A Mars Namaste and taxis to the space station

CuriosityIt’s been a busy couple of weeks on and around Mars and with space exploration in general. This being the case, I’m going to be tagging some of the other items of potential interest to the end of this Curiosity update.

On September 24th, Curiosity obtained its first sample of rock gathered from the foothills of “Mount Sharp”, or Aeolis Mons as it is more correctly named. The sample was taken from a rock in the area dubbed “Pahrump Hills”, an uprising within the initial transitional zone between what is regarded as the floor of Gale Crater and the material making up the huge mound of “Mount Sharp” located at the centre of the crater.

The rover officially arrived within the area of interest on September 19th, and conducted surveys of its surroundings and a potential candidate area was selected for sample gathering. On September 22nd, an initial “mini drill” test operation was carried out on a rock surface in the target area, dubbed “Confidence Hills”, to assess its suitability for sample gathering.

A mosaic of images captured by Curiosity's Mastcam showing the Pahrump Hills area the rover is currently investigating (foreground) and the Murrary formation, a near-term destination, beyond
A mosaic of images captured by Curiosity’s Mastcam showing the Pahrump Hills area the rover is currently investigating (foreground) and the Murray formation, a near-term destination, beyond – click any image for full size

As noted in a previous update, “mini drilling” operations are used to test a potential target for a range of factors prior to actually committing the rover’s drill to a sample-gathering exercise, the intention being to ensure as far as possible that nothing untoward may happen which may damage the drill mechanism or adversely impact future sample gathering work.

The September 22nd mini drilling was important for two reasons; not only was it intended to assess the suitability of the target rock for sample gathering, it also marked the first time the drill cut into what is essentially “new” and “softer” material compared to previous drilling activities, and it was doubly unclear as to how the drill or the rock might react.

The bore hole image from the September 24th sample-gathering at “Parump Hills”. A “merged-focused product” combining a set of images captured by the Mars Hand Lens Imager (MAHLI) from just 2 centimetres above the hole, it show the bore cut by the rover’s drill and surrounding tailings which, interestingly, don’t share the same distinctive light gray colouring seen with samples gathered on the crater floor. The hole is 1.6cm across and about 6 cm deep. The images were taken on September 24th, 2014, during the 759th Sol, of Curiosity’s work on Mars

The sample-gathering drilling took place on September 24th, PDT (Sol 759 for Curiosity on Mars) and resulted in cutting a hole some 6 centimetres (2.6 inches) deep into the target rock and the successful gathering of tailings. “This drilling target is at the lowest part of the base layer of the mountain, and from here we plan to examine the higher, younger layers exposed in the nearby hills,” said Curiosity Deputy Project Scientist Ashwin Vasavada following the operation. “This first look at rocks we believe to underlie Mount Sharp is exciting because it will begin to form a picture of the environment at the time the mountain formed, and what led to its growth.”

Curiosity is liable to stay within the “Pahrump Hills” area for a while prior to moving up onto the Murray Formation above it, which is regarded as the formal boundary area between “Mount Sharp” and the crater floor, and as such is designated a target of particular interest. As a part of its studies of “Pahrump Hills”, and as well as gathering an initial rock sample, the rover has been surveying the rocks in its immediate surroundings with other instruments including the ChemCam laser system and the high-magnification Mars Hand Lens Imager camera, also mounted on the robot arm.

Of particular interest to the science team have been a series geometrically distinctive features on the rock surface. These are thought to be common to the Murray formation mudstones, and are believed to be the accumulations of erosion-resistant materials. They occur both as discrete clusters and as dendrites with formations arranged in tree-like branching. By investigating the shapes and chemical ingredients in these features, the team hopes to gain information about the possible composition of fluids at this Martian location long ago.

Another merged-focused image from MAHLI, showing accumulations of erosion-resistant materials in the “Pahrump Hills” area on the slopes of “Mount Sharp”. Similar features on Earth form when shallow bodies of water begin to evaporate and minerals precipitate from the concentrated brines. The width of the image covers about 2.2 centimetres, and it combines a series of images captured on September 23rd, 2014, during Curiosity’s 758th Sol

Currently, the sample gathered from the “Confidence Hills” are held within CHIMRA, the Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis system, in the rover’s robot arm. This is a mechanism that allows sample material to be graded by the size of the tailings by passing them through a series of sieves as the robot arm is vibrated at high rates, producing multiple samples which can then be delivered in turn to the rover’s onboard science instruments for detailed analysis.

Continue reading “A Mars Namaste and taxis to the space station”

Of chilling tales, great hounds and graveyard stories

It’s time to kick-off another week of fabulous story-telling in voice, brought to Second Life and Kitely by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library. and Seanchai Kitely.

As always, all times SLT / PDT, and unless otherwise stated, events will be held on the Seanchai Library’s home on Imagination Island.

Sunday September 28th

We’re approaching that time of year when, as the sunlight fades into night and  ghosts, ghouls, witches, warlocks and more roam abroad; a time when wolves may howl, owls may hoot mysteriously, the wind might moan dreadfully; a time when we anxiously await the solemn knocking on the door – even if it is the neighbourhood kids ready with a magical chant of “trick or treat!” waiting for us to open the door on them… And so it is that Seanchai get us into the mood for darker nights and darker tales right from the start this week…

09:00: Seanchai Kitely – Nocturnes

NocturesNocturnes marks Irish author John Connolly’s first anthology of short stories involving lost lovers and missing children, predatory demons, and vengeful ghosts, a latter-day grim reaper and vampiric wives – and much more besides.

