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Hackaday Links: May 19, 2024

If there was one question we heard most often this week, it was “Did you see it?” With “it” referring to the stunning display of aurora borealis — and australis, we assume — on and off for several days. The major outburst here in North America was actually late last week, with aurora extending as far south as Puerto Rico on the night of the tenth. We here in North Idaho were well-situated for prime viewing, but alas, light pollution made things a bit tame without a short drive from the city lights. Totally worth it:

Hat tip to Tom Maloney for the pics. That last one is very reminiscent of what we saw back in 1989 with the geomagnetic storm that knocked Québec’s grid offline, except then the colors were shifted much more toward the red end of the spectrum back then.

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All-Sky Camera Checks For Aurora

The aurora borealis (and its southern equivalent, the aurora australis) is a fleeting and somewhat rare phenomenon that produces vivid curtains of color in the sky at extreme latitudes. It’s a common tourist activity to travel to areas where the aurora is more prevalent in order to catch a glimpse of it. The best opportunities are in the winter though, and since most people don’t want to spend hours outside on a cold night night in high latitudes, an all-sky camera like this one from [Frank] can help notify its users when an aurora is happening.

Because of the extreme temperatures involved, this is a little more involved than simply pointing a camera at the sky and hoping for the best. The enclosure and all electronics need to be able to withstand -50°C and operate at at least -30. For the enclosure, [Frank] is going with PVC tubing with a clear dome glued into a top fits to the end of the pipe, providing a water-resistant enclosure. A Raspberry Pi with a wide-angle lens camera sits on a 3D printed carriage so it can easily slide inside. The electronics use power-over-ethernet (PoE) rather than a battery due to the temperature extremes, which conveniently provides networking capabilities for viewing the images.

This is only part one of this build — in part two [Frank] is planning to build a system which can use this camera assembly to detect the aurora automatically and send out notifications when it sees it. Watching the night sky from the comfort of a warm house or sauna isn’t the only reason for putting an all-sky camera to use, either. They can also be used to observe meteors as they fall and then triangulate the position of the meteorites on the ground.

A wooden box sits on a darker wooden table. The box has a red, glowing number 8 on it.

Ambient Display Tells You If Borealis Is Coming To Town

For those times when you’d rather not get sucked down another internet rabbit hole when you really just wanted the weather, an ambient display can be great. [AlexanderK106] built a simple ambient display to know the probability the Northern Lights would visit his town.

Starting with a NodeMCU featuring the ESP8266, [AlexanderK106] walks us through a beginner-friendly tutorial on how to do everything from configure the Arduino IDE, the basics of using a breadboard. finding a data source and parsing it, and finally sticking everything into an enclosure.

The 7-segment display is taped and set into the back of the 1/4″ pine with enough brightness to shine through the additional layer of veneer on top. The display is set to show one digit and then the next before a three second repeat. A second display would probably make this easier to use day-to-day, but we appreciate him keeping it simple for this tutorial.

Looking for more ambient displays? Checkout the Tempescope or this clock that lets you feel the temperature outside!

Aurora Painting

“Arduino Borealis” Combines LEDs And Paint

[Stef Cohen] decided to combine three different artistic mediums for her latest project. Those are painting, electronics, and software. The end goal was to recreate the aurora borealis, also known as the northern lights, in a painting.

The first step was to make the painting. [Stef] began with a shadow box. A shadow box is sort of like a picture frame that is extra deep. A snowy scene was painted directly onto the front side of the glass plate of the shadow box using acrylic paint. [Stef] painted the white, snowy ground along with some pine trees. The sky was left unpainted, in order to allow light to shine through from inside of the shadow box. A sheet of vellum paper was fixed to the inside of the glass pane. This serves to diffuse the light from the LEDs that would eventually be placed inside the box.

Next it was time to install the electronics. [Stef] used an off-the-shelf RGB LED matrix from Adafruit. The matrix is configured with 16 rows of 32 LEDs each. This was controlled with an Arduino Uno. The LED matrix was mounted inside the shadow box, behind the vellum paper. The Arduino code was easily written using Adafruit’s RGB Matrix Panel library.

To get the aurora effect just right, [Stef] used a clever trick. She took real world photographs of the aurora and pixelated them using Photoshop. She could then sample the color of each pixel to ensure that each LED was the appropriate color. Various functions from the Adafruit library were used to digitally paint the aurora into the LED matrix. Some subtle animations were also included to give it an extra kick.

LED Strip Notifies You Of The Light Show You’re Missing Outside

Unless you live way up in Canada, it’s not very likely that those gorgeous coronal mass ejections will collide with the atmosphere above your home. If they do, it’s a rare occurrence you wouldn’t want to miss. This is why [James] devised of a special alarm that would notify him when the Northern Lights may be visible in his neck of the woods. And what’s a better aurora alarm than a simulated aurora light show for your room?

[James] uses a Raspberry Pi to check data from Aurora Watch UK at Lancaster University for local activity. If the forecast reads that there may be some light above his home town in northern England, it triggers a NeoPixel LED strip to scroll through the color values of an actual aurora PNG image. This produces the same sporadic shifting of colors for a proximal ambient indoor lighting effect… though slightly less dramatic than the real thing. You can take a look at his Python script on github if you feel inspired.

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