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Phenomenal Cosmic Raspberry Pi Projects part 1

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, we use a Raspberry Pi to do science among the stars

Source: NASA 

On 20 July 1969, humans set foot on the moon. It’s one of the most important moments in the history of our civilisation, and this month it will have been 50 years since the momentous occasion.

While manned space missions don’t leave a low Earth orbit these days, that doesn’t mean exploration of space has stopped. It’s only got better and more sophisticated. Experiments are performed daily on the International Space Station, while ground-based teams work through mountains of data from a vast network of satellites orbiting Earth, or spacecraft and rovers exploring our solar system.

Want to join in? We thought so – grab a Raspberry Pi and let’s take it to the final frontier.

This article first appeared in The MagPi 83 and was written by Rob Zwetsloot

A brief history of of astronomy, astrophysics, et al

People of ancient times studied the movement of the cosmos using only the naked eye. Even so, they were able to map out the stars and even discover some of our nearest planetary neighbours. The Babylonians and ancient Greeks became more sophisticated with their observation methods, and by the third century BCE, it was proposed that the Earth (and the other known planets) revolved around the sun.

The earliest known computers, such as the Antikythera mechanism, were used to keep track of the stars and other celestial bodies

The dark ages

Astronomy and astrology intertwined throughout the first millennium. By the end of the ninth century, Islamic scholars were setting up observatories to study the stars. The Andromeda Galaxy was described in 964 CE, while a supernova was observed around 1006 CE. Vitally important findings from the Middle East found their way to Europe, and by the 13th century medieval scientists were also making contributions to astronomy.

The telescope

The Renaissance brought about a scientific revolution in Europe. Copernicus proposed once again that the Earth revolved around the sun. Galileo, Kepler, and Newton all used telescopes, which let them peer even deeper into the heavens. People began seeing moons orbiting the other planets, and by 1781 Uranus was discovered, the first new planet observed since ancient times.

Celestial map from the 17th century, by the Dutch cartographer Frederik de Wit

The modern era

Since then, planets, moons, celestial phenomenons, laws of motion, and more were being discovered; however, humans were still stuck on the ground. That was until the 1950s: advancements in technology during World War II resulted in the invention of rockets. Finally, there was a way for people to leave the Earth and explore space. By 1957, the first satellite, Sputnik 1, had been launched. In 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first person to reach space. Eight years later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin set foot on the moon.

Humans haven’t rested on their laurels, though, as robotic rovers are exploring far-off planets and moons, while spaceships zip around the solar system to uncover other secrets. Sometimes they land on comets, which is supremely cool. Slightly closer to home, astronauts perform experiments on the ISS (sometimes using a Raspberry Pi!), and powerful radio telescopes probe the depths of the universe. The more we know about the universe, the more we discover about ourselves.

Apollo 14 Commander Alan Shepard on the moon. Yes, he did play a bit of lunar golf. Source: NASA

Phenomenal cosmic projects!

A lot of people have made space-based projects that use a Raspberry Pi – in fact, you can read about Dave Akerman’s Apollo 11 anniversary HAB launch from just a few days ago on our blog! If that’s a bit too involved for you, we have some simpler, albeit still amazing builds for you to try out. Let’s turn your Raspberry Pi into a space science station with these projects!

Shooting the moon

A custom lens mount makes this project work

The Raspberry Pi Camera Module is extremely versatile; however, you can’t attach a standard Nikon or Canon camera lens to it. Digital zoom is a bit rubbish, so how would you take a good photo of the moon with one? James Mitchell decided that, actually, he’d prefer to use a Canon DSLR lens, so he printed off a lens adapter. Then, with a bit of code, practice, and good luck, he was able to take some fantastic images of our very own moon. How amazing is that?

The moon. Beautiful.

[email protected]

Using software like BOINC (as seen in this tutorial from The MagPi), you can turn your Raspberry Pi into one of thousands of nodes in a cluster of computers that crunch big numbers. [email protected] is one of the most famous examples of these, allowing you to aid in the Search for Extra Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) using an idle Raspberry Pi. Here’s hoping they’re friendly.

A classic nineties screensaver

Lunar phase clock

This project is one part art, one part science. Using a bit of code and a lovely-looking custom-built clock, you can make sure you know exactly what the moon’s phase is where you live. Whether you want to observe the moon when it’s full, or take advantage of no moon for stargazing, the phase clock will help you out.

We love the look of this lunar phase clock

Ongoing space missions

Curiosity/Mars Science Laboratory

The Curiosity rover has been on Mars for nearly seven years now, with four main goals: search for any signs of life; improve understanding of Mars geology; determine the planet’s history; and keep an eye on surface radiation. It also likes to take selfies. We can relate to that bit.

Curiosity rover


Did you know that we’ve landed spacecraft on asteroids? And that it was done remotely from thousands of miles away? Hayabusa2 specifically was able to land several rovers on the surface of an asteroid, and it will be returning to Earth at the end of next year with samples from it.

Hayabusa lands on asteroids, which is very cool


The Juno probe was launched in August 2011, and arrived at Jupiter in July 2016 . It’s currently in polar orbit of Jupiter, and has a suite of scientific instruments on board in an attempt to more precisely measure the composition of Jupiter’s gas clouds, the size of its core, its gravitational field, and more. In July 2021 it will plunge into Jupiter itself, so there’s a few years of Jupiter-based discoveries left for it.

Juno is Jupiter’s wife in Greco-Roman mythology – she’s heading over to check up on him and his mistresses

Back to the moon?

Apollo 17 was the last manned mission to land on the moon, or any extraterrestrial body for that matter, on 7 December 1972. The expense of launching more moon missions makes the endeavour quite inhibitive; however Artemis 3, planned for launch in 2024, could end up as the first moon landing since Apollo 17. Next step: Mars in the 2030s.

Click here for part two with even more space projects!