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Portable Planetarium: Science Hackathon Project (Reblog from old website)

8 min read

Portable Planetarium: Science Hackathon Project

Posted on November 8, 2015 by BrynLove

 

Star gazing can be done from any room with the Portable Planetarium...

… Star gazing can be done from any room with the Portable Planetarium…

 

There is a certain awe cultivated when gazing at a star filled sky. I always imagine it as a biological impulse, something deep in our DNA, that makes our heartbeat change, that deepens our breath as a gasp catches in our throat; our eyes widen, pupils dilate and we begin to take stock of our size and place in this cosmic spacescape. Perhaps it was the sky that inspired our ancestors to consider their origins in this world, perhaps during late nights by campfire the stars above became guiding beacons of hope, reasons to dream, reasons to search for what lies beyond. Countless art and poetry, songs and stories of the stars have enriched each culture in human history. We had amazing astronomers, navigators, philosophers, seers, and even wise elders that understood the passing of time and seasons… all because of their nightly exposure to a clear sky of slightly changing stars.

Today the densest populations of people rely on well-lit electric and gas powered cities. Cities with lots of carbon emissions leading to light pollution block out the beauty of the sky. When we get awed by lights, it’s likely from the Vegas Strip, or some electrical carnival at BurningMan. Rarely do we get to see the stars, and unfortunately where they are most easily viewed is at isolated, wild campground sites and many people nowadays don’t grow up with that kind of past-time. Sadly, even those that do have to deal with one fact: it takes time and travel to get to those spots. Cut off from the spiraling, spinning galaxies around us, it’s also easy to disconnect from our place in the universe. We easily are absorbed into the world we see; a world limited to this earth, this pale blue dot. Neil DeGrasse Tyson once commented on some people’s sad self-projection of smallness, a response of overwhelming insignificance when faced with how vast the universe really is when viewing the stars, that seeing all that “out there” makes them feel small. He responded with how the universe made him feel.

“I look up at the night sky, and I know that, yes, we are part of this Universe, we are in this Universe, but perhaps more important than both of those facts is that the Universe is in us. When I reflect on that fact, I look up—many people feel small, because they’re small and the Universe is big, but I feel big, because my atoms came from those stars.” – Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

What if simply seeing the stars made us feel like adventurers? What if exploring this galaxy made us united as humans, not under one God or even under one sky, but within this solar system, this galaxy? What if wonder itself was part of the key to innovation, passion, and the future?

Yes, the stars are hidden from us citydwellers when we walk outside. But what if we could create that magical and awe-inspiring phenomena of stargazing to somewhere as intimate as the home or as common as the classroom? These very ideas are what inspired the construction of one of the easiest Do It Yourself projects at last week’s Science Day Hackathon hosted by GitHub and supported by many awesome volunteers.  (Photos here, credit Matt Biddulph: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mbiddulph/albums/72157660328653405 )

 

Tantek Çelik andEddie Codel brainstorming the Portable Planetarium idea. Photo by Matt Biddulph

Tantek Çelik andEddie Codel brainstorming the Portable Planetarium idea

So you want to create your own Portable Planetarium? I approve! Let’s do it!

Stuff you need:

  • Pico Projector

  • Fish Eye lens

  • Stellarium

  • Smart phone or computer (cost ranges)

  • Scrap cardboard (just any good box laying about will do)

  • Duct tape (you know, the type you use to tape bad guys mouths shut with)

  • A sharp cutting object (I used a ‘Cutter’ tool. You should probably stick with whatever is sharp and safe for you to use. If you are accident prone, ask for someone else’s help/supervision)

  • A cutting board (Just like a wooden one for dicing your veggies)

  • Measuring tape

  • Sharpie/pen

STEP ONE!

  1. Projector

  2. Measuring tape

  3. Fish eye lens

  4. *A friend (suggested)

Let’s not assume you have the same setup as I did. What you’ll need to do is find a dark room with minimal/no outside light and shut all doors and windows. Then you want to take the projector, turn it on. Make sure you can see the display lit up on the ceiling. Now, with the lights off you should hold the lens above the projector until it is clear and the picture looks good. Use the measuring tape (this is where a friend is quite helpful) to measure the distance between the lens and the top of the projector, where the light is coming from. This distance isn’t likely to change and you’ll use it later in your dimensions.

STEP TWO!

  1. Cardboard

  2. Cutting tool

Take the cardboard and cut out a very long rectangular piece of it. I used about 3 x 2 ft strip initially and trimmed it down later. Then begin to bend it vertically into 1″ slats.

Bending cardboard into slats

Bending cardboard into slats

STEP THREE!

  1. Cardboard spare piece

  2. Fish Eye lens

  3. pen/sharpie

  4. Measuring tape

  5. Cutting board

Measure the diameter of the lens. Make sure to measure only the inner rim of the lens. Then use spare cardboard and cut out a square or octagon (your choice) that is at least 2″ wider in diameter to that. (Cutting on the cutting board minimizes mistakes and injury).The lens I used was about 3″, so my mounting piece was about 5″ in diameter. Then draw a line around the edge of the lens and cut out a hole for it to be mounted on.

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STEP FOUR!

  1. Duct tape

  2. Slatted cardboard

  3. Fish Eye lens

Begin to wrap the slatted cardboard in on itself (kind of like a spiral). You’re going to make one small ring on the inside that is slightly smaller than the diameter of the lens. Use duct tape to secure this in place. Secondly, take the rest of the cardboard and use it as an outer ring for more balance.

