Celestial Laser Identification / Visualization Experiment

(aka C.L.I.V.E.)

The Iridium Flare Tracker Project

Designed for the 2004 BurningMan Festival
To be displayed in the Alternative Energy Zone

(Who are we? Why did we do this? If you'd like to know, please read the main project page. Now that the festival has come and gone, you can see photos from BurningMan.)

BurningMan is a festival of loud and intense proportions. However, if you were to take a nighttime walk along the foothpaths of the AEZ between the soft glows of solar powered pathlights, cyalume sculptures and dormant solar ovens you'd find it a quiet and peaceful place. Located next to Hushville, the Alternative Energy Zone is a place of gentle sound and muted, battery powered light; great for watching the night sky.

Just off to your side you suddenly see motion: rotating warning beacons coming to life atop a large copper archway, flashing yellow light around the playa. The archway, some 10' high and 12' wide, spans the path that heads towards the AEZ's center and allows burners to freely walk and bicycle underneath it. Atop it perches a control box; a bright green beam shining from it up into the night air, pointing at a curiously empty spot in the sky.

A giant digital clock that hangs from that arch counts down from 00:01:30. The warning spinners go still, having gotten your attention. The beam, still pointing oddly at nothing as the countdown marches on, slowly dims. As the clock reaches the last fifteen seconds a tiny dot in the sky gets just bright enough to be seen... moving swiftly towards the green pencil of light.

The dot is barely visible at first; in only seconds it's brighter than the stars near it and then gets brighter yet. As it crosses the beam its light peaks -- shimmering a good eight times brighter than anything else in the sky. It's moving fast. Not so fast as a falling star, but quicker than most anything else one would see in the natural night sky.

Just as quickly it pases, fading; the laser dimmed to nothing, the entire archway gone dormant. No light; no sound... just that same travelling pinpoint of light dipping out of sight into blackness again. A few long seconds pass; maybe a halfminute or so. With a gentle whirr and flicker of green light the archway returns to life, counter resetting. "NEXT FLARE:" scrolls up on the display across the archway's main beam, the 10-foot-long clock resetting and starting the countdown anew.

You just witnessed the magnitude -8 flare of an Iridium satellite, reflecting the sun straight at you as it passes overhead.

The large copper structure you're standing under? It's an almagest of sorts; a guide to the stars. We like to call it CLIVE: the Celestial Laser Identification / Visualization Experiment.

Shining metallic copper in the midday sun and glowing with green laser and LED light at night, the CLIVE project uses homebuilt electronics, a DPSS laser, 1000+ LEDs, solar and windpower to give visitors to the AEZ a nighttime guide to the heavens. Designed to be walked or ridden under by the people passing through the AEZ it's a simple metallic gateway by day and a celestial navigation tool at night.

Left to its own devices this almagest will use its laser to point at the location of the next Iridium Satellite flare and a large-digit LED clock let people know when to look. The system will point out one to three Iridium flares each night and morning, depending on satellite traffic. The speed and brightness of the satellites as they pass overhead is rather stunning, giving a very direct indicator of how our technology wraps our world.

Identifying flares, however, is but one of many functions of this archway; it's there for you to play with. A control keypad cabled to the arch is set up for the public to use. The archway can track and point out the location of all of the planets in our solar system, as well as both natural and manmade satellites of various types. It also has a catalog of dozens of the brightest stars in the sky it can identify for you with the bright green DPSS beam. You can also steer the beam around with the arrow keys and ask it what you're pointing at; it will look up the coordinates in the database and tell you what's there at the end of its beam.

CLIVE is energy-independant, running off of wind and solar power. As long as there is either a good breeze or a sunny day it will have power to run its lasers and electronics all through the night. It will be constructed on Tuesday during the festival's week and run right through Saturday night, disassembling it the day after.

Please come see us at the 2004 BurningMan Festival in the heart of the AEZ village!

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