Hackaday Links: March 24, 2024

Hackaday Links Column Banner

Way to rub it in, guys. As it turns out, due to family and work obligations we won’t be able to see the next Great American Eclipse, at least not from anywhere near the path of totality, when it sweeps from Mexico into Canada on April 8. And that’s too bad, because compared to the eclipse back in 2017, “Eclipse 2: Solar Boogaloo” is occurring during a much more active phase in the solar cycle, with the potential for some pretty exciting viewing. The sun regularly belches out gigatons of plasma during coronal mass ejections (CMEs), most of which we can’t see with the naked eye because not only is staring at the sun not a great idea, but most of that activity occurs across the disk of the sun, obscuring the view in the background light. But during the eclipse, we — oops, you — might just get lucky enough to have a solar prominence erupt along the limb of the sun that will be visible during totality. The sun has been quite active lately, as reflected by the relatively high sunspot number, so even though it’s an outside chance, it’s certainly more likely than it was in 2017. Good luck out there. 

Those of us not in the path of totality in two weeks aren’t all out of luck, though — we still might have a chance to see a star go nova. And no, this won’t be the much-anticipated supernova death of Betelgeuse, which despite ominous portents to the contrary is still probably thousands of years away. Instead, what’s coming up is the latest outburst in a repeating 80-year cycle of novas in the constellation Corona Borealis, or the Northern Crown. The system has a binary star called T Coronae Borealis, a white dwarf and a red giant locked in a death spiral with each other. Normally the red giant dominates, but about every 80 years the white dwarf sucks enough material from the red giant to start really shining, markedly increasing the luminosity of the system. Current predictions are for the nova to start somewhere between now and September. Finding it should be easy, as long as you live in the Northern Hemisphere; just find Arcturus — “Follow the arc to Arcturus” — and then continue the arc to the nearby U-shaped assembly of stars that make up the Northern Crown. The nova will be visible to the naked eye in that constellation. It won’t be supernova spectacular, but hey — it’s something.

And wrapping up space news this week, we stumbled across a story about a no good, very bad day for someone at Lockheed Martin back in 2003. The accident involved the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s NOAA N-Prime satellite, which was under construction at the time. During a maneuver to turn the satellite from vertical to horizontal, the satellite crashed onto the cleanroom floor, resulting in $135 million in damages. A post-mortem analysis revealed that a technician had removed 24 bolts from the “turn-over cart” while it was in storage, but failed to document the fact. Lumping it all on that poor tech isn’t fair, though, since the N-Prime team didn’t bother to check whether the bolts were installed before flipping the bird. The repaired satellite eventually made it to orbit as NOAA-19 in 2009, and is still in service 15 years later. Not too bad for something that could very easily have been junked.

Are you worried that you have too many non-humans in your life? No, we’re not talking about people with too many cats or an undue attachment to their “Fur Babies,” but to those of us with too many bots in our lives, especially on social media. Luckily, there’s an easy way to check if your online interlocutors are actually humans: R U Human. It’s a site that lets you create a custom URL that you can forward to suspected bots, who have to fill in their name and complete a Captcha. If they pass the test, their verification is recorded for you to inspect. We’re rarely a fan of filling out Captchas and are loathe to force someone else to do so, but such are the times we live in, apparently.

And finally, if you’re not just a little grossed out by the way shellac is produced, you probably will be once you realize how much of the natural thermoplastic you consume in a year. We’d learned long ago that shellac is produced by the lac bug (Kerria lacca), but seeing just how it’s harvested is fascinating. Not to mention the fact that lac farmers are very much in the animal husbandry business, with insects being their livestock rather than goats or chickens. The amount of manual work that goes into harvesting, cleaning, melting, and purifying shellac is incredible, as is the number of products it ends up in, including candies, pharmaceuticals, and citrus fruits. Yum!

6 thoughts on “Hackaday Links: March 24, 2024

    1. On a pasenger plane, the techs put smaller screws on the pilot window and during flight it went out and also sucked the pilot out. Happily the copilot catched the pilot and some other helped. They landed the plane with the pilot out of the plane from the waist up. He survived. Errare humanum est. From mistakes we learn and discover new stuff (peniciline, teflon, …), but also we got Cernobyl and a lot of crashed planes and trains and cars.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.