Echoing genre masters such as M R James, Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft and Stephen King, Connolly delves into our darkest fears  through a series of tales including The Underbury Witches, in which two detectives are faced with the ultimate in female evil and The Ritual of the Bones, where a boy at a boarding school who comes to face the dark side of the British class system. There are even two novella’s included in the volume, The Reflecting Eye, which sees the return of Connolly’s private detective hero, Charlie Parker, and the initial story within the book, The Cancer Cowboy, charting the progress of a modern-day grim reaper, a complex individual attempting to understand exactly who or what he is, and why he must be so.

Join Shandon Loring at the Kitely Homeworld as he opens the pages of Nocturnes and brings forth a rich tale or two from within its dark depths.

13:30: Tea-time at Baker Street: The Hound of the Baskervilles

Caledonia Skytower, Corwyn Allen and Kayden Oconnell invite you to join them as they turn the lights down low, stoke the fire against the surrounding darkness as bring us what is quite possibly the most famous of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works.

Baskervilles-1902The third full-length novel written about Sherlock Holmes, The Hound of the Baskervilles is likely to be a tale – at least in outline – unfamiliar to a very few. Adapted more than 20 times for film and television down the decades, starting with the 1914/15 4-part series, Der Hund von Baskerville, in addition to be adapted for radio, the story has likely reached a huge audience down the years.

But how many are familiar with the original? Adaptations, after all, pick and choose elements of a story they wish to take, some add their own twists and turns quite outside of Conan Doyle’s plot in order to keep their offering fresh and exciting to an audience. Others – such as Paul McGuigan’s The Hounds of Baskerville, featured in the BBC’s brilliant Sherlock series – draw inspiration from this tale of dark happenings at Baskerville Hall, ancient curses and more, but take their story in wholly different directions to those imagined by Conan Doyle.

So why not join Cale, Corwyn and Kayden as they commence reading the original, first published in 1902, and discover just how Sir Arther Conan Doyle unfolded this apparently supernatural tale of giant hounds and murder, and the pivotal role played by John Watson himself?

Monday September 29th, 19:00: the Weirdness of John Waters

Crap Mariner delves into to life and work of American director, screenwriter, actor, stand-up comedian, journalist, visual artist, and art collector, John Waters. Crap sheds his own unique light on the man, which he promises will highlight “…all the weirdness without the truly icky parts.”

Drop-in to Seanchai Library on Imagination island to find out more!

Tuesday September 30th, Irish Ghost Stories

With Caledonia Skytower and friends.

Wednesday October 1st, 19:00: Bellwether

  Constance Elaine Trimmer “Connie” Willis is an American science fiction writer. She is one of the most honored science fiction writers of the 1980s and 1990s. Her books have between them won 11 Hugo awards, seven Nebula awards and four Locus awards, making her the recipient of more major science-fiction awards than any other author.

Bellwether, published in 1996, was a Nebula ward nominee, brings together pop culture, love, chaos theory and a study of human behaviour. Dr. Sandra Foster studies fads and their meanings for the HiTek corporation, a company keen to find a means of predicting how fads happen so they might create one themselves and profit from it. Also working for HiTek, Dr. Bennet O’Reilly is studying monkey group behaviour and chaos theory. When a misdelivered package brings the two together, coupled with a series of unfortunate events, they engage upon a joint project involving a flock of sheep. Even so, more setbacks, disappointments and surprises are likely to arise before the answers to their questions are found…

Thursday October 2nd

19:00: Beneath the Surface

With Shandon Loring.

21:00 Seanchai Late Night

With Finn Zeddmore

Saturday October 4th: Seanchai Kitely

09:00: More Nocturnes

Shandon Loring again delves into the pages of John Connolly’s anthology of dark tales to bring another of these chilling tales to life – a perfect start to the weekend!

10:00: The Graveyard Book

Join Caledonia Skytower as she presents Neil Gaiman’s 2009 Newbery Medal winning children’s fantasy novel, simultaneously published in Britain and America during 2008, which also collected the annual Hugo Award for Best Novel from the World Science Fiction Convention and the Locus Award for Best Young Adult Book selected by Locus magazine subscribers.

Nobody Owens, known to his friends as Bod, is a normal boy. He would be completely normal if he didn’t live in a sprawling graveyard, being raised and educated by ghosts, with a solitary guardian who belongs to neither the world of the living nor of the dead. There are dangers and adventures in the graveyard for a boy. But if Bod leaves the graveyard, then he will come under attack from the man Jack—who has already killed Bod’s family . . .

Again, please note both of these sessions are at Seanchai’s Kitely homeworld, as indicated in the title link, above.


Please check with the Seanchai Library SL’s blog for updates and for additions or changes to the week’s schedule. The featured charity for September-October is Reading is Fundamental: seeking motivate young children to read by working with them, their parents, and community members to make reading a fun and beneficial part of everyday life.

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