Tell Time And Predict The Heavens With This Astronomical Timepiece

Looking for a new project, or just want to admire some serious mechanical intricacy? Check out [illusionmanager]’s Astronomical Clock which not only tells time, but shows the the positions of the planets in our solar system, the times of sunrise and sunset, the phases of the moon, and more — including solar and lunar eclipses.

One might assume that the inside of the Astronomical Clock is stuffed with a considerable number of custom gears, but this is not so. The clock’s workings rely on a series of tabs on movable rings that interact with each other to allow careful positioning of each element. After all, intricate results don’t necessarily require complex gearing. The astrolabe, for example, did its work with only a few moving parts.

The Astronomical Clock’s mechanical elements are driven by a single stepper motor, and the only gear is the one that interfaces the motor shaft to the rest of the device. An ESP32-C3 microcontroller takes care of everything else, and every day it updates the position of each element as well as displaying the correct time on the large dial on the base.

The video below shows the clock in operation. Curious its inner workings? You can see the entire construction process from beginning to end, too.

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The New Extremely Large Telescopes And The US’ Waning Influence In Astronomy

For many decades, the USA has been at the forefront of astronomy, whether with ground-based telescopes or space-based observatories like Hubble and the JWST. Yet this is now at risk as US astronomers are forced to choose between funding either the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) or the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) as part of the US Extremely Large Telescope (USELT) program. This rightfully has the presidents of Carnegie Science and Caltech – [Eric D. Isaacs] and [Thomas F. Rosenbaum] respectively – upset, with their opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times going over all the reasons why this funding cut is a terrible idea.

The slow death of US astronomy is perhaps best exemplified by the slow death and eventual collapse of the Arecibo radio telescope. Originally constructed as a Cold War era ICBM detector, it found grateful use by radio astronomers, but saw constant budget cuts and decommissioning threats. After Arecibo’s collapse, it’s now China with its FAST telescope that has mostly taken the limelight. In the case of optical telescopes, the EU’s own ELT is expected to be online in 2028, sited close to the GMT in the Atacama desert. The TMT would be sited in Hawai’i.

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Tokyo Atacama Observatory Opens As World’s Highest Altitude Infrared Telescope

Cerro Chajnantor, site of TAO

Although we have a gaggle of space telescopes floating around these days, there is still a lot of value in ground-based telescopes. These generally operate in the visible light spectrum, but infrared ground-based telescopes can also work on Earth, assuming that you put them somewhere high in an area where the atmosphere is short on infrared-radiation absorbing moisture. The newly opened Universe of Tokyo Atacama Observatory (TAO) with its 6.5 meter silver-coated primary mirror is therefore placed on the summit of Cerro Chajnantor at 5,640 meters, in the Atacama desert in Chile.

This puts it only a few kilometers away from the Atacama Large Millimeter Array (ALMA), but at a higher altitude by about 580 meters. As noted on the University of Tokyo project site (in Japanese), the project began in 1998, with a miniTAO 1 meter mirror version being constructed in 2009 to provide data for the 6.5 meter version. TAO features two instruments (SWIMS and MIMIZUKU), each with a specific mission profile, but both focused on deciphering the clues about the Universe’s early history, a task for which infrared is significantly more suitable due to redshift.

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Hackaday Links: March 24, 2024

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.  Continue reading “Hackaday Links: March 24, 2024”

Wireless Telescope Guidance You Can Build On The Cheap

Telescopes are fun to point around the sky, but they’re even better when you have some idea of what you’re actually looking at. Experienced sky-gazers love nothing more than whipping out some quality glassware and pointing it to the heavens to try and view some photons from some fancy celestial point of interest. To aid your own endeavors in this realm, you might consider following [aeropic’s] example in building a capable wireless telescope DSC.

