Simple Hand Tools Turn Brass And Steel Into An Amazing Astrolabe

There’s something enchanting about ancient tools and instruments. The idea that our forebears were able to fashion precision mechanisms with nothing but the simplest hand tools is fascinating. And watching someone recreate the feat, such as by building an astrolabe by hand, can be very appealing too.

The astrolabe is an ancient astronomical tool of incredible versatility, allowing the user to do everything from calculating when the sun will rise to predicting the positions of dozens of stars in the night sky. That it accomplishes all this with only a few moving parts makes it all the more fascinating. [Uri Tuchman] began the astrolabe build shown in the video below with only a few hand tools. He quickly had his fill of the manual fretsaw work, though, and whipped up a simple scroll saw powered by an old sewing machine foot treadle to speed up his work. The real treat though is the hand engraving, a skill that [Uri] has clearly mastered. We couldn’t help musing that a CNC router could do the same thing so much more quickly, but watching [Uri] do it was so much more satisfying. Everything about the build really makes a statement, from the contrasting brass and steel parts to the choice of complex Arabic script for the markings. [Uri] has another video that goes over astrolabe basics and his design process that’s well worth watching too.

While it’s nowhere near as complicated an instrument, this astrolabe puts us in the mood to watch the entire Clickspring clock build again. And [Chris] is working on his own ancient instrument build at the moment, recreating the Antikythera mechanism. We can’t wait to binge-watch that one too.

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3D Printed Clockwork Star Tracker

Astrophotography is one of those things you naturally assume must be pretty difficult; surely something so awesome requires years of practice and specialized equipment which costs as much as your car. You shake your fist at the sky (since you have given up on taking pictures of it), and move on with your life. Another experience you’ll miss out on.

But in reality, dramatic results don’t necessarily require sticker shock. We’ve covered cheap DIY star trackers before on Hackaday, but this design posted on Thingiverse by [Tinfoil_Haberdashery] is perhaps the easiest we’ve ever seen. It keeps things simple by using a cheap 24 hour clock movement to rotate a GoPro as the Earth spins. The result is a time-lapse where the stars appear to be stationary while the horizon rotates.

Using a 24 hour clock movement is an absolutely brilliant way to synchronize the camera with the Earth’s rotation without the hoops one usually has to jump through. Sure you could do with a microcontroller, a stepper motor, and some math. But a clock is a device that’s essentially been designed from the ground up for keeping track of the planet’s rotation, so why not use it?

If there’s a downside to the clock movement, it’s the fact that it doesn’t have much torque. It was intended to move an hour hand, not your camera, so it doesn’t take much to stall out. The GoPro (and other “action” cameras) should be light enough that it’s not a big deal; but don’t expect to mount your DSLR up to one. Even in the video after the break, it looks like the clock may skip a few steps on the way down as the weight of the camera starts pushing on the gears.

If you want something with a bit more muscle, we’ve recently covered a very slick Arduino powered “barn door” star tracker. But there’re simpler options if you’re looking to get some shots tonight.

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Keep An Eye On The Sky With RDuinoScope

We’ve all enjoyed looking up at a clear night sky and marveled at the majesty of the stars. Some of us have even pointed telescopes at particular celestial objects to get a closer view. Anyone who’s ever looked at anything beyond Jupiter knows the hassle involved.  It is most unfortunate that the planet we reside on happens to rotate about a fixed axis, which makes it somewhat difficult to keep a celestial object in the view of your scope.

It doesn’t take much to strap a few steppers and some silicon brains to a scope to counter the rotation of earth, and such systems have been available for decades. They are unfortunately quite expensive. So [Dessislav Gouzgounov] took matters into his own hands and developed the rDuinoScope – an open source telescope control system.

Based on the Arduino Due, the systems stores a database of 250 stellar objects. Combined with an RTC and GPS, the rDunioScope can locate and lock on to your favorite nebula and track it, allowing you to view it in peace. Be sure to grab the code and let us know when you have your own rDuinoScope set up!

 

3D Universe Theater

If you are an astronomy buff, there are plenty of star maps you can find in print or online (or even on your Smartphone). But if you are a science fiction fan (or writer), you probably find those maps frustrating because they are flat. Two stars next to each other on the map might be light years apart in the axis coming out of the page. A star 3.2 light years from Sol (our sun) looks the same on the map as a star 100 light years away.

The Gaia satellite (an ESA project) orbits beyond the moon and is carefully mapping the 3D position of every point of light it sees. [Charlie Hoey] took the data for about 2 million stars and used WebGL to give you a 3D view of the data in your web browser.

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Baby’s First Star Light Projector And A Foil Slip Ring

For a newborn, everything is magical; a lack of object permanence means everything is new, wonderful, and novel. What then, could be better than a projected star field circling an infant’s room, gently sending them to sleep?

[Pete] was inspired by this earlier starlight projector that projects a rotating star field onto the walls and ceiling of a nursery. Instead of a rather loud servo, [Pete] used a quiet 12 Volt gear motor that spins the star field at 5 RPM. Like the previous build, a LED was used but [Pete] found a color-changing RGB LED that automatically shifts colors.

The shaft of [Pete]’s gear motor is tiny, and unlike the servo, there’s constant rotation. This meant a slip ring was needed to pass electricity into the spinning sphere. A piece of copper foil and a pair of improvised brushes served just fine. While [Pete]’s project, like its predecessor, doesn’t seem to have any recognized constellations drilled into the sphere, the foil slip ring opens up the possibility for a small microcontroller being fitted inside the globe with blinking lights.

Check out the video of [Pete]’s build in action after the break.
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Bringing The Stars To Your Baby

[Zach] saw a stuffed animal that projected some simple stars on the ceiling. This gave him an idea that he could build a tiny star projector for his 3 month old daughter’s room.  The idea is to put an LED inside a ping pong ball with tiny holes and rotate it slowly.

The electronics are fairly strait forward. He’s using an MSP430 to control the servo and LED, allowing him to set different speeds and turn the whole thing off after a certain amount of time.  The ball took a little bit of trial and error though. He first started by drilling some holes, but found this to give poor results. The holes were just too big. He finally ended up heating up a  sewing needle and melting tiny holes in the ping pong ball. That worked perfect.

After the break you can see a video of it moving. The servo is pretty loud, which might actually be a good distraction for a 3month old, but might be something to address in the future.

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13th Century Navigation System

[Tom Wujec] explains how an astrolabe works and its importance in our technological development. He argues that an astrolabe was the world’s first “popular computer”. It measures the sky and that measurement can be used to tell time, survey land, and navigate a ship.

Astrolabes are built from three pieces and according to [Tom], educated children in the 1200’s would not just have been able to use one, but could build one as well. Electronics have certainly made our lives easier, but there’s something powerful about such a useful yet simple device.