Space Sunday: Flying over Mars, JUICE for Jupiter and black holes

An impact crater which formed between July 2010 and May 2012 and imaged by the HiRISE camera on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, is one of the locations featured in “A Fictive Flight Above Real Mars” by Jan Fröjdman. Credit: Jan Fröjdman; original anaglyph image NASA/JPL / University of Arizona

Ever wondered what it would be like to actually fly over Mars? I have – although I admit, I’m utterly entranced by that red world and the potentials it presents. Finnish film-maker Jan Fröjdman has as well – only he’s taken the idea a step further and produced a remarkable video,  A Fictive Flight Above Real Mars. Last just over 4.5 minutes, the film takes us on a flight over some of the must remarkable scenery imaginable, using high-resolution images and data returned by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

It’s a stunning piece showing many of the more intriguing features of Mars: the recent impact crater see in the still at the top of this article; the ice walls and melt holes of the Martian poles; gullies and cliffs rutted and marked by RSLs – recurring slope lineae – which might or might not be the result of liquid activity; the ripples of sand dunes, and the winding forms of channels which might have been shaped by the passage of water.

To make the film, Fröjdman used 3-D anaglyph images from HiRISE (the High Resolution Science Imaging Experiment aboard MRO), which contain information about the topography of Mars surface. The work involved manually picking more than 33,000 reference points in the anaglyph images, and then processing the results through six pieces of software to achieve a sense of motion and panning across the surface of Mars.

In putting the film together, Fröjdman  wanted to create a real feeling of flying over Mars and of recapturing the feel of video footage shot by the Apollo astronauts as they orbited the Moon. To help with the latter, he overlaid the video with image cross-hairs of the kind seen in some of the Apollo footage, and added little bursts of thruster firings to simulate a vehicle manoeuvring in the thin atmosphere. The film concludes with a main engine firing, presumably to lift the vehicle back into orbit.

NASA and SpaceX Consider Red Dragon Landing Site

And staying with Mars: NASA and SpaceX have started the process of selecting a landing site for SpaceX’s planned Red Dragon mission to Mars in 2020. The ambitious mission will see the company attempt to land a 10-tonne Red Dragon capsule on Mars purely by propulsive means. While paid for entirely by the company, the mission will feature a science suite provided by NASA.

There are two major criteria governing any landing site location: scientific interest, and the potential for colonisation – the 2020 mission being the first of a number which SpaceX plans to uses as precursors for human missions to Mars. As such, it had initially been decided that any landing sites put forward must be near the equator, for solar power; near large quantities of ice, for water and at low elevation, for better thermal conditions.

NASA initially identified four potential locations on Mars’ northern hemisphere which meet the broad criteria for the mission – but examination of three of them using the HiRISE system on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showed they are rocky enough to pose a threat to landing a vehicle the size and mass of Red Dragon. This currently leaves a short-list of one, in the shape of Arcadia Planitia, a smooth plain containing fresh lava flows and which has a large region that was shaped by periglacial processes which suggest that ice is present just beneath the surface.

Acadia Planitia is the current sole contender to be the landing site for the SpaceX Mars 2020 mission

However, negating this is the plain’s relatively high northern latitude (40-60 degrees north), which would reduce the amount of sunlight a base of operations there would receive in the winter months. While Amazonis Planitia to the south offers a similar youthful surface, much of which is relatively smooth, it is largely volcanic in origin and unlikely to harbour sub-surface water ice which can be easily accessed.

Given both of these point, it is likely other possible landing sites will be proposed in the coming months.

Curiosity Reveals More Wheel Damage

It’s been a while since my last report on NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover, Curiosity. This is mostly being the updates coming out of JPL have slowed mightily in recent months.

At present, Curiosity is examining sand dunes on the lower slopes of “Mount Sharp”. Once finished, it will proceed up higher to a feature known as “Vera Rubin Ridge”, inspecting a layer that is rich in the mineral hematite. From there, it will proceeded to even higher elevations to inspect layers that contain clays and sulphates. This will require a drive of some 6 km (3.7 mi) uphill, and so will require time to complete.

A recurring area of concern for the mission – albeit not serious at this point – is the wear and tear on the rover’s wheels. In 2013, Curiosity suffered greater than expected damage to its six wheels while traversing some exceptionally rough terrain.  Although the damage was nowhere near severe enough to impeded the rover’s driving abilities, it did result in engineers keeping a much closer eye on the condition of Curiosity’s wheels using the imaging system mounted on the rover’s robot arm.

The latest of these checks was performed on  Sunday, March 19th, 2017, and it revealed two small breaks in the raised treads (“grousers”) on the rover’s left middle wheel. These seem to have occurred since the last wheel check at the end of January, 2017. These treads perform two major tasks: bearing the brunt of the rover’s weight and providing most of the traction for a wheel.

