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  #1  
Old 01-12-2013, 02:37 PM
Amateur Barbarian Amateur Barbarian is offline
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What is this thing? [Strange grid ball]

I found this today in a university salvage yard, while photographing abandoned buildings. I can't figure out what it is, but it looks like it cost a zillion dollars and is just sitting in the mud and the snow now, next to dismantled aerial towers and what looks like a dismantled metal sculpture.

My first thought is that it's some kind of microwave-frequency device - the stub pipe and so forth look like waveguides I've seen and worked with. OTOH, it seems to be built to handle pressure - or maybe its segmented construction is to allow very fine interior machining.

Any ideas?

Strange Grid Ball
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  #2  
Old 01-12-2013, 02:46 PM
DrFidelius DrFidelius is online now
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I don't know, but I need one now.
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  #3  
Old 01-12-2013, 02:47 PM
Joey P Joey P is online now
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I have no idea what it is, but someone spent a long time bolting all those sections together.

I would guess that it was a prototype for something. All those small sections could (I assume) be made fairly cheaply* and some grad students could spend a day bolting them all together.

*For example, an entire row, all the way around, could be made from one mold.

Last edited by Joey P; 01-12-2013 at 02:50 PM..
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  #4  
Old 01-12-2013, 02:49 PM
KermitTheFrig KermitTheFrig is offline
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Death Star from a civilization of very, very tiny creatures.
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  #5  
Old 01-12-2013, 02:50 PM
Colibri Colibri is offline
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Edited title to better indicate subject.
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  #6  
Old 01-12-2013, 02:51 PM
Leo Bloom Leo Bloom is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KermitTheFrig View Post
Death Star from a civilization of very, very tiny creatures.
Concur.
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  #7  
Old 01-12-2013, 02:51 PM
Joey P Joey P is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by KermitTheFrig View Post
Death Star from a civilization of very, very tiny creatures.
That's all we need...another Chipmunks reboot.
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  #8  
Old 01-12-2013, 02:53 PM
Canadjun Canadjun is offline
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Does it glow in the dark and make spooky noises?


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  #9  
Old 01-12-2013, 03:00 PM
KermitTheFrig KermitTheFrig is offline
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"That's not a disco ball, it's a space station. . ."
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  #10  
Old 01-12-2013, 03:03 PM
Leo Bloom Leo Bloom is offline
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Six ninjas to one so far. OP's patience thinning....
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  #11  
Old 01-12-2013, 03:19 PM
tellyworth tellyworth is offline
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Was it near a university? How big is it?

It could be something like a bubble chamber. Probably not exactly that, but along those lines.
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  #12  
Old 01-12-2013, 03:24 PM
AndrewL AndrewL is offline
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Whatever it is, I doubt it was designed to hold pressure. It seems to be bolted together from hundreds of little pieces. Each joint between pieces is a place for whatever the contents are to leak out, there's no reason you'd use something impossible to seal properly like this instead of an off-the-shelf pressure tank. The waveguide idea might be correct, that wouldn't need to hold pressure. It also occurs to me that it might be a mold for casting something. You could fill it with something (cement? molten plastic?) and then unbolt the little pieces to disassemble the mold afterwards. Even then, I'd wonder why it would have to be so many pieces, when a few larger pieces should work just as well.
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  #13  
Old 01-12-2013, 03:25 PM
Amateur Barbarian Amateur Barbarian is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tellyworth View Post
Was it near a university? How big is it?
It's in a university salvage yard, along with all kinds of "stored" hardware in and out of various buildings.

I'd guess it's about three feet in diameter. Maybe a tad bigger.

I am not sure if it's sitting on an open face of some kind; I neither wanted to mess with it nor was sure I could move it anyway. I had to slog across fifty feet of slushy muck to get this close and was not about to set my camera down anywhere there.

Last edited by Amateur Barbarian; 01-12-2013 at 03:27 PM..
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  #14  
Old 01-12-2013, 03:37 PM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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The pipes attached to it are similarly modular. It looks like it's a prototype of some process designed to make any kind of vessel or conduit from parts made on a very small scale - like a proof of concept for a portable machine designed to manufacture containers or habitats of any size at destination.

Then again, maybe it's just meant to be a vacuum vessel - still a lot of joints, but they would tend to close under compression.

It does superficially resemble some reactor vessels I've seen (on paper) - for example:
http://webecoist.momtastic.com/2009/...eactor-design/
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  #15  
Old 01-12-2013, 03:52 PM
ZenBeam ZenBeam is offline
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I'd think it would be for holding a vacuum, rather than holding high pressure. Maybe for doing experiments with plasma. Its interior could have received a final plating after being assembled, to improve its impermeability.
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  #16  
Old 01-12-2013, 03:54 PM
Tangent Tangent is offline
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Could it be a sculpture? You said there appears to be a dismantled sculpture nearby. Maybe this is one, too.
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  #17  
Old 01-12-2013, 03:55 PM
Joey P Joey P is online now
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AndrewL View Post
Even then, I'd wonder why it would have to be so many pieces, when a few larger pieces should work just as well.
In addition to what I said above about possibly being cheap to manufacture, it's also modular and the port holes could easily be moved anywhere within the same row that they're currently in. The pipe(s) could also easily be turned or twisted easily enough.
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  #18  
Old 01-12-2013, 03:57 PM
Joey P Joey P is online now
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Originally Posted by Tangent View Post
Could it be a sculpture? You said there appears to be a dismantled sculpture nearby. Maybe this is one, too.
It's very post-apocalypse/dystopian isn't it.
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  #19  
Old 01-12-2013, 04:11 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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I don't know what it is, but I do know how to find out. It almost certainly came from the physics department originally, and even if the original user has died or moved on, he almost certainly has collaborators, former grad students, or labmates still around who would know what it is. Call up (or e-mail) the physics department and ask.
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  #20  
Old 01-12-2013, 04:25 PM
Joey P Joey P is online now
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I just noticed that around the center, there's a row of bolts facing inward. Something is or was bolted to the inside. The go up towards the edges as well.
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  #21  
Old 01-12-2013, 04:27 PM
Amateur Barbarian Amateur Barbarian is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Tangent View Post
Could it be a sculpture? You said there appears to be a dismantled sculpture nearby. Maybe this is one, too.
Seems unlikely. This has a very industrial/sci/tech feel to it. The sculpture is quite evidently one of those swoopy-bits-of-metal things by a half-talented grant artist ca. 1980 that probably stood in a quad somewhere until people realized it was full of dead pigeons and the artist had long since gone to jail for spousal abuse.
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  #22  
Old 01-12-2013, 04:28 PM
stuyguy stuyguy is offline
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Simple... robot gerbil Habitrail!
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  #23  
Old 01-12-2013, 04:30 PM
Amateur Barbarian Amateur Barbarian is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
I don't know what it is, but I do know how to find out. It almost certainly came from the physics department originally, and even if the original user has died or moved on, he almost certainly has collaborators, former grad students, or labmates still around who would know what it is. Call up (or e-mail) the physics department and ask.
I'm not affiliated with the U and at this moment, don't care enough to spend time running it down - I am just photographing a large complex of abandoned buildings adjacent to the main campus and keep finding weird things like this.

I didn't think of a vacuum chamber - that makes sense from the construction. But a lot of high-frequency comm gear uses evacuated chambers and waveguides, too.

If I go back on a better day and the ground isn't so sloppy and there's no maintenance crew around, I might try to roll it over and see if there is an opening or port on the bottom, and take some shots through the small portholes to see what the interior looks like.

Well, hell, whatever it is, I can see it from space. It's quite clear on recent Google Earth images, back to 2009, and I think I can see it in a blurry 2006 shot.

Last edited by Amateur Barbarian; 01-12-2013 at 04:35 PM..
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  #24  
Old 01-12-2013, 04:34 PM
Ulfreida Ulfreida is offline
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I showed the photo to someone who works at a particle physics lab, who looked at the photo and said, 'that looks like the kind of shit I build at work all time. Could be anything. Never seen anything like it."

So, there ya go. Don't bother to thank me.

Last edited by Ulfreida; 01-12-2013 at 04:34 PM..
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  #25  
Old 01-12-2013, 04:51 PM
jnglmassiv jnglmassiv is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Joey P View Post
I just noticed that around the center, there's a row of bolts facing inward. Something is or was bolted to the inside. The go up towards the edges as well.
You're right and I noticed something else. The top (pole) looks funny and there are spokes. If it were meant as a vacuum chamber, wouldn't it be easier and more effective to have all the majority of the grid squares the same shape and size? Instead, they get larger closer to the equator.

We really need to figure out what this thing is.
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  #26  
Old 01-12-2013, 04:51 PM
Amateur Barbarian Amateur Barbarian is offline
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Okay, no thanks to you.

I worked with some ancilliary equipment for the National Ignition Facility project, and the main ignition sphere looked a lot like this - but a helluva lot bigger.

Since it looks like the thing has been here for at least 6-7 years, I don't know if anyone in the physics department would even remember it.
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  #27  
Old 01-12-2013, 04:56 PM
beowulff beowulff is offline
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Judging by the color of the metal, it may be made of some exotic alloy (like titanium), which might be hard to machine, and could explain why it's made from little sections.
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  #28  
Old 01-12-2013, 05:00 PM
wolfman wolfman is online now
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Originally Posted by NitroPress View Post

I'd guess it's about three feet in diameter. Maybe a tad bigger.
Three feet? so each grid is maybe 1.5-2 inches? Wow my assumed scale was way off.

Although looking at it again now,noticing the bricks in the background, makes it unlikely to be the 30ish feet I had assumed unless that university builds its buildings pyramid-style with 50 ton blocks.
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  #29  
Old 01-12-2013, 05:01 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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If it were meant as a vacuum chamber, wouldn't it be easier and more effective to have all the majority of the grid squares the same shape and size?
How would one manage that?
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  #30  
Old 01-12-2013, 05:02 PM
ducati ducati is offline
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This is the housing for an older style turbo encabulator.
I remember my dad working on them when we lived in Detroit. Running down faults could take 2 people all day long.
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  #31  
Old 01-12-2013, 05:03 PM
jnglmassiv jnglmassiv is offline
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How would one manage that?
Like a soccer ball.
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  #32  
Old 01-12-2013, 05:06 PM
AndrewL AndrewL is offline
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Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
How would one manage that?
You can't, with squares. You could however greatly simplify the number of different shapes you need if you used a geodesic pattern instead of a grid, tiling the sphere with pentagons and hexagons, or differently shaped triangles. It seems to me that the sphere would have been stronger and easier to make if built that way.

This thing's really puzzling me. It's built in a really structurally impractical way, and IMHO isn't strong enough to hold a vacuum - and when vacuum chambers are off-the-shelf commercial products, why would you bother? If the goal was modularity, a geodesic patterning would work a lot better - this design has a lot of differently-shaped pieces in its surface, so you're not gaining much by making it modular.
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  #33  
Old 01-12-2013, 05:11 PM
TBG TBG is offline
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Holy crap, it's a prototype of the time sphere used to send Frank Parker back in time 7 days!
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  #34  
Old 01-12-2013, 05:50 PM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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You can't, with squares. You could however greatly simplify the number of different shapes you need if you used a geodesic pattern instead of a grid, tiling the sphere with pentagons and hexagons, or differently shaped triangles. It seems to me that the sphere would have been stronger and easier to make if built that way.

This thing's really puzzling me. It's built in a really structurally impractical way, and IMHO isn't strong enough to hold a vacuum - and when vacuum chambers are off-the-shelf commercial products, why would you bother? If the goal was modularity, a geodesic patterning would work a lot better - this design has a lot of differently-shaped pieces in its surface, so you're not gaining much by making it modular.
It has the look of something made within constraints of engineering equipment scale and capability.

It's composed of multiples of only a couple of dozen different parts - each of the parts is small enough to have been cast and machined in an amateur-scale workshop - I suspect the sections may have been deliberately made small so as to be able to ignore curvature for the joint flanges - and a large number of small parts allows for greater 'wiggle room' during assembly (although that's also a risk).
Machining the joint angles on geodesic sections would be more difficult to get exactly right than with this design..
Furthermore (although there's no way to guess if this is relevant) repositioning of ports and openings is easier and more flexible with this design than it would be with a geodesic sphere made from larger sections.
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  #35  
Old 01-12-2013, 06:20 PM
Leo Bloom Leo Bloom is offline
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Originally Posted by ducati View Post
This is the housing for an older style turbo encabulator.
I remember my dad working on them when we lived in Detroit. Running down faults could take 2 people all day long.
Double

We should all watch that clip. By force if necessary.

Last edited by Leo Bloom; 01-12-2013 at 06:21 PM..
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  #36  
Old 01-12-2013, 07:31 PM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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BTW, I want one too.
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  #37  
Old 01-12-2013, 07:40 PM
panache45 panache45 is offline
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Simple. Someone was trying to recreate John Galt's motor that ran on static electricity . . . also abandoned as useless. I knew this would happen someday.
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  #38  
Old 01-12-2013, 08:27 PM
AaronX AaronX is offline
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Originally Posted by Ulfreida View Post
I showed the photo to someone who works at a particle physics lab, who looked at the photo and said, 'that looks like the kind of shit I build at work all time. Could be anything. Never seen anything like it."

