Philip P. Ide

Author, programmer, science enthusiast, half-wit.
Life is sweet. Have you tasted it lately?

User Tools

Site Tools


Pi-Mars Installation

You require an RPIv2 or later (to use the SmartiPi Touch 2 case, you require an RPI4). It will not run on an RPI1 or an RPI-Zero. This installation and configuration guide assumes you have installed an operating system on your Pi and can login either directly (with a keyboard/monitor attached to the Pi) or indirectly through SSH or VNC across a network.

Note the operating system you install must have a Desktop, and the PI must be configured to boot into it. If you choose an operating system other than Raspberry Pi OS, you may have to adjust some of the instructions which refer to the LXDE Desktop manager configuration.

To Begin

The Raspberry Pi needs a little configuration. For starters, the default brightness for the touchscreen makes it bright enough to use as a Bat-Signal. Settings range from 0 (zero=off) to 255. I set it at 75. Enter the following at the command line:

sudo su
echo 75 > /sys/class/backlight/rpi_backlight/brightness

n.b. The last line (exit) is important, it exits you from the super-user shell.

As well as being easier on the eyes, it'll make the touchscreen last longer. 50 also seems to be a good value. Feel free to experiment to find a balance that suits you. Remember that an intense backlight will shorten the lifespan of the screen.

With that taken care of, a new version of nodejs needs to be installed. By default (at the time this article was written), the version of node installed on Raspbian is v10, but the clock needs v14.

Enter the following commands on the command line (you can ignore those starting with a # - these are just comments to help explain what is going on):

# point at the node 14 repository
curl -sL | sudo -E bash -

# install node
sudo apt-get install nodejs

# install electron globally
sudo npm install -g electron

If you haven't got GiT installed, do that:

sudo apt-get install git

You may get a message saying the latest version is already installed.

With that done, we're ready to install the clock. However, before we get to that, there are a few things we want to do. Firstly, if you haven't already done so, CHANGE THE DEFAULT PASSWORD!

For the next part you need to be in the Desktop GUI. Right-click the menu bar and select Panel Settings, then on the Advanced tab enable Automatic Hiding (to make the menu bar slide off the screen).

Next we'll make things look a bit prettier by getting rid of the ugly cursor, so it's back to the terminal window (either in the desktop or in an SSH session, it's up to you - I prefer the SSH session).

sudo apt-get install unclutter

# now edit the desktop config file
sudo nano /etc/xdg/lxsession/LXDE-pi/autostart

# at the end of the file, add this line, then save and exit:
unclutter -idle 0

Now create a folder called Autostart in ./config, and create a desktop file:

mkdir ~/.config/autostart
nano ~/.config/autostart/marsclock.desktop

# in the editor, add  these lines:
[Desktop Entry]
Exec=npm start --prefix ~/marsclock

After you've saved the file, make sure you are in your home folder, then clone the repository:

cd ~/
git clone

This will take a few moments to download everything. Next you need to initialise the application and install all the dependencies. This is simple enough:

cd ./marsclock
npm install

It may take a little while to install everything, so go grab a coffee. Once it is finished, you should test. From a terminal window you opened in the Desktop environment (if you do it from an SSH terminal you won't see anything):

cd ~/marsclock
npm start

If everything goes OK, the application should start. Don't worry if you see warnings in the terminal window, they're not important and related to some minor incompatibilities that don't affect the clock.

If the program runs, then you can reboot the machine. To do this from the GUI, press Alt-F4 to halt the program, then from the Desktop menu select Logout/Reboot or from a terminal, type:

sudo reboot

When the machine starts, it'll boot straight into the Desktop and then after a moment or two the cursor will disappear, then the clock will start up. If everything is good, there will be no cursor and no menu bar (not even the bottom edge of it lurking at the top of the screen).

To control or administer the machine, you can SSH into it as usual or use VNC if you have enabled it.

To gain access to the Desktop menu, you'll first have to stop the clock by clicking on it (you'll see just enough of the cursor to do this) and then type Alt-F4 to kill the clock. At this point, the cursor is almost unusable, but you can start a terminal window, and from there you can re-enable the cursor:

unclutter -idle 1

Once you have the cursor back, you can access the Desktop's menu. When you have finished, just reboot the machine to restore the clock.


To access the settings of the clock, tap/click the cogs in the top right corner of the screen (they may not be easily visible against some backgrounds, but they are always there, superimposed on top of everything else).

After selecting a location or mission, you need to tap the Set Location, Use Preset or Set Mission button that appears next to the option in order to inform the system that you're actually making a choice and not just browsing around.

Any choices you make in the Preferences screen are not applied unless you select Save & Exit in the top right corner of the screen. Choosing Abort will discard any and all options you have selected, and return you to the clock in its previous state.

This website uses cookies. By using the website, you agree with storing cookies on your computer. Also you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Privacy Policy. If you do not agree leave the website.More information about cookies


Enter your comment:
V᠎ U A F V
blog/articles/raspberry/phys_marsclock/pi_marsv1_install.txt · Last modified: 2020/11/20 11:24 by Phil Ide

Except where otherwise noted, content on this wiki is licensed under the following license: Copyright © Phil Ide
Donate Powered by PHP Valid HTML5 Valid CSS Driven by DokuWiki
  • ISSplugin-autotooltip__default plugin-autotooltip_bigInternational Space Station

    This page has a portal through which you can view the current location of the International Space Station, updating in real-time. The tracker itself comes from the European Space Agency (ESA).

    There is also a handy link to get email notifications direct from NASA when the ISS is visible in your night sky.
  • Mars Weatherplugin-autotooltip__default plugin-autotooltip_bigMars Weather

    Weather Reports Insight Lander Perseverance Rover Curiosity data to come [Current positions of Earth and Mars] Image courtesy of and © Dominic Ford

    This image is updated once per week. A daily update is available on the Mars Solar Conjunctions page when such events are active.

    You can check the position of Mars vs the Sun and Earth for any date here:
  • Downloadsplugin-autotooltip__default plugin-autotooltip_bigDownloads

    Orbital Calculator Current Version This is a portable application, meaning there is no installer. Just unzip into a folder and run the executable. Since it is portable, it can be run from a USB stick.

    A full description and a list of the features are available
  • Orbital Calculatorplugin-autotooltip__default plugin-autotooltip_bigOrbital Calculator

    I needed to calculate orbital characteristics for any orbit around any gravitational mass (because I write sci-fi stories), so I wrote this program because I'm a programmer and I'm too lazy to do it by hand all the time. The program has expanded over the last few years, sometimes from suggestions by other writers. I make it freely available and as simple to use as possible. It now has a list of functions as long as your arm (assuming you're not a tentacle user), and the numbe…
  • Cookie Policy & GDPRplugin-autotooltip__default plugin-autotooltip_bigCookie Policy & GDPR

    There are NO tracking cookies on this site!

    The Cookie policy is straightforward. This site only uses cookies that are required to make your experience of using this site better, and only uses session cookies (see exceptions below). Session cookies are deleted when you close your browser.
  • Book Reviewsplugin-autotooltip__default plugin-autotooltip_bigBook Reviews

    Here you can find all the book reviews, broken down by genre, and further subdivided by author. If you want me to review your novel, please read my Rules on Reviewing.

    * Science-Fiction * Fantasy * Non-Fiction
  • Contactplugin-autotooltip__default plugin-autotooltip_bigContact

    If you have a burning desire to contact me, use the discussion form below. Anything you say remains private between you and me.