Short circuits on Mars and mapping asteroids

CuriosityFollowing my last Curiosity update, which noted that other than for one potential drilling / sampling target, work was wrapping-up for the Mars Science Laboratory in the “Pahrump Hills” location on the lower slopes of “Mount Sharp”, the decision was taken to indeed gather one more sample.

The selected target had been dubbed “Telegraph Peak”, and sits towards the top end of “Pahrump Hills”. It was selected because Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer (APXS) measurements carried out by the rover during its 5-month “walkabout” in “Pahrump Hills” revealed the rocks in the area to be relatively enriched in silicon when compared to the corresponding amounts of aluminium and magnesium, which is somewhat different to rocks sample prior to the rover arrival at the basal slops of “Mount Sharp”. This enrichment has also shown to increase the further up the slopes of “Pahrump Hills” the rover climbed, which is of interest to the science team.

“When you graph the ratios of silica to magnesium and silica to aluminium, ‘Telegraph Peak’ is toward the end of the range we’ve seen,” Curiosity co-investigator Doug Ming explains. “It’s what you would expect if there has been some acidic leaching. We want to see what minerals are present where we found this chemistry.”

Sampling took place on February 24th, 2015 (PDT) or Sol 908 for the rover on Mars. For the first time in Curiosity’s time on Mars, it was carried out with no preliminary “mini-drill” operation. Instead, the science team judged that analysis of the rock by APXS indicted it was of a very similar nature to the previous two sample drilling sites in “Pahrump Hills”, and the new lower percussion drilling capabilities the rover now has were judged as sufficiently safe enough to go ahead with a direct sample gathering operation.

How the drill works: On the left, a view of the drill mechanism mounted on the rover's turret, with the drill bit centre bottom. On the right a cutaway showing the sample collection mechanism in the drill bit
How the drill works: On the left, a view of the drill mechanism mounted on the rover’s turret, with the drill bit centre bottom. On the right a cutaway showing the sample collection mechanism in the drill bit

As I’ve covered previously in these pages, obtaining a sample for analysis is a multi-part operation. First the rock is drilled, and a core sample forced up through the drill bit into a one of two sample collection chambers at the top of the drill mechanism. From here, the sample is “shaken” through a feed to another device in the rover’s robot arm turret called CHIMRA – the Collection and Handling for In-Situ Martian Rock Analysis system, used to separate the tailings through a series of sieves, ready for different sizes of sample grains to be passed through the the rover’s on-board laboratory systems.

Both of these operations require the use of the drill’s percussive system to vibrate the turret, forcing material both from the drill’s sample collection chamber and through CHIMRA. However, on February 27th, during the initial operation to move the sample tailings from the drill chamber to CHIMRA, Curiosity’s on-board fault protect system identified a transient short circuit within the robot arm’s electronics. The immediately resulted in all arm-related activities being shut down, and the arm and turret locked into position ready for diagnostic operations to commence.

A transient short can occur for a number of reasons, and can pass without significant problems. However, it may also indicate a potential issue which might require some measure of action, such as a change in operating procedures or a restriction on how a mechanism is used, in order to avoid the issue becoming a serious problem in the future. To this end, following the fault report, mission engineers started diagnosing the problem, with almost all rover operations halted while they did so.

A monochrome image from Curiosity’s Navigation Camera (Navcam) shows the position in which the rover held its arm for several days after a transient short circuit triggered on-board fault-protection programming to halt arm activities on February 27th, 2015 PDT, the 911th Sol of the rover’s work on Mars.

On Thursday, March 5th, as a part of the investigative process, the rover was commanded to carry out a series of vibration tests of the kind performed while forcing the transfer of samples from the drill to CHIMRA. The vibrations were carried out with the robot arm and turret in the same orientation and position which caused the initial triggering of the fault protection system, and in the third of 180 repeat motions, a similar transient short occurred, lasting less than one one-hundredth of a second, enough to trigger the rover’s fault protection systems, and confirming there does appear to be some kind of electrical issue.

Tests are now under-way to determine whether or not the short will occur with the turret in different orientations, and may be followed by additional tests to see if it occurs with the arm in different positions. If no shorting occurs with either a change in the orientation or position of the turret / arm, then the most obvious step in preventing any recurrence of the issue is to avoid placing the turret / arm in the same orientation for sample transfer operations during future drilling activities.

It is hoped that the tests can be completed in the course of the next week. If they show that operations can be resumed safely, it is anticipated that the sample transfer operations will be completed, and Curiosity will then be ready to resume its climb up “Mount Sharp”, leaving “Pahrump Hills” via a narrow valley the science team have dubbed “Artist’s Drive”.

Continue reading “Short circuits on Mars and mapping asteroids”

Lost Paradise

The Paradise of CyberPolis
The Paradise of CyberPolis

Currently open to explore, although the official opening doesn’t take place until Sunday, March 15th, is The Paradise of CyberPolis, by Asmita Duranjaya and Sable (snakeappletree) at LEA 12. It is billed as a “a grey-scaled story and game-based art installation”, and comes with a narrative storyline visitors are asked to follow whilst exploring the installation, solving clues, with the explanatory notes reading:

Crash-landing on an urban planetary system …

A researcher is slowly awaking from unconsciousness, starting to explore the environment of an ancient, abandoned cyber-city and to solve its mysteries. Seven letters need be found to experience the last surprising solution.

