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Running on the Sun

A solar-powered car just completed a long drive across the desert. No gas stations needed!
On a desert landscape, a crowd of people in blue shirts cheers as two people drive a small green car.
Solar Team Eindhoven/Rien Boonstoppel
The Stella Terra car completed its 620-mile (1,000-kilometer) drive across the Sahara desert.

Most cars are powered by gasoline or electricity. But a group of students in the Netherlands designed a car that’s powered by the Sun’s energy.

The solar-powered car, called the Stella Terra, recently completed a 620-mile (1,000-kilometer) test drive across part of the Sahara desert in Morocco. Driving across a desert isn’t easy. There are no service stations, and the sandy landscape can be rough. But that was the point. The students, who are all in their 20s, wanted to see if the car could handle being off-road for such a long distance, getting its energy from only the Sun.

One thing the desert does have is sunshine. The Stella Terra has panels on its roof to capture solar energy, so all it needs is the Sun. But the car also has a lithium-ion battery that can provide power. The battery allows the car to drive shorter distances in places where the Sun shines less often.

But if a car can run on the power of the Sun, why aren’t more cars solar powered? Experts say solar panels are expensive. Rooftop solar panels that make electricity for homes and other buildings are very large. But car solar panels need to be much smaller, which means they need to be super efficient to make enough power. And that makes them costly.

Still, the students hope car companies will figure out how to make cheaper solar-powered cars so that people can afford to buy them.

“We hope this can be an inspiration to car manufacturers such as Land Rover and BMW to make [solar-powered cars] a more sustainable industry,” Bob van Ginkel, one of the students, told the Guardian.

Check out the slideshow to learn more about the Stella Terra’s adventures!

Solar Team Eindhoven/Bart van Overbeeke
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Did You Know?

A spacecraft with solar panels in space.
© NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) already has solar-powered spacecraft. Now, NASA is working on a rocket that’s powered by the Sun!

A Desert Record

© Olivier Meerson/Dreamstime.com; Photo illustration Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

In 2023, drivers Gene Corbett and Ben Robinson broke a record when they drove a regular car across the Simpson Desert in Australia in 13 hours, 21 minutes, and 5 seconds.

Driving an SUV called a Mahindra Scorpio-N, the two men went over more than 1,000 sand dunes (large hills or mounds of sand) in temperatures that topped 122 degrees Fahrenheit (50 degrees Celsius). The trip was 239 miles (385 kilometers) long.

It takes most people a few days to cross the Simpson Desert by car.

What’s a Desert?

© anantachat—Creatas Video/Getty Images
Scorpions can be found in scorching hot deserts. But did you know that some deserts are cold? You can learn more about deserts at Britannica!
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Word of the Day

arid

Part of speech:
adjective
Definition:
: very dry : having very little rain or water
Definitions provided by
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