The broken “grousers” (“treads”) on one of Curiosity’s six wheels, together with older puncture holes through the wheel, as imaged on March 19th, 2017. Credit: NASA/JPL

Following the 2013 damage, testing on Earth suggested that significant breaks in three “grousers” on a wheel would indicate it has passed 60% of its expected lifespan. However, the mission team emphasise the rover has already driven more than 60% of the total distance needed for it to make it to all of its scientific destinations. As such, while the breaks will be monitored, they are not a cause for immediate or grave concern.

Overall, confidence remains high that Curiosity will achieve all of its expected science goals and will likely make an extended traverse up the side of “Mount Sharp”.

A rover’s progress: the 16 km (10 mi) travelled by Curiosity so far, and potential for future explorations up the side of Aeolis Mons. Credit: NASA/JPL / T. Reyes

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Seanchai Library Reaches 9 in Second Life

Recalling Seanchai Library’s Big Read of Alice in Wonderland, from May 2016

It’s time to kick-off another week of storytelling in Voice by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library. As always, all times SLT, and events are held at the Library’s Second Life home at Bradley University, unless otherwise indicated.

This week starts with a very spacial celebration – the Library’s ninth anniversary!

Sunday, March 26th Volume IX: Seanchai Library Anniversary

From the Seanchai Library website:

Nine years ago someone had an idea.  That someone was Derry McMahon, founder of Seanchai Library, which began its life at the West of Ireland Library and Cultural Centre in March 2008.

Nine years ~ 108 months ~ 3,287-ish days ~ Thousands of hours of stories ~ Hundreds of Authors ~ Dozens of Genres, and over $4000 in small cash donations to non-profits doing good works all around the world.

Seanchai Library have brought – and continue to bring – stories from all genres to life as part of the weekly readings at their centres in Second Life, Kitely and Inworldz, through to special events – such as this 2011 re-creation of the Orson Welles 1938 radio broadcast of War of the Worlds – to entire immersive experiences such as The Dickens Project and their Explore the Arts series on Kitely.

“We are not large-scale philanthropy, ” Library lead Caledonia Skytower discloses, “Giving back to the world community through small charitable gifts is just one aspect of what we do. Job #1 here is to inspire people with stories and literature, to enable or encourage them to read and to share the stories they love with others.  Stories are an intrinsic part of the human experience.”

It’s a little hard to conceive how to acknowledge such an achievement. The Library looked to polite society to see if there was a guide as to how to celebrate a ninth anniversary: willow and pottery in traditional observance, and leather in the modern.  “That’s it!” they cried, “It’s obvious! A virtual Chili Cook Off!” . . . and that, friends, is what they will present today in both Kitely and in Second Life.

The party marquee and video links connecting Seanchai in Second Life with Seanchai in Kitely

Dual Video feeds and Local Chat “Simlinks” will connect the two parties, enabling celebrants in both grids to see the other party, and to communicate in local text chat.

Schedule

  • 13:00 – Chili Cook Off: Stories and Recipe Exchange: drop a note card with your favourite chili recipe ahead of the event, or bring it with you and hand it to Caledonia
  • 14:00 – Dancing under the Cook-Off Marquee: two hours of partying to the music of DJ Dano Bookmite.

SLurl and Grid Details

Jay Gatsby’s mansion, as produced by Seanchai Library for the 2015 Explore the Great Gatsby season, held in Kitely in conjunction with Tacoma Little Theatre’s real-world production for the stage adaptation of the novel

Monday, March 27th 19:00: Enemy Mine

Gyro Muggins continues reading Barry B. Longyear’s novella which first appeared in a 1979 issue of Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, before becoming the basis of the of the 20th Century Fox film of the same name, starring Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett, Jr. This led to Longyear producing an expanded version of the story, written with David Gerrold.

In the midst of an interstellar war between humans and Dracs (a race of humanoid reptilians), Willis Davidge, a human fighter pilot, crashes on a hostile planet after a dogfight with a Drac – who is also forced down on the same planet.

The two initially continue their hostilities towards one another. But the planet proves so hostile that Davidge and the Drac, Jeriba Shigan (whom Davidge nicknames “Jerry”), are forced to join forces in order to ensure their survival. Then Davidge learns Jeriba is pregnant – Drac being entirely asexual …

Tuesday, March 28th 19:00: Of Mice and Magic

Faerie Maven-Pralou reads the forst in the Ravenspell series by David Farland

More than anything, Benjamin Ravenspell wants a pet. But when he buys a mouse named Amber, he gets more than he bargained for. No sooner does Ben take her home, than Amber turns him into a mouse too.

You see, Amber has magical abilities, and it so happens that Ben is a familiar, a creature that stores magical energy. Together they each form half of a powerful wizard. Alone, they’re just vermin.