The Paradise of CyberPolis
The Paradise of CyberPolis

The starting point is the researcher’s crashed aircraft, complete with unconscious space-suited researcher. A HUD is also offered, and you’ll need this in order to unlock (literally) the mysteries and make your way to the surprising solution.

The HUD actually takes the form of a journal (available in English or German), written by the researcher, describing their initial examinations of this world and the discoveries made. Your task is to follow the clues in the book, re-trace the researcher’s  footsteps and learn all that they have learned, and in the process find the seven letters mentioned in the introduction. Four of these will be required to unlock the gates of the cyber-city proper (your initial investigations taking place outside of the city’s core), while all seven are needed to unlock the final secret.

The Paradise of CyberPolis
The Paradise of CyberPollis

Along the way you’ll encounter a curious environment with mixed influences from the worlds anime, cyberpunk and dystopian sci-fi, in a story with something of a spiritual slant. Most of the landscape is a muted greys and whites, but there are splashes of colour scattered throughout, which form visual cues to places you might want to investigate more closely.

As a game, the idea almost works; you read the book, you riddle the clues, you uncover the required letters. But there is a problem. Of the seven letters to be discovered, only three actually require you investigate the city due to them requiring direct interaction with in-world objects to properly identify the letters in question; the other four can be discovered just by reading the book. Thus, it is possible for some of the visual context of the story to be lost as one simply reads ahead, identifies the letters and goes directly to things like opening the gates of the inner city; and sad to say, I’m not sure that much would be lost from the experience in doing so.

The Paradise of CyberPolis
The Paradise of CyberPolis

The build itself, while interesting to explore, bears a strong resonance to the NeoCyberCity both artists recently built at Asmita’s own Space4Art / Port Lyndus region (indeed, the two builds appear to share many common elements). As such, it’s actually quite hard to determine why there was a need to utilise an LEA region to produce this particular piece, rather than incorporate it into a pre-existing and similarly themed environment already operating.

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Tales from Ireland, mysteries in London and space

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, March 8th

11:00: Seanchai Kitely: Ireland – Land of the Poets

With Caledonia Skytower and Shandon Loring at Seanchai Library’s Celtic world (

13:30: Seanchai SL: Tea Time at Baker Street

Caledonia, Kaydon OConnell and Corwyn Allen reconvene at the rooms of 221B Baker Street to this week read the story of The Man With the Twisted Lip, which first appeared in The Strand Magazine in December 1891.

colourised version of Sidney Paget’s drawing of the beggar, Hugh Boone

Whilst assisting a friend of Mrs Watson but recovering her husband, an opium addict, from a den in the East End of London, Watson is surprised to see Holmes, in disguise, also in the den, attempting to obtain information relating to a case.

It seems a respectable businessman Mr. Neville St. Clair has vanished, and his wife is convinced she she him at an upper floor window of the opium den. But when the police raid the place, Mrs. St Clair in their company, all they find is a dishevelled beggar known locally as Hugh Boone.

However, when a toy her husband had said he would buy for their son, together with some of St. Clair’s clothes in the room, a wider search is carried out, and St. Clair coat, loaded with small change is found in the Thames just below the den, foul play is suspected, and Boone is arrested.

Holmes is initially convinced St Clair has been murdered, although no body is found and Boone reveals nothing. But then Mrs. St Clair receives a letter from her husband, and the mystery deepens.

Monday, March 9th

06:00: The Emerald Atlas

emerald atlasCata Charisma continues his reading of 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: Starswarm

StarswarmStarswarm Station is a remote research station established to study strange alien life. The planet on which it is located is the home of the starswarm, intelligent plants living under the planet’s shallow lakes and seas, and roaming bands of centaur-like creatures dubbed “haters”.

The station is also home to Kip, a teenage boy living under the guardianship of his “uncle”. However, as Kip begins to discover, he has another guardian: Gwen, an AI system his mother had been working on, prior to her death, and which communicates with Kip via a small implant placed inside his brain at birth.

Gwen knows far more about the planet and the lifeforms it harbours than Kip could imagine. It also knows a lot about the company that runs the station and, for all intents and purposes, “owns” the planet on which it sits.

Slowly, Gwen reveals these various truths to Kip, including his own destiny. But in doing so, it puts Kip, and potentially the entire station, at risk.

Join Gyro Muggins as he commences a reading of Jerry Pournelle’s 1998 novel intended for teenage readers but which offers an interesting look at subjects such as neural nets and living computer systems.

Tuesday March 10th, 19:00: Saint Patrick and Friends

With Caedmon Sharkfin.

Wednesday March 11th, 19:00: Bard: The Odyssey of the Irish

Caledonia Skytower reads selections from Morgan Llywelyn’s 1984 historical fantasy novel depicting a hypothetical 4th century migration of Galicians to Ireland, led by Amergin the bard.

Thursday March 12th, 19:00: Celtic Myths and Magick

With Shandon Loring.


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

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