(Nothing we can do…) a total eclipse of the sun

There’s one type of solar intermittency that we can forecast well into the future. It’s a solar eclipse, and one was visible from parts of Australia for a brief period yesterday morning.

As with the Transit of Venus, many CSIRO staff took the chance to check out and photograph this unusual event. John Smith from CSIRO Animal, Food and Health Sciences got a great shot with his SLR of the maximum eclipse as seen from Brisbane.

Photo: John Smith using Nikon D7000 / Nikkor AF 70-300mm with custom Baader Astrozap filter. That’s one awesomely named filter.

Karl Weber, an engineer who works in CSIRO’s flexible electronics lab, got a different kind of eclipse photo in his Melbourne home. This one shows his son with the sun – a series of crescent-shaped suns, actually – projected through holes in venetian blinds and onto the wall.

Did you realise before now that the ‘dapples’ in dappled light are round only because the sun is round? A partial eclipse helps illuminate this fact.

Here in Newcastle we had grand plans to photograph our solar fields reflecting light from the partially eclipsed sun. Unfortunately, our plans were thwarted by cloud. Check back here on the blog in a few months time – we hope to have more luck when it all happens again in May.

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Addendum: Robert Hollow from CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science took some stunningly beautiful photos of the full eclipse. See them and read his description of events in a dedicated post on our sister blog site, News@CSIRO.


Be our guest in Newcastle this Thursday

Recent aerial photograph of the CSIRO Energy Technology site in Mayfield West, with the two solar thermal fields visible at top right.

Are you able to get to Newcastle this Thursday? Then why not come and visit our Energy Centre for yourself! A few spaces are still vacant for our next visitors’ day on 15 November, so if you’re interested in having a tour of our energy efficient buildings, solar fields and more, get your application in quickly. Our site is only open to the public four times a year, so don’t miss out.

Applications are available from the website here. Previous tours have had great feedback, so don’t miss your chance.


Our squeaky clean solar field is CSIRO’s current face on Facebook

Visited our CSIRO Facebook page recently? Solar Field 2, here at our Newcastle site, is currently featured in the banner image on our Facebook site. We promise we won’t let the glamour of being a cover model go to our heads… too much.

If you ♥ science like we do, visit us on Facebook for fun and interesting updates on what CSIRO is up to. After all, our organisation does much more than solar – our areas of interest range from nanomaterials to deep space, and include much of what’s in between – so there’s always something interesting going on. Friend us or like us, and show your support for Australian science that’s making a positive impact on all our lives.


See tomorrow’s scientists in battle today

Image courtesy of Science and Engineering Challenge (with permission)

To reign as the national champions of the Science and Engineering Challenge, one of eight schools will have to excel today at a whole lot of different competitive tasks. Will they be designing and building the most rugged Martian Rover, the strongest and lightest bridge, the furthest reaching catapult, the most manoeuvrable airship, or something even more challenging? The precise line-up of activities is a closely guarded secret – but only for another hour or so, when the national finals begin in Geelong.

Right now, the finalists are limbering up their prefrontal cortices in preparation for battle – and this year, you can watch the competition in real-time. Tune into the Live Video Webcast at 9.20 am (Australian Eastern Daylight Savings time) for the introduction, and 2 pm for the nail-biting grand finale.

The Science and Engineering Challenge is a program run from the University of Newcastle with support from Australian Rotary Districts and other sponsors. It aims to show school students that science and engineering are about creativity, problem solving and team work – and it has been shown to encourage students to continue with studies in science and mathematics.

CSIRO Energy Technology has often been a proud supporter of our local events and we wish the competitors well in this year’s final. Go teams!


Solar exposures

This photo shows CSIRO’s Solar Field 2, a one megawatt-thermal solar central receiver system, in operation at CSIRO Energy Centre, Newcastle.

Click on an icon below to download the image as a desktop wallpaper for your screen size.


New wind turbine for Newcastle site

The winds of change have passed over our site (yes, I do bad wind power puns too). In August a new wind turbine was installed and we’re pleased to report it’s been working well and is supplying power to our buildings.

As has been mentioned before on the blog, our original turbines supplied electricity to CSIRO Energy Technology here in Newcastle for several years despite having had a bit of an (ahem) turbulent run. Installed when the site was first developed in 2003, the three 20 kW units endured a run of bad luck including two separate lightning strikes, mechanical problems, and changes to the supplier’s market support which was moved from Australia to a location 17000 kilometres away.

Site photo from 2007 showing the three original wind turbines

This is what lightning can do to a turbine blade

The northernmost turbine was removed in 2010 to make way for Solar Field 2. The remaining two were removed from their poles last year awaiting repair.

After consultation and much research CSIRO decided the best way forward was to change to a completely new turbine, which was installed on 9 August.

Our new turbine during installation

The new 5 kW unit has been installed on one of the existing footings and is mounted on a hydraulic tilt pole that’ll make maintenance a breeze (ba-boom). We’ve also been able to engage one of the several wind power companies that exist now and have solid track records and local backing.

The new turbine was up and running just in time to make use of the windy weather we had the following weekend (which of course, as we love to point out on this blog, gets its power from the sun).

Wind turbine power output over 7 days, showing moment it was brought on-grid

Our new wind turbine isn’t just useful for helping power our building. It’s also part of an experiment carried out by our Smart Grid group. They use it, and all the other on-site generators (such as our many solar PV systems and our two gas microturbines), to investigate grid stability, distributed generation and intermittency management – in other words, how to make sure a region can have a constant, reliable energy supply, even when it’s coming from multiple varying sources.

I’m glad to see the new turbine up and running. When it comes to wind power, we’re huge fans.

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Addendum (1.11.2012): since publishing this post I’ve been reminded by others that the three ‘original’ turbines in the photo were actually the second lot to be installed, not the first. Before them came a different set, installed by a different company, that experienced problems in a storm not long after the site opened. The supplier went out of business and was unable to maintain the turbines, which we subsequently replaced with the three shown at the top of this post.

One of the main factors leading to these problems has been that the wind market has become polarised into either supplying small units of 1 to 5 kW, or big ones of 1 to 10 MW. Our size preference of about 20 kW is in the middle – an area that’s less robustly covered by the market. This has contributed to our decision to size our newest turbine at 5 kW.


Find us in the latest issue of The Helix!

The Helix is a science magazine produced by CSIRO’s Double Helix Science Club, and it’s hugely popular with primary and high school students. And why wouldn’t it be, when it’s filled with stories like those from the latest issue:

  • The species of shrimp that’s strong enough to punch through aquarium glass
  • How scientists can tell how old a person is from their smell
  • The exploration of Antarctica, what causes the Aurora Australis, which dinosaurs used to roam the southern continent, and whether you can surf the net in Antarctica

… and, this month, a short piece about our SolarGas research here at Newcastle. There’s also a solar hexaflexagon on the back cover that’s ready to be cut out and assembled and flexed and flexed and flexed (and flexed – it’s addictive).

You can track down a copy of The Helix in newsagents or by joining the Double Helix Science Club.


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