Space is very much the final frontier for humanity, at least as far as our current understanding of the universe takes us. Only a handful of countries and corporations on Earth have the hardware to readily get there, and even fewer are capable of reaching orbit. For these reasons, working in this field can seem out of reach for many. Nevertheless, there’s plenty about the great expanse beyond our atmosphere that can be studied by the dedicated citizen scientist. With the right equipment and know-how, it’s even possible to capture and study micrometeorites yourself!
For those new to the field, the terms used can be confusing. Meteoroids are small metallic or rocky objects found in outer space, up to around 1 meter in size. When these burn up upon entering the atmosphere, they are referred to as a meteor, or colloquially known as a shooting star. If part of the object survives long enough to hit the ground, this is referred to as a meteorite, and as you’d expect the smaller ones are called micrometeorites, being on the scale of 2mm or less.
Stardust Proves Hard To Find
Being tiny and having fallen from space, micrometeorites present certain challenges to those who wish to find and identify them. In spite of this, they can be found by using the right techniques and a heck of a lot of hard work.
Cloud chambers are an exciting and highly visual science experiment. They’re fascinating to watch as you can see the passage of subatomic particles from radioactive decay with your very own eyes. Many elect to build small chambers based on thermoelectric Peltier elements, but [Cloudylabs] decided to do something on a grander scale.
[Cloudylabs] started building cloud chambers after first seeing one in a museum back in 2010. The first prototype was an air-cooled Peltier device, with a cooled area of just 4x4cm. Over the years, and after building many more Peltier-based chambers, it became apparent that the thermoelectric modules were somewhat less than robust, often failing after many thermal cycles. Wanting to take things up a notch, [Cloudylabs] elected to build a much larger unit based on phase-change technology, akin to the way a refrigerator works.
The final product is astounding, consisting of a 32x18cm actively cooled area mounted within a large glass viewing case. A magnet is mounted underneath which causes certain particles to curve in relation to the field, as well as an electrically charged grid up top. The chamber is capable of operating for up to 12 hours without requiring any user intervention.
The way geckos stick to surfaces is through the use of nano-scale hairs on their feet. These hairs dramatically increase the surface area of contact between the gecko and the surface in question. This allows the usually-small intermolecular forces to stack up and keep the gecko adhered.
Several teams have managed to create synthetic substances that recreate this ability; indeed we’ve featured some here before. In this case, experimentation started with an attempt to generate the requisite nanostructures by casting RTV silicone on a microporous filter. This was unsuccessful, with the hairs on the surface of the material created being too sparse and at random angles. The next stage involved attempting to use a tattoo gun, needles, and finally sharpened tungsten wires to pattern wax, which could then have silicone cast onto it to pick up the geometry. This too was unsuccessful, as it wasn’t possible to generate tiny enough features to generate the effect.
The final experiment involved casting silicone upon a 1000 line per millimeter diffraction grating. This generated tiny ridges on the surface of the silicone, and greatly improved its sticking ability. While the ridges generated aren’t as capable as gecko feet or professionally-produced films, they do have an impressive weight holding ability. A small section of the silicone was able to hold over 20 pounds for an extended period in testing.
It’s a great example of how to do seemingly complicated science with materials that can be easily acquired for the home workshop. We’d love to see just how strong a gecko tape could be produced with more work done on this method. Video after the break.
Knowing in what absolute direction your robot is pointed can be crucial, and expensive systems like those used by NASA on Mars are capable of calculating this six-dimensional heading vector to within around one degree RMS, but they are fairly expensive. If you want similar accuracy on a hacker budget, this paper shows you how to do it using cheap MEMS sensors, an off-the-shelf motion co-processor IC, and the right calibration method.
The latest article to be published in our own peer-reviewed Hackaday Journal is Limits of Absolute Heading Accuracy Using Inexpensive MEMS Sensors (PDF). In this paper, Gregory Tomasch and Kris Winer take a close look at the heading accuracy that can be obtained using several algorithms coupled with two different MEMS sensor sets. Their work shows that when properly used, inexpensive sensors can produce results on par with much more costly systems. This is a great paper that illustrates the practical contributions our community can make to technology, and we’re proud to publish it in the Journal.
Aerogels have changed how a lot of high tech equipment is insulated. Resembling frozen smoke, the gel is lightweight and has extremely low thermal conductivity. However there’s always a downside, traditional aerogel material is brittle. Any attempt to compress it beyond 20% of its original size will change the material. Researchers at UCLA and eight other universities around the world have found a new form of ceramic aerogel that can compress down to 5% of its original size and still recover. It is also lighter and able to withstand extreme temperature cycles compared to conventional material. The full paper is behind a paywall, but you can view the abstract.
Traditional aerogel is more likely to fracture when exposed to high temperatures or repeated temperature swings, but the new material is more robust. Made from boron nitride, the atoms have a hexagonal pattern which makes it stronger.
Every year at Superconference, Editor-in-Chief Mike Szczys gets the chance to talk about what we think are the biggest, most important themes in the Hackaday universe. This year’s talk was about science and technology, and more importantly who gets to be involved in building the future. Spoiler: all of us! Hackaday has always stood for the ideal that you, yes you, should be taking stuff apart, improving it, and finding innovative ways to use, make, and improve. To steal one of Mike’s lines: “Hackaday is an engine of engagement in engineering fields.”
In the early 1990s, I was lucky enough to get some time on a 60 MeV linear accelerator as part of an undergraduate lab course. Having had this experience, I can feel for the scientists at CERN who have had to make do with their current 13 TeV accelerator, which only manages energies some 200,000 times larger. So, I read with great interest when they announced the publication of the initial design concept for the Future Circular Collider (FCC), which promises collisions nearly an order of magnitude more energetic. The plan, which has been in the works since 2014, includes three proposals for accelerators which would succeed CERN’s current big iron, the LHC.
Want to know what’s on the horizon in high-energy physics?