There are a bunch of ways to estimate the age of a radio amateur, by the letters in their callsign, by their preferred choice of homebrewing technology, or sometimes by their operating style. One that perhaps doesn’t immediately come to mind is to count how many solar cycles they remember, and since the current cycle 25 is my fourth I guess I’ve seen a few. Cycle 25 is so far shaping up to be quite an active one especially of late, which popular media are describing as bombarding us with flares from a “sunspot archipelago” and the more measured tones of spaceweather.com giving us warning of X-class flares heading in our direction, today!
As the technology for solar observation has increased in sophistication and the Internet has allowed anyone to follow the events above us as they unfold, the awareness of solar phenomena has shifted away from the relatively small numbers of astronomers and radio amateurs who would once have been eagerly awaiting a solar cycle to a wider audience. Ever since a particularly severe event in March 1989 during cycle 22 caused disruptions including the blackout of a significant part of Canada it’s been a periodic topic of mild doom in slow news moments. But what lies behind the reports of solar activity? Perhaps it’s time to take a look.
The solar cycle refers to the 11-year period of solar activity from a maximum of observed sunspots through a minimum to a new maximum. The sunspots are the visible evidence of the solar magnetic field changing its polarity, and appear as darker areas where there is a greater strength of magnetic flux in the sun’s photosphere. We refer to solar cycles by number with solar cycle 1 occurring in 1755 because that year represents the earliest cycle which can be found in modern astronomical observation data, but previous cycles have been deduced over millennia through dendrochronology, sediment analysis, isotope observations, and other methods. Continue reading “The Sunspots Are Coming (Again)”→
A little over a year ago, and about 150 million kilometers (93 million miles) from where you’re currently reading this, NASA’s Parker Solar Probe quietly made history by safely flying through one of the most powerful coronal mass ejections (CMEs) ever recorded. Now that researchers have had time to review the data, amateur space nerds like ourselves are finally getting details about the probe’s fiery flight.
Launched in August 2018, the Parker Solar Probe was built to get up close and personal with our local star. Just two months after liftoff, it had already beaten the record for closest approach to the Sun by a spacecraft. The probe, with its distinctive solar shield, has come within 8.5 million kilometers (5.3 million miles) of its surface, a record that it’s set to break as its highly elliptical orbit tightens.
As clearly visible in the video below, the Parker probe flew directly into the erupting CME on September the 5th of 2022, and didn’t get fully clear of the plasma for a few days. During that time, researchers say it observed something that had previously only been theorized — the interaction between a CME and the swirling dust and debris that fills our solar system.
According to the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), the blast that Parker flew through managed to displace this slurry of cosmic bric a brac out to approximately 9.6 million km (6 million miles), though the void it created was nearly instantly refilled. The researchers say that better understanding how a CME propagates through the interplanetary medium could help us better predict and track potentially dangerous space weather.
It’s been a busy year for the Parker Solar Probe. Back in June it announced that data from the craft was improving our understanding of high-speed solar winds. With the spacecraft set to move closer and closer to the Sun over the next two years, we’re willing to bet this isn’t the last discovery to come from this fascinating mission.
The solar analemma is the shape the sun traces out when photographed each day at the same time and same location for a whole year – but you probably knew that already. [makendo] decided to use this skewed figure-eight shape as the inspiration for a chandelier, and the results are stunning.
A laser cutter was used to cut out segments of the analemma shape in plywood, such that they could slot together into the full form. These were then glued together on to a plywood sheet as a template to cut out the full-size form in a single piece. Some laminate edging was then added and the entire thing was given a coat of black gloss paint. String lights were cut up to provide the many globe fittings required, and installed on the back of the chandelier.
[makendo] notes that with a full 51 bulbs in the chandelier, it’s way too bright for most dining room settings. A dimmer is thus used to tone down the output to reduce eyestrain at mealtimes. It’s a fun build, and we’ve always loved light fixtures that are inspired by astronomy. If you like the moon more than the sun, though, there’s a build for you too!
