The long trek and looking to the next decade

CuriosityCuriosity has started on the long trek to Aeolis Mons, which NASA unofficially refers to as “Mount Sharp”. With some eight kilometres (5 miles) between the rover an its initial destination among the lower slopes of the mound, the drive is liable to take several months to complete. Nevertheless, the drive marks the start of the core part of the mission.

The journey started on July 4th, when Curiosity departed the sedimentary rock target NASA had dubbed “Shaler” within the “Glenelg” region of Gale Crater between “Yellowknife Bay”, where the rover had been carrying out drilling and other tasks, and the landing zone at Bradbury Landing. “Shaler” had actually been passed b the rover on its way to “Yellowknife Bay” and had, along with another location in “Glenelg” which had been dubbed “Point Lake”, been identified as a “target of interest” for the rover as it backtracked through “Glenelg” in order to start the long trip to “Mount Sharp”.

“Point Lake” became a target of interest to MSL scientists as Curiosity passed it while en route to “Yellowknife Bay”, and remained of interest even as the rover carried out various science operations in “Yellowknife Bay”. This image was captured by the Mastcam telephoto lens on  Sol193 (February 20th, 2013) when Curiosity was engaged in the “John Klein” rock drilling operations. It show the cliff-like face of the outcrop. At the time the image was captured, it was unclear if the outcrop might be sedimentary or volcanic in origin. This image has been white-balanced so the rocks appear as they would under Earth-type atmospheric and lighting conditions

Point Lake first caught the interest of Curiosity’s science team in October and November of 2012. It caught the attention of mission scientists for two reasons: it forms a small cliff, and geologists love cliffs because they offer a sense of how a rock unit differs from bottom to top; plus images captured by the rover as it passed relatively close to the outcrop while en route to “Yellowknife Bay” revealed it to be full of holes. Why holes form in rocks can be due to diverse mechanisms, and Identifying which mechanism in particular is responsible can provide a greater understanding about the rock and its history.

The rover returned to “Point Lake” on Sol 301 / 302 (June 11th and 12th, 2013) and captured a further series of images using the Mastcam systems, some of which were then put together to create a mosaic.

A 20-shot mosaic of “Point Lake” captured by the telephoto lens of Curiosity’s Mastcam system on Sol 302 (June 12th, 2013) (click to see the full size image)

The mosaic clearly shows that the upper and lower portions of the outcrop differ in composition, with the upper part having more holes while being more resistant to weathering. The holes themselves range in size from about that of a garden pea through to some larger than a golf ball’s diameter. Some additionally have raised rims, as if the material immediately around a hole is slightly more resistant than material farther from the hole. A number of smaller rock fragments towards the right-hand end of the mosaic look as if they might have fallen out of some of the holes, and some of these exhibit colour banding suggestive of material which could have coated the interior of a hole.

The science tem are still studying the images captured by the Mastcam system and by the rover’s Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI), mounted on the turret at the end of Curiosity’s robot arm. Taken from a distance of just 4cm, the MAHLI images reveal pebble-like deposits within many of the holes covering “Point Lake”, and which have made the identification of the processes responsible for forming the holes somewhat harder, as both sedimentary and igneous processes could account for the “pebbles”.

The Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) mounted on Curiosity’s robot arm captured this close-up of the holes in the “Point Lake” rock outcrop, in which the “pebbles” cxan be seen to be nestling

Following the stop at “Point Lake”, Curiosity continued retracing its route back through “Glenelg”, reaching the vicinity of “Shaler” around Sol 313, where it remained for several days taking further images and manoeuvring in the area immediately adjacent to the rock formation. Then on July 4th, the rover started on the drive to “Mount Sharp” in earnest, initially travelling  back towards “Rocknest”, which it visited in September 2012, prior to skirting around it in a drive of some 36 metres (118 feet) between July 5th and July 8th (Sol 327).

Continue reading “The long trek and looking to the next decade”

Linden Lab acquires Desura games distribution service

LL logoUpdate: Linden Lab sold Desura to Bad Juju Games on November 5th, 2014.

On Wednesday July 10th, Linden Lab announced they had acquired Australia-based digital distribution service  Desura Pty Ltd, which distributes games and related media online and which might be said to be somewhat akin to Steam.

The Lab’s announcement reads in part:

Desura puts the best games, mods, and downloadable content from developers at gamers’ fingertips, ready to buy and play. The free Desura application can serve and patch games, mods, and add-ons directly for customers around the world. Developers and publishers can share news, images, videos, and other content through their profiles, while every member of the Desura community can post comments, submit reviews, and upload screenshots from their own playing experiences. Desura also demystifies user-made mods and add-ons for games by making them as easy to find and install or update as professional titles.

“Desura’s talented team, thriving business, and impressive technology are a great fit for Linden Lab,” said Rod Humble, CEO of Linden Lab. “This acquisition gives us a global platform for serving creative developers of all kinds, and we’re looking forward to growing both Desura’s global community of gamers and its fantastic portfolio of thousands of games, mods, and other content.”

The Desura website
The Desura website

This is an interesting move on the Lab’s part on a number of levels, and one which is bound to provide a range of reactions. In terms of the former, for example, does it indicate that the link-up with Steam has been abandoned?

Announced in August 2012, the deal to promote Second Life through Steam never materialised. More recently, there had been unofficial hints coming out of the Lab that a technical hitch with provisioning the viewer through Steam may have delayed matters at some point. Whether or not these had stopped the deal dead in its tracks is unclear, but when talking to Rod Humble recently, I found it interesting he drew something of a line from the non-appearance of SL on Steam with the hook-up with Amazon which came towards the end of 2012.

The Desura acquisition is also obviously interesting in what it says about the Lab’s broader ambitions. Although somewhat similar to Steam – but nowhere near as large – Desura is aimed at a different market. Whereas Steam predominantly distributes titles from larger software houses, Desura leans towards smaller indie games produced by smaller developers who do not necessarily have the clout to deal with Steam.

In this, Desura would appear to be something of a potentially good fit for the Lab, giving their acquisition of small houses such as LittleTextPeople and Boldai – they gain the exposure they are seeking within the indie market by potentially building a name as a distributor of games and a host for the indie game / modding communities (Desura provides a strong modding capability for games and also boasts something of a community-centric environment for users).

The Desura community pages
The Desura community pages

There may also be some speculation as to what this might mean to Second Life. A potential attraction of the Steam hook-up was the possibility of enticing games modders and 3D content makers interested in building for SL (particularly given the opportunities for selling their content in-world and / or through the SL Marketplace). Depending upon how the Desura acquisition is developed and prompted, a similar opportunity might exist here. Time will tell on that.

If nothing else, the Lab had set itself a pretty big goal in acquiring Desura – which is available on the Windows, Linux and Mac platforms. This is, according to Humble’s quote in the Lab’s press release, “To invest and support the Desura team in making it the most open and developer-friendly platform in the world.”

It’ll be interesting to see what rebranding of Desura takes place (if any) as a result of this move.

Related Links

My thanks to Julian Slade for contacting me and pointing me to the Games Industry International article & this acquisition.