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STEP FIVE!

  1. Cutting tool

  2. Measurements taken previously (length of lens to projector)

  3. Pen/Sharpie

  4. Pico Projector

Use the measurements taken previously and mark how far down away from the top of the cardboard tower that the pico projector is going to have to be. Keep in mind that the lens is going at the top, and the projector is going to be embedded within. *It’s important to level out the top and the bottom at this point so your measurements are accurate. Then, when you have found where the projector should go, place it at the location against the outside of the cardboard and draw an outline of the frame. Cut out the frame and make adjustments until the projector fits inside firmly (not loosely). *Hint: it’s okay to cut it too small at first, and then adjust to a larger size later. You want the projector to fit snugly inside the window you’re creating to minimize light leakage.

 

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STEP SIX!

  1. Pico projector

  2. Cardboard tower

  3. Fish Eye lens

  4. Cardboard mounting bracket for lens

Put all the pieces together and test out the light in a dark room. Make adjustments as necessary by refitting and cutting the cardboard so it works. I used duct tape to level out the top and make it more secure. Get creative with this part as it is fairly individual.

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A DIY Portable Planetairum

A DIY Portable Planetairum

STEP SEVEN! MAGIC HAPPENS!

  1. Stellarium

  2. Your new portable projector (cardboard tower + Fish Eye lens + pico projector)

  3. Phone or computer to run the Stellarium program on

Download Stellarium to your phone or computer, hook up the video feed to the pico projector, turn off the lights, and enjoy exploring the universe!!

 

Let me know how this project helped you and any improvements you made. Hope you get to experience how awesome this is too!

ThruTheLookingGlass

Photo by Matt Biddulph

Helpful link on how to use the Stellarium program:

http://sas-sky.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Stellarium_Handbook.pdf

My favorite quote with awesome visuals by Neil DeGrasse Tyson:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9D05ej8u-gU

 

 

 

 

Science Hackathon 2015 at GitHub (Reblog from old website)

4 min read

Science Hackathon 2015 at GitHub

Posted on November 2, 2015 by BrynLove

SciHack Day Portabl

Tantek, Eddie and I are pointing to the cosmos

It isn’t every day that I get to put myself in a new situation. I’ve learned that sometimes being an adult means monotony. It means holding a steady job and maintaining a routine. Those aren’t the moments that give life meaning, though. I think most people can agree that moments that test you, that change you, expand or rearrange your thinking… those come from trying something new, and that usually includes a new experience or place.

So, when a new friend from GitHub who’d seen that I’d driven all the way from SF to Pasadena just to attend JPL’s open house (it was crammed, I tell you!), he tipped me off to this event: The Science Hackathon 2015.

I was immediately excited. It sounded so fun that both I and my fiancé signed up. Then I got there, and it didn’t take long to get a little…overwhelmed.

There were so many different projects going on, and surely my talents and my personality could contribute to one, right? However, as I went around the room I felt less and less certain of my usefulness. I suppose someone like me, raised an artist and musician without any real science background, would feel like I did. I regarded the countless engineers, programmers, and scientists collaborating. How could I possibly keep up? I began to feel down. I knew that this was my self-consciousness getting the best of me, but it’s hard when you’ve thrown yourself into a new situation. It felt a bit like when a parent throws a child into the water who can’t swim…you sort of thrash about for a bit, then decide whether to sink or swim.

Luckily, I got rescued by two awesome chaps who already had an idea for a Portable Planetarium (instructuble to come later). After getting the general idea, i set to making a cheap, easy-to-make design out of scrap cardboard and duct tape. I saw what the planetarium could do; it could transform a normal cieling into a wondrous sky full of stars, planets, satellites, moons… it could help anyone within range of it access a space ship of their very own to explore the great, beautiful cosmos! I wanted this to be so easy anyone could do it. I spent most of the evening and night making it work, and then finished up in the morning. Then, after all the projects were entered and presented, there was a vote on which ones got awards. (A bit of positive reinforcement, I guess you could say!) Then the strangest thing happened; our team got the “Best in Hardware” award. Cardboard, a fish-eye lens, a pico projector, and the Stellarium software.

What? I got an award? For science? Well… I’ve never gotten anything for science. I’ve never got an award or recognition for anything outside of music and anthropology.

Then it hit me. The great beauty of all of this is that you never know what you have to offer until you give yourself a chance to try. The Science Hackathon was so inspiring; people coming together to create something funny, useful, or amazing. Collaborators without the incentive of money, without the restriction of titles or class, they created together purely for the passion of creating. Their incentive was pure social capital, an ability to try things new with new people, to feel that they spent their time meaningfully and at their own volition. Imagine! People working hard all night to accomplish something…for free!

It wasn’t too long ago that I was listening to a TED talk on NPR that talked about how sales goals are never good incentive, how a paycheck isn’t inspiration to do well or work hard (it’s only inspiration to work hard enough to not lose your job). The real incentive, the push that gets people making amazing things? Meaning. If work is meaningful to that person, they will give their best; they will overcome obstacles, they will tirelessly meet their goals, and -most importantly- they will do it and feel happier afterwards.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to feel useful, to do something meaningful, to connect with smart people, and -yes- to feel just a wee bit smart in a room full of geniuses.