Solar Car Racing in the USA

The 19 solar car teams below are on the board for the Formula Sun Grand Prix this July. The event will, once again, take place at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas (above). Because the World Solar Challenge (WSC) is on this year, several teams (including Michigan, the champions) will not be attending the FSGP.

US GREEN  3 – Kentucky 

This team completed 40 laps in the FSGP last year, and came 12th in the 2016 American Solar Challenge.

IN RED  4 – SRM (ETROS) 

This team did not attend the FSGP last year.

US RED  5 – University of Florida 

This team did not attend the FSGP last year. Their involvement in the FSGP this year is uncertain.

US GREEN  6 – Berkeley (CalSol) 

This team completed 203 laps in the FSGP last year, and came 9th in the 2016 American Solar Challenge.

US RED  7 – SF State 

This team did not attend the FSGP last year.

US RED  8 – UT Austin 

This team did not attend the FSGP last year.

US RED  11 – Northwestern 

This team completed 21 laps in the FSGP last year.

US RED  13 – Michigan State 

This team did not attend the FSGP last year.

US GREEN  17 – Illinois State 

This team completed 327 laps in the FSGP last year, and came 11th in the 2016 American Solar Challenge.

CA RED  26 – British Columbia 

This team did not attend the FSGP last year.

US GREEN  32 – Principia Solar Car Team 

This team completed 454 laps in the FSGP last year, and came 5th in the 2016 American Solar Challenge. They came 17th in the Challenger class at WSC 2015. They also plan to race at the WSC this year.

US AMBER  49 – Georgia Tech 

This team completed 0 laps in the FSGP last year. Their team number (49) is taken from STS-49, the maiden flight of the space shuttle Endeavour.

CA GREEN  55 – Poly Montreal (Esteban) 

This team completed 321 laps in the FSGP last year, and came 10th in the 2016 American Solar Challenge. Their team number (55) is the year that Western Electric began to sell licenses for silicon PV technology.

US RED  57 – SIUE 

This team did not pass scrutineering for the FSGP last year.

CA AMBER  92 – ETS Quebec (Eclipse) 

This team completed 308 laps in the FSGP last year, and came 8th in the 2016 American Solar Challenge.

US AMBER  314 – Purdue 

This team did not attend the FSGP last year.

US AMBER  786 – Western Michigan 

This team did not pass scrutineering for the FSGP last year. Their team number (786) is the sequence of digits for S-U-N on old phones.

PR RED  787 – Solar Car UPRM  

This team did not attend the FSGP last year, but did 57 laps in 2015. Their team number (787) is the main telephone area code for Puerto Rico. They are building a new car for FSGP 2017.

US AMBER  828 – Appalachian State University 

This team completed 414 laps in the FSGP last year, and came 6th in the 2016 American Solar Challenge. Their team number (828) is the telephone area code for western North Carolina.

This post last updated 12:31 on 30 April 2017 AEST


Solar Car Racing in Egypt

The solar car teams below have said that they intend to race at the Somabay Egyptian Solar Challenge this March. Details of the race are still rather thin on the ground – no route has yet been announced, and there is no official list of teams. There are, however, Twitter and Facebook feeds for the race. Those thinking about participating should probably note the travel advice from Australian, US, Dutch, and French authorities.

DE  Bochum University of Applied Sciences 

This team came 3rd in the Cruiser class at WSC 2015. They also entered three cars in the 2016 ESC, coming 3rd, 4th, and 5th.

TR  Dokuz Eylül University / Solaris 

This team came 25th in the Challenger class at WSC 2015. They raced in the 2016 ESC, coming 9th.

FR  Eco Solar Breizh 

This is a French (or rather, Breton) team, started in 2008. They raced at ESC in 2014.

NL  Nuon Solar Team 

This team came 1st in the Challenger class at WSC 2015. They also raced in the 2016 Sasol Solar Challenge in South Africa, coming 1st.

JP  Osaka Sangyo University (OSU)

EG  Solar Electric Vehicle – Cairo University Team 

This is a local Egyptian team. They are partnering with Bochum, it seems. They are also planning to race at WSC 2017.

EG  Zewail City Solar Car Team 

This is a local Egyptian team. They are partnering with OSU, it seems. They are also planning to race at WSC 2017.

This post last updated 17:04 on 01 March 2017 AEDT


Spaceprobes in the Solar System

The diagram above (click to zoom) and list below show currently active spacecraft in the Solar System, not including those operating close to the Earth (and I’ve probably missed a few):

  • Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, launched in 1977, now heading into the darkness and still reporting back, even though they are over 17 billion km or 16 light-hours away (not shown above).
  • Cassini–Huygens, launched in 1997, now in the final stages of its exploration of Saturn (see fact sheet).
  • 2001 Mars Odyssey, launched in 2001, and still orbiting Mars.
  • New Horizons, launched in 2006, now en route from Pluto to the Kuiper belt object 2014 MU69, which it should reach in January 2019.
  • Dawn, launched in 2007, currently orbiting Ceres (image shown above the Earth).
  • Akatsuki, launched in 2010, currently orbiting Venus, which it will do until 2018.
  • Juno, launched in 2011, currently orbiting Jupiter, which it will do until February 2018.
  • Hayabusa 2, launched in 2014, currently en route to asteroid 162173 Ryugu, which it should reach in 2018. It will then take a sample which should arrive back home in 2020 (not shown above).
  • ExoMars Trace Gas Orbiter, launched in 2016, currently orbiting Mars and mapping the Martian atmosphere (the associated Mars lander was lost in 2016).
  • OSIRIS-REx, launched in 2016, currently en route to asteroid 101955 Bennu, which it should reach in 2018. It will then take a sample which should arrive back home in 2023 (image shown below the Earth).