Yes, [aeropic] built a capable digital setting circle (DSC) which can be used to quickly point a telescope at objects in the sky, with the aid of the right astronomical software. An ESP32 board runs the show, using AS5600 positional encoders on each axis of the telescope to understand the device’s orientation. The encoders are attached via 3D-printed components to track the motion of the telescope accurately. It can then be paired over Bluetooth with a smartphone running an app like Skysafari. Once calibrated on some known stars, the app can then read the encoder outputs from the telescope, and help guide the user to point the device at other stars in the night sky.

The rig won’t actually move the telescope for you, it just guides you towards what you want to look at. Even still, it makes finding points of interest much faster and could help you get a lot more out of your next sky viewing party. Have fun out there! Video after the break.

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Keeping Track Of The Night Sky With Discrete Logic Chips

As hobbies go, stargazing has a pretty low barrier to entry. All you really need is a pair of Mark 1 eyeballs and maybe a little caffeine to help you stay up late enough. Astronomy, on the other hand, takes quite a bit more equipment, not least of which is a telescope and a way to get it pointed in the right direction at the right time, and to make up for the pesky fact that we’re on a moving, spinning ball of rock.

Yes, most of the equipment needed for real astronomy is commercially available, but [Mitsuru Yamada] decided to go his own way with this homebrew retro-style telescope motor controller. Dubbed MCT-6, the controller teams up with his dual-6502 PERSEUS-9 computer to keep his scope on target. There are a lot of literally moving parts to this build, including the equatorial mount which is made from machined aluminum and powered by a pair of off-the-shelf stepper-powered rotary stages for declination and right ascension. The controller that runs the motors is built completely from discrete 74HCxx logic chips that divide down a 7.0097-MHz crystal oscillator signal to drive the steppers precisely at one revolution per diurnal day. The pulse stream can also be sped up for rapid slewing, to aim the telescope at new targets using a hand controller.

As impressive as all this is, the real star (sorry) of the show here is the fit and finish. In typical [Yamada-san] fashion, the impeccably wire-wrapped mainboard fits in a robust die-cast aluminum case that fits the retro aesthetic of the whole project. The PERSEUS-9 is used mainly as a display and control terminal, running custom software to show where the telescope is pointed and calculate the coordinates of various heavenly bodies. As a bonus, the 40×7 alphanumeric red LED display should be easy on dark-adapted eyes.

Hats off to [Mitsuru Yamada] on another fabulous build. If you haven’t had enough of his build style yet, be sure to check out his PERSEUS-8 or even his foray into the analog world.

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Telescope Rides On 3D Printed Equatorial Table

In the realm of amateur astronomy, enthusiasts find themselves navigating a cosmos in perpetual motion. Planets revolve around stars, which, in turn, orbit within galaxies. But the axial rotation of the Earth and the fact that its axis is tilted is the thing that tends to get in the way of viewing celestial bodies for any appreciable amount of time.

Amateur astronomy is filled with solutions to problems like these that don’t cost an arm and a leg, though, like this 3D printed equatorial table built by [aeropic]. An equatorial table is a device used to compensate for the Earth’s rotation, enabling telescopes to track celestial objects accurately. It aligns with the Earth’s axis, allowing the telescope to follow the apparent motion of stars and planets across the night sky.

Equatorial tables are specific to a location on the Earth, though, so [aeropic] designed this one to be usable for anyone between around 30° and 50° latitude. An OpenSCAD script generates the parts that are latitude-specific, which can then be 3D printed.

From there, the table is assembled, mounted on ball bearings, and powered by a small stepper motor controlled by an ESP32. The microcontroller allows a telescope, in this case a Newtonian SkyWatcher telescope, to track objects in the sky over long periods of time without any expensive commercially-available mounting systems.

Equatorial tables like these are indispensable for a number of reasons, such as long-exposure astrophotography, time lapse imaging, gathering a large amount of observational detail for scientific purposes, or simply as an educational tool to allow more viewing of objects in the sky and less fussing with the telescope. They’re also comparatively low-cost which is a major key in a hobby whose costs can get high quickly, but not even the telescope needs to be that expensive. A Dobsonian telescope can be put together fairly quickly sometimes using off-the-shelf parts from IKEA.