Farewell to solar cars


Farewell Stella Vie (car photo: Bart van Overbeeke; landscape: public domain)

The extensive solar car coverage on this blog is now over (until the next race). Back to ordinary science coverage now…


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World Solar Challenge: Shirts

Here is a decoding table for World Solar Challenge team shirts, grouped by red / orange / yellow / green / blue / violet / multi-coloured / black / white. I found such a table useful in my coverage of the American race last year. For more detailed information about the teams, see my annotated teams list.


Travelling across Australia: Ten things to spot

On October 8, teams in the World Solar Challenge begin their race from Darwin to Adelaide. Here are 10 things for travellers across Australia to look out for.

1. The Magellanic Clouds

The Magellanic Clouds are two small galaxies – at 160,000 light-years and 200,000 light-years, the nearest visible galactic neighbours of our Milky Way. They can be seen in the Southern Hemisphere, away from towns. The Australian Outback is the perfect place to observe them.


The Magellanic Clouds (photo: ESO/S. Brunier)

2. The Southern Cross

The Southern Cross (Crux) is a constellation appearing on the flags of many countries in the Southern Hemisphere, including Australia. It consists of four bright stars, with a fifth being visible to the naked eye in good conditions. The constellation can be located with the aid of the pointer stars Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri. It can also be used to determine the South Celestial Pole. The star at the “top” of the Cross (Gamma Crucis) is a red giant. The fifth star (Epsilon Crucis) is an orange giant.


The Southern Cross, pointers, and Magellanic Clouds (image: Michael Millthorn)

3. The wedge-tailed eagle

The wedge-tailed eagle (Aquila audax)) is Australia’s largest bird of prey, and a national icon. It can be seen around Australia, either in the sky, or snacking on roadkill.


Wedge-tailed eagle (photo: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos)

4. The red kangaroo

The red kangaroo (Macropus rufus) is the largest living marsupial, and is found throughout central Australia, in areas with less than 500 mm rainfall. It is an Australian national icon, as well as being a major traffic hazard at dawn and dusk.


Red kangaroos (photo: Jenny Smits)

5. The sand goanna

The sand goanna (Varanus gouldii) is a large monitor lizard, growing to about 1.5 metres. It is found across much of Australia.


Sand goanna (photo: Alan Couch)

6. The thorny devil

The thorny devil (Moloch horridus) is found in arid, sandy areas of western and central Australia. It lives mostly on ants.


The thorny devil (photo: Bäras)

7. Magnetic termites

Magnetic termites (Amitermes meridionalis) are one of two Australian termite species building mounds that align north–south. They can be found in the vicinity of Darwin. The mound orientation appears to be a temperature-control mechanism.


A magnetic termite mound (photo: brewbooks)

8. Sturt’s desert pea

Sturt’s desert pea (Swainsona formosa) grows in arid regions of Australia. It is the floral emblem of the state of South Australia.


Sturt’s desert pea (photo: Fir0002/Flagstaffotos)

9. The desert grasstree

The desert grasstree (Xanthorrhoea thorntonii) is a grasstree found in arid regions of western and central Australia. Like the other 27 species of grasstree (Xanthorrhoea spp.), it is endemic to Australia, and a symbol of the Australian landscape.


The desert grasstree (photo: Mark Marathon)

10. Opal

Opal is a gemstone form of hydrated silicon dioxide. The town of Coober Pedy in South Australia is a major source.


Opal from Coober Pedy (photo: Dpulitzer)


World Solar Challenge: route notes

Following on from my route map for the World Solar Challenge – all 3,000 km or 1,900 miles of it – here are some personal route notes (revised from 2015). The graph below (click to zoom) shows approximate altitudes (calculated by overlaying the route on an altitude raster). The highest point on the route (about 730 m) is 20 km north of Alice Springs, although the steepest hill (Hayes Creek Hill, summit 203 m) is about 170 km from Darwin.

Darwin – Start


Solar Team Eindhoven’s Stella starts the race in 2013 (photo: WSC)

The city of Darwin marks the start of the race.

Katherine – 322 km – Control Stop 1


En route to Katherine in 2011 (photo: UC Berkeley Solar Vehicle Team)

The town of Katherine (on the Katherine River) is a gateway to Nitmiluk National Park. It also serves the nearby Royal Australian Air Force base. The average maximum October temperature is 37.7°C.