So, there ya go. Don't bother to thank me.
The first and last sentences don't match.
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  #39  
Old 01-12-2013, 08:34 PM
Joey P Joey P is online now
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The first and last sentences don't match.
I read that as showing someone something made out of Legos or Construx or showing an engineer something made out of gears and motors and them saying the same thing. They've seen those items before, they've worked with them, they've built similar things, but that specific item...never seen one like it, could be anything.

It's like back when I was in college working towards my math major and someone would show me some random math equation they found in a book (novel) or in a movie and ask me what it means and I would say "well, without knowing what any of the variables mean, it could be a formula for anything".

Last edited by Joey P; 01-12-2013 at 08:35 PM..
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  #40  
Old 01-12-2013, 08:51 PM
Ulfreida Ulfreida is offline
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Originally Posted by Joey P View Post
I read that as showing someone something made out of Legos or Construx or showing an engineer something made out of gears and motors and them saying the same thing. They've seen those items before, they've worked with them, they've built similar things, but that specific item...never seen one like it, could be anything.

....
This. I think what he meant was, "yep, that's very much like the crazy unrecognizable gizmos I make at work, for all sorts of experiments, each object singular and rarely made again."
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  #41  
Old 01-12-2013, 10:08 PM
Polar Iceman Polar Iceman is offline
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Originally Posted by Ulfreida View Post
This. I think what he meant was, "yep, that's very much like the crazy unrecognizable gizmos I make at work, for all sorts of experiments, each object singular and rarely made again."
Most likely it meant: "I got a government research grant, and I had to make it look like I did something with it."
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  #42  
Old 01-12-2013, 10:43 PM
Nars Glinley Nars Glinley is offline
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It's a death ray from sometime in the early part of the last century.
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Last edited by Nars Glinley; 01-12-2013 at 10:43 PM..
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  #43  
Old 01-12-2013, 10:47 PM
Ulfreida Ulfreida is offline
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Most likely it meant: "I got a government research grant, and I had to make it look like I did something with it."
Probably not. The way it works is that several labs on our planet are all furiously making the same unbelievably expensive prototype and the best one gets to go to CERN to party with the particles while the others get thrown out into the snow and their makers wail and gnash their teeth in the outer darkness. As I understand it (I was a lit major).

Maybe it was an art project.

Last edited by Ulfreida; 01-12-2013 at 10:48 PM.. Reason: alliteration
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  #44  
Old 01-13-2013, 12:02 AM
Leo Bloom Leo Bloom is offline
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....As I understand it (I was a lit major)....
It's fun to look at "them" and try to guess what they think about all day when you have no clue.

I mean, it's not fair. They can read Moby Dick. Most of them.
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  #45  
Old 01-13-2013, 02:13 AM
Tripler Tripler is offline
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I know exactly what it is, and have been looking for that damn thing for three years. Which school did you eventually find it at? I'll run over with the pickup truck in the morning (or at least get on the road). PM me, please.

Tripler
Yeah, it was . . . well, I'll tell you later after I get it back.
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  #46  
Old 01-13-2013, 05:57 AM
Bill Door Bill Door is offline
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By Grabthar's Hammer, you've found a beryllium sphere! Actually, it could be a movie prop. We'd feel pretty silly spending a couple of days figuring out the function of a piece of set dressing.
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  #47  
Old 01-13-2013, 06:09 AM
Mangetout Mangetout is offline
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I wondered if it could be a movie prop, but it looks too well made - it's been abandoned outdoors for a while in all weathers, and yet it still looks in good condition.

Unless it was a really important prop, something like this would be made from carved foam, fibre glass and papier mache - and would not look as nice as this after years of neglect.
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  #48  
Old 01-13-2013, 06:48 AM
Leaffan Leaffan is offline
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I can't stop looking at the picture and trying to figure what this thing is. And why it's made out of a whole bunch of individual pieces instead of just a few pieces welded together.


(Scratch, scratch....)
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  #49  
Old 01-13-2013, 06:58 AM
hibernicus hibernicus is offline
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It reminds me of something I saw in one of the "Sixty Symbols" videos (I can't remember which one). It was on display outdoors in a university courtyard (somewhere in Europe?), and had once been full of liquid and used for some very historic particle physics experiment. The thing in the video was much larger.

Sorry for the completely unhelpful post.
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  #50  
Old 01-13-2013, 08:49 AM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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hibernicus, are you thinking of something like this? That's a neutrino detector, and the individual segments are photomultiplier tubes. While I can see the superficial resemblance, it's only superficial, and doesn't get us any closer to figuring out what this thing is.

EDIT: While the pictures on that page are nice, don't pay any attention to the text. I've noticed several errors in it.

Last edited by Chronos; 01-13-2013 at 08:50 AM..
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