A ceiling-mounted model of the Solar System

Ceiling-Mounted Orrery Is An Excercise In Simplicity

Ever since humans figured out that planets move along predetermined paths in the heavens, they have tried to make models that can accurately predict their motion. Watchmakers and astronomers worked together to create orreries: mechanical contraptions that illustrate the positions of all planets and the way they move over time through complex gear systems. [Illusionmanager] continues the orrery tradition but uses a different approach: he built a beautiful ceiling-mounted model of our Solar System without a gearing system.

The mechanism that makes his Solar System tick is deceptively simple. All planets can move freely along their orbit’s axis except Mercury, which is moved along its orbit by a motor hidden inside the Sun. Once Mercury has completed a full revolution, a pin attached to its arm will begin pushing Venus along with it. After Venus has completed a full circle, its own pin will pick up Earth, and so on all the way to Neptune. Neptune is then advanced to its correct location as reported by NASA, after which Mercury’s motion is reversed and the whole procedure is repeated in the opposite direction to position Uranus.

Cycling through the entire Solar System in this way takes a long time, which is why the planets’ positions are only updated once a day at midnight. An ESP32, also hidden inside the Sun, connects to the internet to retrieve the correct positions for the day and drives the motor. The planet models, sourced from a museum shop, are hanging from thin aluminium tubes attached to wooden mounts made with a desktop CNC machine.

[Illusionmanager] made a detailed Instructables page showing the process of making a miniature version of the mechanism using just laser-cut wooden parts, as an update to a version we featured earlier. We really like the simplicity of this design, which stands in stark contrast to the huge gear trains used in more traditional orreries.

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A wooden frame with 64 green LEDs running a Game of Life simulation

Wooden CNC Sculpture Displays Conway’s Game Of Life

Conway’s Game of Life has been the object of fascination for computer hobbyists for decades. Watching the generations tick by is mesmerizing to watch, but programming the data structure and implementing the rules is also a rewarding experience, especially if you’re just getting acquainted with a new computing platform. Just as rewarding can be creating a nice piece of hardware to run the game on, as [SandwichRising] has just done: check out his beautiful wooden Game of Life implementation.

A set of PCBs implementing an 8x8 LED displayThe main part of his Game is a piece of poplar wood that was CNC routed to produce an 8×8 display adorned with neat chain-like shapes. The display consists of standard 5 mm green LEDs, but they’re not the things you see poking out the front of the wooden frame. Instead, what you’re seeing are 64 lenses made out of epoxy. [SandwichRising] first covered the holes with tape, then poured green epoxy into each one and waited for it to harden. He then took off the tape and applied a drop of UV-cured epoxy on top to create a lens.

All the LEDs are mounted on PCB strips that are hooked up to a central bus going to the main ATmega328P  microcontroller sitting on a separate piece of PCB. Whenever the system is powered on, the game is set to a random state determined by noise, after which the simulation begins. On such a small field it’s pretty common for the game to end up in a stable state or a regular oscillation, which is why the ATmega keeps track of the last few dozen states to determine if this has happened, and if so, reset the game to a random state again.

The source code, as well as .STL files for the PCBs and the frame, are available in the project’s GitHub repository. If woodworking isn’t your thing, there’s plenty of other ways to make neat Game of Life displays, such as inside an alarm clock, with lots of LEDS under a coffee table, or even with a giant flip-dot display.

A V2 Rocket Inspired Steam Turbine Skateboard Is Just Around The Corner

[Integza] never fails to amuse with his numerous (and sometimes really sketchy) attempts to create usable thrust, by pretty much all means possible and the latest video (embedded below) attempting to run a reaction turbine from decomposing hydrogen peroxide, doesn’t fail to disappoint. The inspiration came from the WWII V2 rocket, which used Sodium Permanganate to breakdown Hydrogen Peroxide. This produced high pressure steam, which spun a turbine, which in turn drove the turbopumps that delivered the needed huge quantity of alcohol and liquid oxygen into the combustion chamber.

After an initial test of this permanganate-peroxide reaction proved somewhat disappointing (and messy) he moved on to a more controllable approach — using a catalytic converter from a petrol scooter in place of the messy permanganate. This worked, so the next task was to build the turbine. Naturally, this was 3D printed, and the resulting design appeared to work pretty well with compressed air as the power source. After scaling up the design, and shifting to CNC-machined aluminium, it was starting to look a bit more serious. The final test shows the turbine being put through its paces, running from the new precious metal catalyst setup, but as can be seen from the video, there is work to be done.

There appears to be a fair amount of liquid peroxide passing through into the turbine, which is obviously not desirable. Perhaps the next changes should be the mount the catalyser vertically, to prevent the liquid from leaving so easily, as well as adding some baffling to control the flow of the liquid, in order to force it to recycle inside the reaction vessel? We can’t wait to see where this goes, hopefully the steam-turbine powered skateboard idea could actually be doable? Who knows? But we’re sure [Integza] will find a way!

With steam power, there’s more than one way to get usable rotational work, like using a reciprocating engine, which can be expanded to a whole machine shop, and whilst boiling water (or catalytically decomposing Hydrogen Peroxide)  provides high pressure gas, how about just using boiling liquid nitrogen? Possibly not.

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