Soon Ben and Amber find themselves pitted in an epic battle against a magical enemy who is as crazed as he is evil, and the fate of the world will rest on them learning to work together.

Wednesday, March 29th 19:00: Wild at Heart (Explorer’s Club Romance #1)

Aoife Lorenfield reads selections from Clare Alexander’s2017 novel.

At 26 and unmarried, Nora Nicholson believes she has little choice but to follow her brother Edward away from England to West Africa. So it was that, having never set foot outside of the village where she had been born, she found herself boarding a Royal Navy frigate about to set sail for those exotic, distant lands.

Little did she know that she would find work illustrating birds for the naturalist and ship’s surgeon, John Sharples, or form the unlikeliest of friendships with Senhora Morena – or that she would meet Hugh Beaumont, naturalist and explorer, late of the 95th Rifles.

Once he led men in war, many of whom died in the field of battle. Now he desires to explore the rivers and forest of West Africa. But for Hugh Beaumont, leaving duty behind does not come easy. So it is he finds himself bringing criminals to justice and protecting Miss Nicholson, who is sorely in need of help. Then love enters the picture.

Thursday, March 30th 19:00: Scary Stories for Sleepovers

With Shandon Loring – sleeping bags provided! Also presented in Kitely.


Please check with the Seanchai Library’s blog for updates and for additions or changes to the week’s schedule.

The featured charity for March April is Project Children, building peace in Ireland one child at a time.

SL project updates 2017 12/2: TPV Dev and Content Creation meetings

The Heart of the Seablog post

The notes in this update are taken from the following sources:

  • Content Creation User Group meeting, held on  Thursday March 23rd, 2017 at 1:00pm SLT
  • The TPV Developer meeting held on Friday, March 24th, 2017 at 12:00 noon SLT.

A video of the TPV Developer meeting is included, and timestamps to it are included in the text, where relevant. Notes from the Content Creation User Group appear towards the end of this update.

SL Viewer Pipeline

Maintenance RC Re-issue

On Thursday, March 23rd, the Lab released a new Maintenance RC viewer – version 5.0.5.324882 – to replace the faulty March 16th release.  As such, it includes the same set of updates, and I’ve written an overview of the core changes.

Voice RC

[0:19] The Voice RC viewer, version 5.0.4.324770, has a problem with the SSL Certificate Authorities update included with it. This triggers some code deep within the viewer which should not be triggered. This tends to affect TPVs for than the official viewer (the issue was actually noted by Firestorm). It’s be at least a couple of weeks before this matter is resolved, and until it is, the Voice RC viewer will not be progressing, and the Lab is unlikely to expand the cohort of users running it. Alongside of this, but separate to is, is an issue which is giving the viewer a higher than expected crash rate. which is also being looked into. Additionally, among the updates to this viewer and not included in the release notes, is support for the Opus Interactive Audio Codec, although server-side support is still required. This should eventually see further Voice quality improvements.

64-bit Project Alex Ivy

[3:10] As noted in part 1 of this week’s update, the 64-bit viewer was updated on Friday, March 17th to version 5.1.0.503537. This viewer is showing a significantly lower crash rate, although it does have some other issues. It should have a further update in the next two weeks.

360 Snapshot Viewer

[4:06] It appears unlikely that the 360 snapshot viewer will be update in the next week due to the ongoing work with the 64-bit viewer.

Asset Fetching Via HTTP

Vir Linden has been focused on the viewer side of this work, which will see the remaining inventory asset classes – landmarks, gestures, animations, shapes, sounds and wearables (system layer clothing) – switch from UDP delivery through the simulator to HTTP delivery via the via the Content Delivery Network(s) the Lab uses.

[4:42] The viewer for this work may be appearing in week #13 (week commencing Monday, March 27th). However, this is dependent on some back-end web configuration work being completed so that the required simulator changes can be correctly enabled on the Main grid.

Once these remaining assets have been shifted to delivery to the viewer via HTTP / CDN, the remaining UDP messaging for asset delivery will be turned off on the simulator end. This may be around July / August time (to be confirmed once the HTTP updates have reached release status), and will mean any older viewers still using UDP messaging for asset data fetching will be unable to do so.

New JIRA – Soon

[14:35] There is a new JIRA update coming, in line with recent updates made by Atlassian. It is currently on internal testing at the Lab, but there is no time frame as to when it will make a public appearance.

FMod Studio

[16:00] Around the start of the 64-bit viewer project there was a potential for an open-source contributed project for using Fmod Studio with viewer audio. This is likely to be re-examined, and if found suitable it may be up for adoption. However, given it will require a licence, which is likely to take a while to be processed by the Lab, it will not prevent the 64-bit viewer progressing forward toward release. Instead, the code module will be integrated as and when the licence has been obtained.

