The ethereal beauty of Somewhere in Second Life

Somewhere in Second Life
Somewhere in Second Life

I received a notice about a new exhibition by WuWai Chun which opened on Sunday August 3rd at the Rose Theatre & Art Gallery. I didn’t make it to the opening, sadly, due to other commitments, but managed to pop along as soon as time allowed.

The exhibition is in support of Feed A Smile, a project run by Live and Learn in Kenya (LLK), to provide nutritious warm lunches for over 400 children every day, paid for entirely from donations to the project (see my article on Feed  A Smile written to accompany Draxtor’s excellent World Makers video on the work).

Somewhere in Second Life
Somewhere in Second Life

Called Somewhere in Second Life, the display features selected images from WuWai’s travels across Second Life, which also appear in her Flickr photostream of the same name and which she describes as a personal destination guide. However, the pictures on display are not simply snapshots of in-world locations.

WuWai’s passion is to turn her pictures into paintings. Having taught herself the sometimes arcane art of post-processing, she labours over her scenic snapshots to give them the look and texture of watercolour or oil paintings. The results are images that are quite stunning in appearance, with many of them having an ethereal look to them which quite captivates the eye, drawing you into it.

Somewhere in Second Life
Somewhere in Second Life

These are pictures which really do immerse you in the sensation of visiting a gallery and slowly walking through the halls. There are no Constables or Browns or Balmers among the pictures hanging on the walls between WuWai’s pictures but frankly, had I come across one or two, I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised,her work is that evocative.

As the exhibition is in support of Feed A Smile, the pictures are available to buy – simply right-click on any that take your fancy.

Somewhere in Second Life
Somewhere in Second Life

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Two years on: target in sight

CuriosityAugust 5th 2014 marked the second anniversary of Curiosity’s remarkable arrival on Mars, in what was dubbed by members of the mission team as the “seven minutes of terror”.

It was one of the most anticipated touch-downs of a remote vehicle on another planet in history, and was followed minute-by-minute the world over via the Internet, with people watching NASA TV, following events on Twitter and even witnessing them in “real-time” through the unique focus of NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System simulator website (you can still replay the landing on the simulator).

Since then, Curiosity has done much, including meeting its primary science goal to find evidence of environments which may once have been suitable for the nurturing of microbial life (Curiosity isn’t able to detect any evidence of microbial life, past or present itself as it has no direct means to identify organic compounds or minerals, that will be the role of the next rover mission, scheduled for 2020 – see later in this article).

Most recently, the rover has been approaching its main exploratory goal, the large mound at the centre of Gale Crater which has been dubbed “Mount Sharp” by NASA, having been “on the road” for almost a year, driving steadily south, with the occasional stop-over at various scientific points of interest.

Since my last MSL update, Curiosity has achieved another mission mile stone and another mission first. On June 27th, the day of my last update, the rover trundled over the boundary line of its 3-sigma landing ellipse. Then on July 12th, it captured new images of its onboard laser firing.

As to the first of these events, I’ll let Guy Webster of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory explain.

“You must be wondering, ‘What the heck is a 3-sigma landing ellipse?’ It is a statistical prediction made prior to landing to determine how far from a targeted centre point the rover might land, given uncertainties such as the atmospheric conditions on landing day. The ‘3-sigma’ part means three standard deviations, so the rover was very, very likely (to about the 99.9-percent level) to land somewhere inside this ellipse. Such 3-sigma ellipses get a lot of scrutiny during landing-site selection because we don’t want anything dangerous for a landing – such as boulders of cliffs – inside the ellipse.”

In Curiosity’s case, the 3-sigma ellipse marked a relatively flat area on the floor of Gale Crater some 7 x 20 kilometres (4 x 12 miles) in size which was as close to the slopes of “Mount Sharp” as mission planners dare to bring the rover in for landing without risking it coming down in either chaotic terrain or on a slope where it might slide or topple over as the Skycrane set it down. The landing zone was also relatively close to the areas of geological interest which became known as “Glenelg” and “Yellowknife Bay”, and which the rover spent a good part of a year exploring – achieving its primary science goal in the process.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was overhead at the time the rover crossed this imaginary line in the sands of Mars, and captured the moment using its High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera.

Caught in its tracks: NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter photographs Curiosity as the rover crosses the boundary (marked by the blue line) of its original landing ellipse (click any image in this article for full size)

Sol 687 (July 12th, 2014 PDT) was the day on which the rover captured images of its laser firing on a rock dubbed “Nova”.

The laser, which is a part of the ChemCam system on mounted on the rover’s mast, is used to vaporise minute amounts of material on target rocks. Light from the resultant plasma is captured by ChemCam’s telescope for spectrographic analysis.

In all, the laser has been fired over 150,000 times in the two years since Curiosity arrived on Mars, and the results of firings have been seen in many “before and after” shots of rocks on the receiving end of a laser burst. What made this event special was that the burst firing at “Nova” was captured by the rover’s turret-mounted Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI). This allowed NASA to produce a film showing the moment of impact of the laser shots.

In the first part of the film, the initial “spark” of a single laser pulse can be seen striking the surface of “Nova”. This is followed by an enhanced set of images showing the laser firing at 10 times a second, disrupting dust and minerals on the rock as the plasma cloud erupts.

Continue reading “Two years on: target in sight”