There was a time when “real” engineering workstations ran Linux Unix. Apollo and Sun were big names and Sun’s version was Solaris. Solaris has been an iffy proposition since Oracle acquired Sun, but Oracle announced last month that you can download and use Solaris 11.4 CBE free for non-production use.
Do you care? If you ever wanted to run “real” Unix this is an option although, honestly, so is Free BSD and it probably has better community support. On the other hand, since you can virtualize a machine to spin up, it might be worth a little time to install it.
On the other hand, if you have an old SPARC machine — this could be big news. We aren’t sure how far back the hardware this will support will go, but this could be just what you need to breathe new life into that eBay pizza box from Sun you’ve had in the basement. Of course, if you have an FPGA SPARC system, this might be interesting too, but we have no idea how much other stuff you need to implement to be able to benefit from Solaris.
Will you install Solaris? If so, tell us why. We are sure we won’t have to prompt you to tell us why not. In 2017, we thought we’d seen the end of Solaris, but apparently not. Maybe this will help those folks still on Solaris 9.
Is the unmistakable sound of the shuffling of LEGO pieces being dug through burned into your psyche? Did the catalog of ever more complex Technic pieces send your imagination soaring into the stratosphere and beyond? Judging by the artful contraption in the video below the break, we are fairly certain that [Marian] can relate to these things.
No doubt inspired by classic orreries driven by clockwork, [Marian]’s LEGO Sun-Earth-Moon orrery is instead driven by either hand cranks or by electric motors. The orrery aims to be astronomically correct. To that end, a full revolution of a hand crank produces a full day’s worth of movement.
Solar and lunar eclipses can be demonstrated, along with numerous other principals such as the tilt of the earth, moon phases, tidal locking, and more, which can be found at the project page.
While classical orreries predate the Victorian era, there seems to be an almost inexplicable link between orreries and the Steampunk aesthetic. But [Marian]’s orrery brought the term “LEGOpunk” to mind. Could it be? Given that there are 2305 pieces and 264 pages of instructions with 436 steps, we think so!
There’s plenty to love about antiques, from cars, furniture, to art. While it might be a little bit of survivorship bias, it’s easy to appreciate these older things for superior quality materials, craftsmanship, or even simplicity. They are missing out on all of our modern technology, though, so performing “restomods” on classics is a popular activity nowadays. This antique map of Paris, for example, is made of a beautiful hardwood but has been enhanced by some modern amenities as well.
At first the creator of this project, [Marc], just wanted to give it some ambient lighting, but it eventually progressed over the course of two years to have a series of Neopixels hidden behind it that illuminate according to the current sun and moon positions. The Neopixels get their instructions from an ESP8266 which calculates these positions using code [Marc] wrote himself based on the current date. Due to the limitations of the ESP8266 it’s not particularly precise, but it gets the job done to great effect.
To improve on the accuracy, [Marc] notes that an ESP32 could be used instead, but we can give the ESP8266 a pass for now since the whole project is an excellent art installation even if it is slightly off on its calculations. If you need higher accuracy for tracking celestial objects, you can always grab a Raspberry Pi too.
[Udi] lives in an apartment with a pleasant balcony. He also has three kids who are home most of the time now, so he finds himself spending a little more time out on the balcony than he used to. To upgrade his experience, he installed a completely custom shade controller to automatically open and close his sunshade as the day progresses.
Automatic motors for blinds and other shades are available for purchase, but [Udi]’s shade is too big for any of these small motors to work. Finding a large servo with a 2:1 gear ration was the first step, as well as creating a custom mount for it to attach to the sunshade. Once the mechanical situation was solved, he programmed an ESP32 to control the servo. The ESP32 originally had control buttons wired to it, but [Udi] eventually transitioned to NFC for limit switch capabilities and also implemented voice control for the build as well.
While not the first shade controller we’ve ever seen, this build does make excellent use of appropriate hardware and its built-in features and although we suppose it’s possible this could have been done with a 555 timer, the project came together very well, especially for [Ubi]’s first Arduino-compatible build. If you decide to replicate this build, though, make sure that your shade controller is rental-friendly if it needs to be.