Daly Waters – 588 km – Control Stop 2


The famous Daly Waters pub

Daly Waters is a small town with a famous pub. The Eindhoven team left a shirt there in 2015.

Dunmarra – 633 km


University of Toronto’s Blue Sky Solar team leaves the Dunmarra control stop in 2013 (photo: Blue Sky Solar)

Dunmarra once served the Overland Telegraph Line. Today it is little more than a roadhouse, motel, and caravan park. In previous races, this was a control stop.

Tennant Creek – 988 km – Control Stop 3


Tennant Creek (photo: Tourism NT)

Tennant Creek (population about 3,500) is a small town serving nearby mines, cattle stations, and tourist attractions.

Karlu Karlu / Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve


Nuon Solar Team’s Nuna7 drives by the Devils Marbles in 2013 (photo: Jorrit Lousberg)

The 1,802 hectare Karlu Karlu / Devils Marbles Conservation Reserve lies along both sides of the Stuart Highway about 100 km south of Tennant Creek. It is home to a variety of reptiles and birds, including the fairy martin (Petrochelidon ariel) and the sand goanna (Varanus gouldii). Race participants, of course, don’t have time to look (unless, by chance, this is where they stop for the night).

Barrow Creek – 1,211 km – Control Stop 4


Barrow Creek Roadhouse and surrounds (photo: Adrian Kitchingman)

Barrow Creek once served the Overland Telegraph Line and nearby graziers, but is now nothing but a roadhouse. The Telegraph Station is preserved as a historical site.

Ti Tree – 1,300 km


Nuon Solar Team’s Nuna6 drives by a fire between Tennant Creek and Alice Springs in 2011 (photo: Hans Peter van Velthoven)

Ti Tree is a small settlement north of Alice Springs. Much of the local area is owned by the Anmatyerre people. In previous races, this was a control stop.

Alice Springs – 1,496 km – Control Stop 5


Alice Springs (photo: Ben Tillman)

Alice Springs is roughly the half-way point of the race.

Kulgera – 1,766 km – Control Stop 6


Sunset near Kulgera (photo: “dannebrog”)

Kulgera is a tiny settlement 20 km from the NT / SA Border. The “pub” is Kulgera’s main feature.

NT / SA Border – 1,786 km


Entering South Australia (photo: Phil Whitehouse)

The sign at the Northern Territory / South Australia border shows Sturt’s Desert Pea (Swainsona formosa), the floral emblem of the state of South Australia.

Coober Pedy – 2,178 km – Control Stop 7


Coober Pedy (photo: “Lodo27”)

The town of Coober Pedy is a major centre for opal mining. Because of the intense desert heat, many residents live underground.

Glendambo – 2,432 km – Control Stop 8


The Belgian team’s Indupol One leaves Glendambo control stop in 2013 (photo: Punch Powertrain Solar Team / Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Glendambo is another small outback settlement.

Port Augusta – 2,719 km – Control Stop 9


Port Augusta (photo: “Deborah & Kevin”)

At Port Augusta, the highway reaches the Spencer Gulf. From this point, traffic becomes much heavier, which makes life more difficult for the drivers in the race.

Adelaide – Finish


Adelaide makes quite a contrast to that lengthy stretch of desert (photo: “Orderinchaos”)

Adelaide, the “City of Churches,” is the end of the race. The official finish line marks 3,022 km from Darwin.


World Solar Challenge: teams beginning to arrive

Teams are beginning to arrive in Australia for the 2017 World Solar Challenge. Scrutineering begins in 30 days!

Instagram memories from Eindhoven, Bochum, Nuon, Twente, Nuon, and Michigan.


Universities and Wine

A few people have commented on my rather tongue-in-cheek post about solar car racing and beer. I don’t think the correlation there was actually spurious – there really is a tradition of excellent engineering education in the beer-producing areas of Europe, and both the beer production and the approach to engineering education have been exported around the world.

In the USA, for example, we have the influence of Stephen Timoshenko (1878–1972) at the University of Michigan and at Stanford. And we have the influence of Friedrich Müller / Frederick Miller (1824-1888) in the brewing industry.

But lest I be accused of some kind of pro-beer bias, the chart below shows national wine consumption (consumption this time, not production) compared to the date of the oldest university in the country (excluding universities less than a century old). Here we have universities (in the modern sense of the word) growing out of the wine-drinking areas of Europe, beginning with the University of Bologna. Once again, I think the data can be understood as a case of parallel exports: