Solar Flare Quiets A Quarter Of The Globe

In the “old” days, people were used to the idea that radio communication isn’t always perfect. AM radio had cracks and pops and if you had to make a call with a radiophone, you expected it to be unreliable and maybe even impossible at a given time. Modern technology,  satellites, and a host of other things have changed and now radio is usually super reliable and high-fidelity. Usually. However, a magnitude 7.9 solar flare this week reminded radio users in Africa and the Middle East that radio isn’t always going to get through. At least for about an hour.

It happened at around 10 AM GMT when that part of the world was facing the sun. Apparently, a coronal mass ejection accompanied the flare, so more electromagnetic disruption may be on its way.

The culprit seems to be an unusually active sunspot which is expected to die down soon. Interestingly, there is also a coronal hole in the sun where the solar wind blows at a higher than usual rate. Want to keep abreast of the solar weather? There’s a website for that.

We’ve pointed out before that we are ill-prepared for technology blackouts due to solar activity, even on the power grid. The last time it happened, we didn’t rely so much on radio.

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Hackaday Prize 2022: Compact Solar Tracking System Doesn’t Break The Bank

If you need to squeeze every available watt out of a solar panel, you’ll probably want to look into a solar tracking system. Unfortunately, they are usually quite large, heavy, and expensive. As an alternative, [JP Gleyzes] has put together a DIY solar tracking system that aims to address these issues.

Starting with a 100 W flexible solar panel purchased during a Black Friday sale, [JP] first created a simple frame using 20 mm PVC tubing and a few 3D printed brackets. It mounts on a wooden base with a printed worm gear rotation mechanism, powered by a stepper motor. The tilt is a handled by a lead screw made from a threaded rod, connected between the wooden base and the top of the solar panel, and is also driven by a stepper motor.

For even more efficiency, [JP] also created an MPPT charge controller with companion app using an ESP32, modified 20 A buck converter, and current sensor module. The ESP32 also controls the stepper motors. The optimum angle for the solar panel determined using the date, time, and the system’s GPS position. [JP] had also created a simple Android app to calibrate the panels’ start position.

This project is a finalist in the Planet-Friendly Power challenge of the 2022 Hackaday Prize, and all the details to build your own are available on your project page. Looking at the size of the system, we suspect future iterations could be even smaller.

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Dead Solar Panels Are The Hottest New Recyclables

When it comes to renewable energy, there are many great sources. Whether it’s solar, wind, or something else, though, we need a lot of it. Factories around the globe are rising to the challenge to provide what we need.

We can build plenty of new solar panels, of course, but we need to think about what happens when they reach end of life. As it turns out, with so much solar now out in the field, a major new recycling industry may be just around the corner.

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A Solar Frame From Scratch

“From scratch” is a bit of a murky expression. How scratchy does it get? Are you just baking your bread yourself or are you growing your own wheat? Rolling your own solar installation probably doesn’t involve manufacturing your own photovoltaic cells. But when it comes to making the frame to hold your panels, why not machine your own brackets and harvest the wood from trees nearby?. That’s what [Kris Harbour] did with his over-engineered 8.4kW solar stand.

He already had a wind turbine and a few solar panels elsewhere on the property, but [Kris] wanted a bit more power. At the start of the video, [Kris] makes an offhand comment that he wants this to last 30-40 years at a minimum. Everything from the focus on the concrete footings to the oversized brackets and beams reflects that. The brackets were cut on his plasma CNC and the wood was cut to rough dimensions using a sawmill on his property. He admits that the sapwood will rot away a bit after 20ish years, but since the core of the posts is heartwood, structurally they’ll last a long time. After planing down to the right size, cutting hole and grooves was a bit of an involved procedure. The structure is quite tall once erected and we loved watching it come together. The most impressive thing here is that this structure was put together by just a single person. All the rafters were cut and hand-chiseled to the right sizes and hoisted into place. The panels ultimately weren’t delivered on time and he had to switch to using new panels rather than the used panels he was expecting.

Previously, [Kris] had shown off his impressive hydroelectric setup. We’re looking forward to seeing the new solar array power all the projects [Kris] is planning in the future. Video after the break.

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the algae panel

Move Aside Solar, We’re Installing An Algae Panel

[Cody] of Cody’sLab has been bit by what he describes as the algae growing bug. We at Hackaday didn’t know that was a disease floating around, but we’ll admit that we’re not surprised after the last few years. So not content to stick to the small-time algae farms, [Cody] decided to scale up and build a whole algae panel.

Now, why would you want to grow algae? There are edible varieties of algae, you can extract oils from it, and most importantly, it can be pumped around in liquid form. To top it off, all it needs is just sunlight, carbon dioxide, and a few minerals to grow. Unlike those other complicated land-based organisms that use photosynthesis, algae don’t need to build any structure to hold themselves up or collect sunlight; it floats.

The real goal of the algae is to build a system known as “Chicken Hole.” The basic idea is to have a self-sufficient system. The algae feed the insects, the insects feed the chickens, and so on up the chain until it reaches [Cody]. While glass would make an ideal material for the algae tubes, plastic soda bottles seem like a decent proxy for a prototype and are much cheaper. He connected around 100 half-liter bottles to form long tubes and a PVC distribution system. The algae needs to be pumped into an insulated container to prevent it from freezing at night. At first, a simple timer outlet controlled the pump to only run during the day, draining it via gravity at night. However, the algae can’t heat up enough when running on cloudy, cold winter days, and it cools off. A solar panel and a temperature sensor form the logic for the pump, with a minimum temperature and sunlight needed to run.

[Cody] mentions that he can expect around 10 grams of algae per day on a panel this size in the winter. He’s going to need quite a few more if he’s going to scale up properly. Perhaps in the future, we’ll see panels growing algae robots? Video after the break.

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Lego Orrery

LEGOpunk Orrery Knows Just The Right Technics

Is the unmistakable sound of the shuffling of LEGO pieces being dug through burned into your psyche? Did the catalog of ever more complex Technic pieces send your imagination soaring into the stratosphere and beyond? Judging by the artful contraption in the video below the break, we are fairly certain that [Marian] can relate to these things.

No doubt inspired by classic orreries driven by clockwork, [Marian]’s LEGO Sun-Earth-Moon orrery is instead driven by either hand cranks or by electric motors. The orrery aims to be astronomically correct. To that end, a full revolution of a hand crank produces a full day’s worth of movement.

Solar and lunar eclipses can be demonstrated, along with numerous other principals such as the tilt of the earth, moon phases, tidal locking, and more, which can be found at the project page.

While classical orreries predate the Victorian era, there seems to be an almost inexplicable link between orreries and the Steampunk aesthetic. But [Marian]’s orrery brought the term “LEGOpunk” to mind. Could it be? Given that there are 2305 pieces and 264 pages of instructions with 436 steps, we think so!

We’ve covered just a few orreries in the past, from this somewhat simple laser cut orrery to this horrifically complex and beautiful thing hereContinue reading “LEGOpunk Orrery Knows Just The Right Technics”

Solar-powered pendant chirps like a bird.

BEAM Bird Pendant Really Chirps

[NanoRobotGeek] had a single glorious weekend between the end of the term and the start of exams. Did they buy a keg and party it up? No, in fact, quite the opposite — they probably gained a few brain cells by free-form soldering this beautiful chirping bird pendant at 0603 instead.

Three versions of basically the same circuit.The circuit is a standard BEAM project built around a 74HC14, but [NanoRobotGeek] made a few changes to achieve the ideal chirp sound. As you can see in the video after the break, it chirps for around 30 seconds and then shuts off for 1-2 minutes before starting up again.

What is better than a BEAM project? A portable one, we say. Although the chirping would probably get old pretty quickly, there’s just no substitute for working so small that you can carry it around your neck and show it off.

This one is kind of a long time coming, because [NanoRobotGeek] started by breadboarding the circuit and then made a PCB version way back in 2019, which they were attempting to miniaturize with this project. We think they did a fantastic job of it, and the documentation is stellar if you are crazy enough to attempt this one. You will need a lot of blu tack and patience, and pre-tinning is your friend. Be sure to check out the demo after the break.

The name checks out, and this isn’t [NanoRobotGeek]’s first foray into tiny circuit sculpture — just take a look at all we’ve covered.

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