a projected star field circling an infant’s room, gently sending them to sleep?

[Pete] was inspired by this earlier starlight projector that projects a rotating star field onto the walls and ceiling of a nursery. Instead of a rather loud servo, [Pete] used a quiet 12 Volt gear motor that spins the star field at 5 RPM. Like the previous build, a LED was used but [Pete] found a color-changing RGB LED that automatically shifts colors.

The shaft of [Pete]’s gear motor is tiny, and unlike the servo, there’s constant rotation. This meant a slip ring was needed to pass electricity into the spinning sphere. A piece of copper foil and a pair of improvised brushes served just fine. While [Pete]’s project, like its predecessor, doesn’t seem to have any recognized constellations drilled into the sphere, the foil slip ring opens up the possibility for a small microcontroller being fitted inside the globe with blinking lights.

Check out the video of [Pete]’s build in action after the break.
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Bringing the stars to your baby

[Zach] saw a stuffed animal that projected some simple stars on the ceiling. This gave him an idea that he could build a tiny star projector for his 3 month old daughter’s room.  The idea is to put an LED inside a ping pong ball with tiny holes and rotate it slowly.

The electronics are fairly strait forward. He’s using an MSP430 to control the servo and LED, allowing him to set different speeds and turn the whole thing off after a certain amount of time.  The ball took a little bit of trial and error though. He first started by drilling some holes, but found this to give poor results. The holes were just too big. He finally ended up heating up a  sewing needle and melting tiny holes in the ping pong ball. That worked perfect.

After the break you can see a video of it moving. The servo is pretty loud, which might actually be a good distraction for a 3month old, but might be something to address in the future.

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13th century navigation system

[Tom Wujec] explains how an astrolabe works and its importance in our technological development. He argues that an astrolabe was the world’s first “popular computer”. It measures the sky and that measurement can be used to tell time, survey land, and navigate a ship.

Astrolabes are built from three pieces and according to [Tom], educated children in the 1200’s would not just have been able to use one, but could build one as well. Electronics have certainly made our lives easier, but there’s something powerful about such a useful yet simple device.

Installing a starscape ceiling


[Mike Galloway] set out to install a lighted starscape in the ceiling of the baby room. We remember first coming across this type of thing at a Planet Hollywood restaurant at least 10 years ago. We’ve always wondered how difficult this type of thing is to install.

This setup involves an LED based illuminator and bundles of fiber optics. [Mike] first mounted the illuminator in the corner of the room at ceiling level and ran the bundles of fiber optics up into the attic. He then used a cordless dremel to drill 1/16″ holes, one for each fiber in the bundle. This translates to a lot of holes! Once everything was in place, he filled the holes with glue to hold the fibers in place, and snipped off the excess from the room-side using a fingernail clipper. We’ve embedded his video of the system in action after the break.

This may take some time, but it seems easy enough and now we know how these ceilings work.

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