In addition to the above, BepiColombo is scheduled to launch for Mercury in October 2018, and SolO is scheduled to launch for the Sun that same month. Also, InSight is scheduled to launch for Mars in May 2018, and Solar Probe Plus is scheduled to launch for the Sun in August 2018.


What happened to WhiteHouse.gov?

A number of people seem to have become concerned about changes to the WhiteHouse.gov website. In fact, this website belongs to the current US president, and (as far as I can tell) he can fill it up with nothing but cat videos if he so desires. However, it generally hosts a mixture of current administration policy and praise for whoever the current president happens to be.

Back in October 2016, Kori Schulman, Special Assistant and Deputy Chief Digital Officer for Obama, told us exactly what was going to happen: “Similar to the Clinton and Bush White House websites, President Obama’s WhiteHouse.gov will be preserved on the web and frozen after January 20th and made available at ObamaWhiteHouse.gov. The incoming White House will receive the WhiteHouse.gov domain and all content that has been posted to WhiteHouse.gov during the Obama administration will be archived with NARA [here].

I’ve heard particular concerns about the “open data” section of the old WhiteHouse.gov site. This was archived as well. Not that it was all that exciting – there were several spreadsheets, like the salary data I used to produce the histogram below. Most were poorly documented. US government datasets are generally maintained on specific agency websites and at data.gov. In particular, the White House staff salary data is available in a better-organised form at catalog.data.gov/dataset/white-house-staff-salaries-2011-16. It is not clear what is happening with the developer website at github.com/WhiteHouse.

On the whole, it seems to me that there are far more serious issues in US politics at the moment than this one.


Giordano Bruno


Giordano Bruno

The Telegraph tells me that “On this day [the 17th] in 1600, Giordano Bruno is burnt alive for his science, 42 years before Galileo.”

Just one problem – it’s not exactly true.

Giordano Bruno was a Catholic (Dominican) priest with a taste for unorthodox beliefs. He was first accused of heresy in 1576, four years after being ordained. He flirted with Calvinism and spent time in England, France, and Germany, but quarrelled with people wherever he went, and eventually returned to Italy. There the Inquisition condemned him, primarily for stating that “Christ was not God but merely an unusually skillful magician” (he was not condemned for Copernicanism, because that was not declared heretical until 1616).

Bruno was a philosopher and theologian with interests in astronomy and magic, rather than a scientist. He wrote no scientific works, although he did have several interesting ideas on the “art of memory,” and discussed the ideas of Copernicus with approval (though not always with understanding). He also suggested that distant stars had their own planets and life, although he had no evidence for this speculation. Few of Bruno’s works have been translated. Two that have been are Gli Eroici Furori and La Cena de le Ceneri. The latter includes a mix of religious, philosophical, and astronomical ideas.


Bruno before the Roman Inquisition


The Acacia wars, resolved

In an at times acrimonious process (some have even called it a “wattle war”), the former plant genus Acacia has been split into five genera, with further splits likely. The XVIII International Botanical Congress in 2011 confirmed a previous decision to retain the Acacia name for the largest of the resulting genera, found mainly in Australia:

“Under the internationally accepted rules governing the correct naming of plants, the International Code of Botanical Nomenclature, the name would normally have remained with the African-American group, as this includes the species Acacia nilotica, which is the nomenclatural type species… However, a special provision of the Code allows for the name of the type species of a genus to be changed in cases like this, where strict application of the rules would require a large number of species to be renamed… An application under this provision was made in 2003… This was considered by the relevant botanical committees, who decided in its favour. The International Botanical Congress at Vienna in 2005 ratified this decision. The Vienna decision was contested by a group of botanists involved with African and American acacias. The Melbourne Congress, in two important votes on the first day of the Nomenclature Section, supported the procedure used in Vienna by a large majority. Support for this decision was widespread and not confined to Australian delegates. This vote effectively confirmed that the type species of Acacia is now an Australian species.”

The resulting division of the former Acacia is as follows:

The map below shows the distribution of the new genera, divided into the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Australia & the Pacific (background image from NASA Visible Earth). A degree of reorganisation was going to be needed whatever nomenclature proposal was accepted, but it certainly made sense to retain the Acacia name for 71% of the original species (although Wikipedia, which becomes more and more partisan as time passes, ran a campaign against the official decision for several years). The botanical community seems quite happy using the new names, and it does not seem that the issue will resurface at the XIX International Botanical Congress later this year, although there continues to be debate about how to resolve similar issues in the future.

Here are the five new genera, with examples:

Mariosousa

About 13 species, in the Americas. See theplantlist.org.


Mariosousa willardiana (Palo Blanco – photo: Tomas Castelazo)

Acaciella

About 15 species, in the Americas. See theplantlist.org.


Acaciella angustissima (photo: USDA)

Vachellia

About 163 species, throughout the tropics. See theplantlist.org.


Vachellia smallii (photo: Stan Shebs)

Senegalia

About 203 species, throughout the tropics. See theplantlist.org. This genus is likely to be split further.


Senegalia laeta (photo: Marco Schmidt)

Acacia

About 987 species, almost all in Australia and the Pacific.


Acacia pycnantha (Golden Wattle – photo: Melburnian)