“I spy with my big eye…” and landing a rocket on Earth

CuriosityNASA’s Curiosity rover has been a busy bunny on Mars. Currently still parked in the “Pahrump Hills” terrain on the lower slopes of “Mount Sharp”, the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover has now completed its latest drilling activity, collecting samples from a rock dubbed “Mojave 2”.

This isn’t actually the rock from which the science team had originally hoped to gather samples. That rock, dubbed “Mojave” broke apart as a result of the percussive action of the rover’s drill during a “mini-drill” test. As a result, the rock was ruled out as a sample gathering target. “Mojave” was of particularly interest to scientists as Curiosity had images tiny, rice-grain sized crystalline minerals that might have resulted from evaporation of a drying lake, thus presenting the science team with a further insight into environmental conditions within Gale Crater.

To counter this loss, the team relocated Curiosity to  “Mojave 2”, another rock within the same outcrop as “Mojave”, and which exhibits similar crystalline features. In doing so, the team were able to bring into play software improvements only recently uploaded to the rover as a part of an overall systems upgrade, which was deployed to one of the rover’s two computer systems at the end of January.

The software improvements for the drill are the result of investigations into the fracturing of a rock during a previous attempt to obtain samples prior to the rover arriving on “Mount Sharp”. Like an Earth-based hammer drill, the rover’s drill uses a percussive action, so that as well as drilling into a rock, the drill bit effectively hammers its way into the rock. In all, there are six settings governing the amount of percussive energy used during drilling, which range from a gentle tapping (level 1) through to hammering at the rate of 30 times a second with a 20-fold increase in energy imparted (level 6).

During early drilling operations the software monitoring these percussion settings “learned” that defaulting to the “level 4” setting best met the needs of gathering samples in the harder rock types the rover initially encountered. However, this was proving too forceful for the softer rocks closer to, and on, “Mount Sharp”, but the software was unable to switch down to a lower setting.

The drill hopes on "Mojave 2" captured by Curiosity's Mastcam. Towards the top is the small, "mini drilling" test bore, just a couple of centimetres deep, created on Sol 881 (January 28th, 2015, PDT) and some 10 centimetres below it, the sample-gathering bore hole, some 6.5 centimetres deep, cut on Sol 882 (January 29th, 2015, PDT).
The drill holes on “Mojave 2” captured by Curiosity’s Mastcam. Towards the top is the small, “mini drilling” test bore, just a couple of centimetres deep, created on Sol 881 (January 28th, 2015, PDT) and some 10 centimetres below it, the sample-gathering bore hole, some 6.5 centimetres deep, cut on Sol 882 (January 29th, 2015, PDT).

The new update causes the drill software to reset to “level 1” after each drilling operation, and then step through the levels incrementally until the ideal is found. As a result, a sample was gathered from “Mojave 2” without the drill needing to step beyond the “level 2” percussion action.

Drilling operations on “Mojave 2” took place on Sol 881 and Sol 882 (January 28th and 29th, PDT, respectively). As per standard operating procedure, the first drilling operation was a test “mini drilling” to see how the rock responded to encroachment and cutting. The second, which took the dill to a depth of around 6.5 centimetres (2.6 inches). The gathered samples were then sifted and sorted through the CHIMRA system in the rover’s turret, prior to being transferred via the surface scoop to Curiosity’s primary laboratory systems, ChemMin and SAM.

At the same time as Curiosity was carrying out its initial analysis of the “Mojave 2” rock, NASA released an image captured by the HiRise (High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment) carried aboard the orbiting Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), which forms the mainstay of the rover’s communications with Earth. The image, which was taken on December 13th, 2014, reveals Curiosity mid-way through its “walkabouts” in “Pahrump Hills”, when it was seeking potential targets of interest for further study.

While not the first time the rover has been imaged from orbit, this is one of the clearest pictures from the rover yet capture from an altitude of around 280 kilometres (175 miles) above the surface of Mars.

"I see you!" - MRO's HiRise image of the curiosity rover, obtained on December 13th, 2014, as the rover explores the "Pahrump Hills" region on a basal slopes of "Mount Sharp"
“I see you!” – MRO’s HiRise image of the curiosity rover, obtained on December 13th, 2014, as the rover explores the “Pahrump Hills” region on a basal slopes of “Mount Sharp”

Initial results from ChemMin (the Chemical and Mineralogy) instrumental has shown that the rock was likely effected by water that was much more acidic in nature than evidenced through the analysis of other rock samples obtained by the rover. The still-partial analysis shows a significant amount of jarosite, an oxidized mineral containing iron and sulphur that forms in acidic environments. This raises the question of whether the more acidic water was part of environmental conditions when sediments were being deposited to form “Mount Sharp”, or the result of fluids soaking the rocks at a later time.

ChemMin was also unable to identify a clear candidate mineral for the crystalline deposits which first attracted the science team to the outcrop; this presents the possibility that the minerals responsible for originally forming the crystals may have been leached away over time and replaced by other minerals during later periods of wet environmental conditions.

It is hoped that SAM – the Sample Analysis at Mars – suite of instruments may be able to reveal more about the nature and composition of the samples once they have completed their round of analysis. Depending on the outcome of this work, Curiosity may be ordered to gather a further rock sample from “Pahrump Hills”, or may be ordered to continue upwards and into new territory on “Mount Sharp”.

Continue reading ““I spy with my big eye…” and landing a rocket on Earth”

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Of mansions and motifs

Explore the Great Gatsby - the Buchanan's mansion and pier with its green light from Gatsby's estate: "“I thought of Gatsby's wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy's dock. He had come a long way to this lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him."
Explore the Great Gatsby – the Buchanan’s mansion and pier with its green light from Gatsby’s estate: ““I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this lawn and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him.”

At 09:00 SLT,  the Seanchai Library’s retelling of  F. Scott Fitzgerald’s tragic tale, The Great Gatsby draws to a close as Corwyn Allen reads the final part of the story. The reading will take place at Explore the Great Gatsby Online, the interactive venue conceived and developed by Caledonia Skytower as a part of Seanchai Library’s presence in Kitely, and operating in support of a production of Simon Levy’s stage adaptation of The Great Gatsby, which also ends it run at the Tacoma Little Theatre (TLT) on February 8th.

I’ve covered Explore the Great Gatsby twice  so far in this blog. The first time as a result of an invitation extended to me by Caledonia and TLT’s Managing Artistic Director Chris Serface ahead of the official opening of the installation and the play. This gave me the opportunity to preview the unique collaborative, cross-functional and educational nature of the partnership between Seanchai Library and TLT. My second, more recent visit, was to explore the initial sets visitors to the installation would be able to explore, and the opportunities within them to discover more about the story, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writings, and the man himself.

As indicated in both of those articles, the Explore the Great Gatsby installation was intended to grow over time, thus encouraging visitors – particularly those who attended TLT’s performances of the play –  to make return visits. Given the significance of Sunday, February 8th as noted above, I also decided to take a further trip to Explore the Great Gatsby and see the latest additions and updates.

Explore the Great Gatsby - Gatsby's mansion: "The one on my right was a colossal affair by any standard—it was a factual imitation of some Hôtel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and garden."
Explore the Great Gatsby – Gatsby’s mansion: “The one on my right was a colossal affair by any standard—it was a factual imitation of some Hôtel de Ville in Normandy, with a tower on one side, spanking new under a thin beard of raw ivy, and a marble swimming pool, and more than forty acres of lawn and garden.”

New since my last visit is the Gothic opulence of Jay Gatsby’s “new money” mansion, its great towers and spires rising high above the trees, fairly shouting news of the wealth of their owner to the world at large. The scene of lavish parties – all intended to lure Daisy Buchanan to his door – the mansion’s ground floor can be explored by visitors, and several iconic elements have been reproduced, including the location of the final scene of tragedy, the swimming pool. There are a number of interactive elements to the mansion, which provide gateways to further information on the novel, so careful examination of the rooms is encouraged!

Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s mansion (which serves as a façade for a model of the Tacoma Little Theatre), has undergone further exterior work, allowing it to stand in strong contrast to Gatsby’s ostentatiousness, exactly as F. Scott Fitzgerald intended.  Thus it – and the bay which sits between it and Gatsby’s edifice – serves to underline Fitzgerald’s observation of the divide that existed between those of established wealth and those newly-rich.

Explore the Great Gatsby - The buchanan's mansion: "Their house was even more elaborate than I expected, a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion, overlooking the bay ... The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens."
Explore the Great Gatsby – The buchanan’s mansion: “Their house was even more elaborate than I expected, a cheerful red-and-white Georgian Colonial mansion, overlooking the bay … The lawn started at the beach and ran toward the front door for a quarter of a mile, jumping over sun-dials and brick walks and burning gardens.”

With a wealth of interactive elements throughout, including links to the Tacoma Little Theatre, resources that explore the story of the Great Gatsby in more detail, and the opportunity to really immerse yourself a a piece of truly great American literature, Explore the Great Gatsby is very much worth taking the time to visit – and if you haven’t already done so, I’d urge you to so – it will remain open and available to visitors through until March 1st, 2015.

Signing-up to Kitely (if you need to) is easy, and the Seanchai Library team provide the necessary guidance for those who might need it. What’s more, once you are signed-up, you have the freedom to explore the rest of Seanchai Library’s extensive projects and offerings in both the Seanchai Homeworld, and through their satellite worlds.

Explore the Great Gatsby - you can also explore other locations within the installation, such as the Fitzgerald Gallery, the Welcome Centre and that other iconic landmark from the the story, the Valley of Ashes: "But above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg."
Explore the Great Gatsby – you can also explore other locations within the installation, such as the Fitzgerald Gallery, the Welcome Centre and that other iconic landmark from the the story, the Valley of Ashes: “But above the grey land and the spasms of bleak dust which drift endlessly over it, you perceive, after a moment, the eyes of Doctor T. J. Eckleburg.”

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Tragic trips, magical journeys, and wonders from invisible worlds

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.

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

Sunday, February 8th

11:00 PST Kitely: The Great Gatsby Concludes

Great GatsbyCorwyn Allen brings a reading of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s magnificent 1925 novel to its tragic conclusion at Explore The Great Gatsby in Kitely.

In 1922, Nick Carraway arrives in New York to learn about the bond business. He rents a small cottage in West Egg, home of the newly-rich, only to discover the owner of the huge Gothic mansion next door, the deeply mysterious Jay Gatsby, is prone to throwing lavish parties every weekend, to which in seems everyone comes. Everyone it seems, except Nick’s cousin Daisy, who is married to Tom Buchanan. Together they live across the bay in the more fashion East Egg, where the “old money” resides.

As the days turn, so Nick finds himself caught between tales of love and lust and the divisions of new and old money. On the one side, there is the old money of Tom Buchanan, a man secure in his marriage to Daisy, but not above keeping a mistress in the Valley of Ashes, an industrial area lying between the Eggs and New York city. On the other, there is the mysterious and enigmatic Jay Gatsby, Nick’s new money neighbour, prone to lavish parties and a long-standing love for Daisy Buchanan. So it is that Nick finds himself something of a willing pawn in a complex game of love and deceit, all the time drawn towards Daisy’s friend Jordan Baker.

But as the summer temperatures soar, a trip to New York city with the Buchanans, Jordan, and Gatsby, undertaken within a brittle shell of false bonhomie, evaporates into tragedy.

Note that Explore the Great Gatsby in Kitely will remain open through until March 1st.

13:30 Second Life: Tea-time at Baker Street – A Case of Identity

Sidney Paget's drawing of Miss Sutherland for The Strand Magazine, 1890
Sidney Paget’s drawing of Miss Sutherland for The Strand Magazine, 1891

It is October 1890 and Holmes is engaged by Miss Mary Sutherland, a woman of substantial independent means, thanks to a trust fund established for her some years past. She wishes Holmes to locate her fiancé, one Hosmer Angel, who has vanished from her life quite unexpectedly.

Theirs, it seems, had been a most unusual courtship. Miss Sutherland knows almost nothing about her intended husband, other than he works in a office in the City, that he will only meet with her when her disapproving (and somewhat young) stepfather is absent on business, and that he will only write to her using a typewriter, and will not even sign his name.

Listening to the story, Holmes finds his deductive powers less than tried; it takes him to obtain but one typewritten note to confirm his suspicions on what has happened – and thereby leave him with a further dilemma.

Join Caledonia Skytower, Kayden Oconnell and Corwyn Allen as they read this curious case.

Monday February 9th

06:00: The Emerald Atlas

emerald atlasCata Charisma launches a new session at Seanchai Library, Second Life, as she starts reading from John Stephens’ The emerald Atlas, the first volume in his fantasy trilogy for young adults, The Books of Beginning.