Content Creation Meeting Round-up

Animation Transitions: as noted in my March 9th CCUG meeting notes, people have been noting issues with animation playback, some of which appear to be related to llSetAnimationOverride, one of the server-side functions for controlling your animation state (see  BUG-7488 as an example).

Vir has been looking at this, but no definitive cause has been found. One suggestion is that it might be related to  Walk Adjust cutting in, which can occur when transitioning from standing to almost any other state when using llSetAnimationOverride. Although is that some transitional animation, such as a pre-jump or landing might be accidentally set to loop, causing an apparently freeze / lock. Vir will continue to poke at this.

Avatar Rendering Calculations:  work continues on refining the rendering cost calculations for avatars. However, this work is still not ready for shipping. Theses adjustments are twofold: to account for more “recent” changes which have been made since the system was last properly evaluated, and to address known issues in how the calculations are made.

Applying Baked Textures to Mesh Avatars: this is still on the short list, but is not an adopted or active project within the Lab as yet.

Rigging Animated Attachments to the Skeleton: there are issues trying to rig animated attachment to the avatar skeleton (e.g. a set of nunchaku or a gun that twirls before being holstered). While they may work OK using a specific avatar shape, problems can occur should the shape be changed (e.g. the nachaku  / gun no longer accurately positions relative to the hand). Medhue Simoni suggests items like this might be rigged and animated to the relevant attachment point instead.

NPCs / Animated Objects: this is still not a formal project at the Lab, but there has been some discussion on the potential feature set, were it to become a project.

Scripted method to position bones: see BUG11407. VIr’s concern with this approach would be the level of complexity / risk of conflicts with animations / need to expand the scripting capabilities on the back-end in order to make full scripted positions of bones useful. However, within the meeting, it was seen as being more useful in being able to fine tune poses for things like photography (e.g. to prevent hands vanishing into breasts or thighs), and thus supplant something like Anypose. As a result, Vir’s agreed to look at tools like Anypose and have a fresh look at the JIRA.

Other Items

Bento Ridable Horse

Strawberry Singh has all the information on a new Bento Rideable horse, which has a release had of Saturday, March 25th. As the name implies, this is a horse which makes full used of the Bento skeleton extensions (so when worn, it is an extension of your avatar).  Berry has produced a tidy video on the horse, and I’ll finish this update by embedding it – read Berry’s blog post for the specifics.

Beaming into the 2017 Second Life Sci-Fi Convention

2017 SL Science Fiction Convention – “Life

The 2017 Second Life Science Fiction Convention touched-down safely on the main grid on Friday, March 24th, ready to embark Second Life residents on flights of intergalactic adventure and fancy which will continue through until April 2nd, 2017.

Active across six elemental themed regions, the convention this year celebrates its 10th anniversary. Once again, it presents the best in Second Life science-fiction related role-play, with some of the top sci-fi role-play groups, content creators and designers represented  within the regions, all bound together in the aim of raising funds for Relay for Life of Second Life and the American Cancer Society.

2017 SL Science Fiction Convention – “Fire

As well as the role-play group, designers, visiting folk, and intriguing region layouts, the event features a range of entertainment and presentations. So much is going on through the week in fact, that the best way of staying up-to-date on things is to check the convention’s event calendar. This can also be found at strategic points scattered throughout all of the convention’s regions on browsable display boards, so keeping up-to-speed on where to go and what to see is pretty easy.

A full list of exhibitors for the event is also available, tidily broken down by region, with each of the main landing points for the six regions also listed. For ease of reference in general hopping around, these are:

2017 SL Science Fiction Convention -“Water

Note that all of the regions are rated Moderate. For intra-region getting around, there is a monorail systems and a network of stargates – although these didn’t appear to be working on my visit (possibly one of the Energy Lifeforms of M4C-862 was getting up to mischief…). Also, when visiting the landing points, keep an eye out for the free Sci-Fi Con 2017 outfits by Design’s Designs, which can be obtained for the exceptionally most fee of L$2, and which comes in both Fitmesh and standard mesh sizes.

I confess, I didn’t fully get the elemental theme with the convention; I’d have expected “Air” to be – well, in the air, rather than on a hill, and “Water” to perhaps be more aquatic. But this is a minor quibble in the scheme of things, as there is a lot to see, and I did particularly enjoy poking around the cityscape of “Water”. To escape the worst of the inevitable lag, you might want to disable shadows if you usually run with them enabled and drop your draw distance down if you normally have it set to a couple of hundred metres or more, other than for when taking photos.

So, as I’m prone to say when previewing this event: whatever your interest in science fiction, be sure to set your phaser on fun and head back to the future with a visit to the SL Sci-Fi convention. So say we all!

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