The Day Six Spaceships Landed In England

The BBC, as the British national broadcaster for so many decades, now finds itself also performing the function of keeper of a significant part of the collective national memory. Thus they have an unrivaled resource of quality film and audio recordings on hand for when they look back on the anniversary of a particular story, and the retrospectives they create from them can make for a particularly fascinating read.

This week has seen the fiftieth anniversary of a very unusual event, the day six flying saucers were found to have crash-landed in a straight line across the width of Southern England. It was as though a formation of invaders had entered the atmosphere in a manoeuvre gone wrong, and maintained their relative positions as they hurtled towards the unsuspecting countryside.

Except of course, there were no aliens, and there were no flying saucers. Instead there was a particularly resourceful group of apprentices from the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough, and the saucers were beautifully made fibreglass and metal creations. They contained electronic sound generators to give an alien-sounding beeping noise, and a fermenting mixture of flour and water for an alien-looking ectoplasmic goo should anybody decide to drill into them. The police were called and the RAF were scrambled, and a media frenzy occurred before finally the jolly hoaxters were unmasked. In those simpler times everyone had a good laugh and got on with their lives, while without a doubt now there would have been a full-blown terrorism scare and a biohazard alert over all that flour paste.

A Hackaday writer never admits her age, but this is a story that happened well before the arrival of this particular scribe. We salute and envy these 1960s pranksters, and hope that they went on to do great things. If you are a British resident you can see an accompanying TV report on their southern regional news programme, Inside Out, on BBC One South East and South today at 19:30 BST, or via BBC iPlayer should you miss it.

Flying saucer confectionery image: jo-h [CC BY 2.0].

Easy UFO Lights on your Drone for Halloween

Sometimes it’s not so much what you put together, it’s how you use it. The folks at Adafruit have put up a project on how to dress up your drone with ‘UFO lights’ just in time for Halloween. The project is a ring of RGB LEDs and a small microcontroller to give any quadcopter a spinning ‘tractor beam light’ effect. A 3D printed fixture handles attachment. If you’re using a DJI Phantom 4 like they are, you can power everything directly from the drone using a short USB cable, which means hardly any wiring work at all, and no permanent changes of any kind to the aircraft. Otherwise, you’re on your own for providing power but that’s probably well within the capabilities of anyone who messes with add-ons to hobby aircraft.

One thing this project demonstrates is how far things have come with regards to accessibility of parts and tools. A 3D printed fixture, an off-the-shelf RGB LED ring, and a drop-in software library for a small microcontroller makes this an afternoon project. The video (embedded below) also demonstrates how some unfamiliar lights and some darkness goes a long way toward turning the otherwise familiar Phantom quadcopter into a literal Unidentified Flying Object.

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Solar Tetroon Spooks Albuquerque

An interesting take on Hackerspace outreach is spooking the local community into calling the FAA and even the Air Force. It wasn’t exactly the plan at Quelab, but after an experimental solar tetroon got away from [Gonner Menning], one of the space’s members, that’s exactly what happened.

This is the first we remember hearing of solar tetroons. A tetroon is actually a fairly common weather balloon design using four triangle-shaped pieces. The solar part is pretty neat, it’s a balloon that uses the sun to heat air inside of a balloon. Instead of filling the bladder with a lighter-than-air gas it is filled with regular air and the sun’s rays heat it to become lighter than the surrounding ambient air.

For this particular flight the balloon was never supposed to be off the tether. Previous iterations had turned out to be rather poor fliers. Of course it figures that when [Gonner] finally tuned the design with an optimal weight to lift ratio it slipped its leash and got away. The GPS package tracked it for quite a while but ended up dying and the craft was nary to be found.

We weren’t going to embed the local news coverage video, but at the end the talking heads end up rolling around the word “Hackerspace” in their mouths like it’s foreign food. Good for a giggle after the break.

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Automated sky tracking to catch UFOs

If you were to try to take a picture of a UFO, how would you do it? Sit by the side of a road in Nevada near Area 51? Pie tin on a string? A French team of UFO enthusiasts put together an automated UFO detection device (Google translate) out of a disco light and CCTV camera so long nights of watching the skies can be automated.

The build uses a disco light with an altitude and azimuth mount to constantly scan the skies on the lookout for strange, unexplained lights. Attached to this swiveling mount is a camcorder and a CCTV camera that streams video to the command and control laptops for image analysis.

In addition to object tracking, there’s also a diffraction grating in front of the CCTV camera. The team behind this project previously used this for some very low tech spectroscopy (translation) to identify emission lines in a light source. Light that have a signature including Oxygen and Nitrogen will probably be ionized air, while less common elements may be the signature of “advanced propulsion.”

While this build is going to detect a lot of satellites and meteors, there’s a definite possibility of capturing an unexplained phenomenon on video.