Having been passed from pillar to post through orphanages, three siblings, Kate, Emma, and Michael, find themselves lodged at the home of one Dr. Stanislaus Pym. Kate, the eldest of the three is driven by a promise made by her mother, that if Kate protects her younger sister and brother, then their family will be one day reunited.

But in their explorations of Dr. Pym’s house the three of them find their way into the basement, where they come across a mysterious door and a equally mysterious emerald-covered booth, entirely without text. When an old photograph touches the blank pages of the book, however, the three are immediately transported to the time and place depicted in the photograph. Her they find themselves in a realm populated by witches, henchmen, giants, dwarves and more – and one Dr. Stanislaus Pym, a good deal younger than when they last saw him in his house…

19:00 The Future Ain’t What It Used to Be

Gyro Muggins continues reading from Fredrick Pohl’s The Age of the Pussyfoot.

(Trident 1971 hardcover)
(Trident 1971 hardcover)

First published in serial form in1966, they republished as a novel in its own right in 1969, The Age of the Pussyfoot sees us transported to the 26th century along with one Charles Forrester, who has been in a state of cryogenic sleep for some 500 years, after being killed in a fire. His time in suspended animation, together with his revival – now that technology has developed to a point where revival is possible – has been paid for through his insurance, which (presumably through the act of compound interest down the centuries, his on-going medical expenses notwithstanding) has also left him comparatively well-off.

Forrester find the 26th century a place of delight; his spectre-like computer terminal, the Joymaker, puts almost everything – including drugs – at his fingertips. He’s able to take an apartment, still enjoy the delights of 20th century food and enter into a lifestyle of parties and fun, the money from his insurance making him rather wealthy.

Then things start to go a little sideways. First, there is Adne, who appears to be out to trap him into providing for her children; there’s also the mysterious Club, who also seem to be more interested in Forrester’s wealth than him. Add to the list the man from Mars who has taken out a hunting licence allowing him and his friends to track down and even kill Forrester – so long as his revival is paid for – and the future suddenly isn’t so bright a playground. And when his money starts running out, and he’s forced to take a job, he’s also forced to reassess who he can trust and who he can’t, and just what role he is actually to play in humanity’s future…

Tuesday February 10th, 19:00: Two Nights with Neil

With Caedmon Sharkfin.

Wednesday February 11th,19:00: Beggars Day Book Two: The Caged King

Beggars Day 2Caledonia Skytower continues reading MJ McGalliard’s second novel, and the sequel to Beggar’s Day Book One: The Beggar Prince.

The Kingdom of Galaway has a law that every ruler must work a year and a day as a commoner; thus were readers introduced, through the first volume, to the kingdom and some of its notable inhabitants, including King Willy, Prince Larry, the scheming Percy, desperate to see himself on the throne, and the chicken-stealing crone Cruith.

Now, in the second volume, Vikings, hidden illnesses, ancient family squabbles and unplanned pregnancy are but a few of the changes in Galaway. Cruith is part of a conspiracy, Willy invents a new wagon, apples seem to be in the mix, while everything seems to revolve around a baby horse. And I haven’t even mentioned King Monaghan.

Intrigued? Then why not hop over to Seanchai library to hear this entertaining tale which, incidentally, is illustrated by one Judith Cullen – aka Caledonia Skytower!

Thursday February 12th: Wonders of the Invisible World

wondersShandon Loring opens the pages of Patricia A. McKillip’s opulent collection of stories deeply rooted in fairy tale and mythology – and yet with something of a nod towards real historical events in places.

Through these pages one can meet princesses enamoured of dead suitors, a knight who falls in love with an official of exotic lineage, a wizard seduced in his youth by the Faerie Queen, and fortune’s fool, who steals into the present instead of the future.

And the nod towards the real world? That comes in the form of a – dare I say it – bewitching tale of a time-travelling angel who, arriving in the late 1600s, is forbidden from intervening in Reverend Cotton Mather’s religious ravings which were to play such an influential role in the Salem witch trials (and which, incidentally, gave rise to his own book of the same name, written in 1693).

Bewitching, bittersweet, and deeply intoxicating, this collection draws elements from the fables of history and re-creates them in startlingly magical ways.  – Publisher.

Saturday February 14th, Seanchai Kitely, 09:00 PDT: Avatar: a love story

With Shandon Loring.

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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 January / February is Project Children, teaching and building peace in Northern Ireland, one child at a time.

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