You probably can't see it with the naked eye. But somewhere in space, orbiting around our planet, is still the first solar-powered satellite to be launched into space, more than 58 years later.
Still there. Still spinning our globe.
We tend to think of solar panels as a new technology, but in fact, they're one of the most prolific Throwback Thursday technologies that we have.
Here are 4 of the oldest solar-powered devices, still used today...
Vanguard I was also the world's first solar-powered satellite to be launched into orbit. While conventional batteries that powered an on-board transmitter lasted only about 20 minutes, the solar cells fired data back to NASA for 7 years, before going silent in 1964.
Although mocked by Khrushchev as "the grape-fruit satellite," the little bugger is still in orbit, making it the oldest satellite in the world. USA! USA!
2. Concentrated Solar Power (1878)
About 80 years before the launch of Vanguard I, during the early days of the Industrial Revolution, French inventor Augustine Mouchot proclaimed, "Eventually industry will no longer find in Europe the resources to satisfy its prodigious expansion.”
He then asked, “What will industry do then? It must reap the rays of the sun."
Mouchot set out to build a massive solar powered generator that could concentrate the heat of the sun to boil water, thus creating the first solar steam engine that the world has ever seen. His creation was put on display at the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1858, winning him a Gold Medal for his work.
Today, the same principle of Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) has been applied to an entire industry at massive scales, but still reminiscent of Mouchot's original invention's form.
It was the oldest semiconductor solar cell in the world. And it still works!
The amazing contraption is the brainchild of an unknown British science teacher who wanted to prove to his friends that it was possible to turn sunlight into electricity.
In 1950, he spent hours slaving in his laboratory to complete his cell based on the junction semiconductor idea, patented four years earlier by American engineer Russell Ohl.
The slice of scientific history was picked up by antiques dealer Fred Nickson, who bought the invention from distant relative of the man who built it.
The oddity, which looks like a crystal ball, had been put in a box and forgotten, until it was unveiled at the "Antiques for Everyone" show in Birmingham. In direct sunlight, the contraption can create 1.5 volts of electricity, about enough power to run a digital watch.
Which brings me to...
4. The first solar wrist-watch (1972)
Dubbed the "Synchronar," Riehl spent years perfecting his prototype, from the late 60s before it was released, until the year he passed away in 2005.
Throughout his life, his invention had been iterated multiple times and had gained international stardom. It was worn by American astronaut Gordon Cooper in a 1972 television ad for the Synchronar 2100. Egyptian then-President Mohamed Hosni Mubarak was seen wearing the watch in 1982. Even Paul McCartney appeared on the Larry King Show in 2001 sporting his very own Synchronar!
Riehl's first photovolatic solar watch in the 1970s inspired bigger watch makers to replicate the idea, including Nepro, Sicura, Cristalonic, Alba, Rhythm, Seiko and Citizen.
Even today, you can still find watch makers like Casio releasing their new STLS300H-1C with "Tough Solar Power" technology.
Which just goes to show...solar may not be as new as you thought, and it's going to be here for years to come.