Space Sunday: Philae, Titan and Pluto, oh my!

November 12th, 2015: Philae departs Rosetta en route for the surface of comet 67P/C-G
November 12th, 2015: Philae departs Rosetta en route for the surface of comet 67P/C-G  (image courtesy of ESA)

ESA’s Philae lander, which as I reported a week ago, resumed contact with Earth via its “Parent”, Rosetta, after seven months in hibernation, continues to return data to Earth from comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko (67P/C-G) as it continues towards the Sun.

Friday, June 19th, marked the latest transmission from Philae, which is about the size of a domestic washing machine, bringing the total of communications with mission control in Germany to 3 since the lander managed to re-establish its link with Rosetta.

Communications are sporadic because it is still not entirely clear where Philae is sitting on the comet, having bounced across the surface following its initial touch-down in November 2014. This, and Rosetta’s science-focused orbit around the comet means that there can be extended periods of several days between the times when both spacecraft and lander are suitably aligned to allow communications to take place.

The Friday communication lasted 19 minutes, and allowed the lander to return a further 185 packets of data to Earth. The data gave additional confirmation that Philae is in good health and in an environment which means it should be quite comfortable for a good while – thus increasing the chances of it resuming its science activities.

“Among other things, we have received updated status information,” Michael Maibaum, a systems engineer at the DLR Lander Control Centre in Cologne, reported following the Friday contact. “At present, the lander is operating at a temperature of zero degrees Celsius, which means that the battery is now warm enough to store energy. This means that Philae will also be able to work during the comet’s night, regardless of solar illumination.”

The three communications so far received mean that the mission team now have sufficient data to be able to more accurately position Rosetta so that it can continue with its primary science mission while being better placed to improve radio visibility between it and the lander’s estimated location. The first set of commands for the spacecraft to start adjusting its orbit were uploaded on Wednesday, June 17th, and and further set of instructions were uploaded on Saturday, June 20th. The aim is to close the distance between Rosetta and the comet to 177 kilometres within an orbit that will allow the orbiter to be above Philae’s horizon more regularly than is currently the case.

Pluto’s Gentle Fade In

NASA’s New Horizons mission to the Pluto-Charon system is now less than a month from its point of closest approach, which will occur on July 14th, 2015. As the fast-moving spacecraft closes on the two planetoids, the images it is returning to Earth of Pluto are starting to show tantalising splotches of dark across the planetoid’s surface, the first hints of landforms.

Pluto slowly starts to unmask itself as New horizons approaches
Pluto slowly starts to unmask itself as New horizons approaches (image: NASA / APL)

The pictures are still nowhere near being as clear as they should be in the days immediately prior to and following the point of closest approach, but they are still nevertheless interesting; in April 2015, New Horizons images what appears to be a polar ice cap on Pluto, so scientists are curious to what else might be revealed.

At the time of closest approach, New Horizons should be within 10,000 kilometres (6,200 miles) of Pluto and around 27,000 kilometres (17,000 miles) of Charon. The fly-by of Pluto should allow the main telescope camera system on the vehicle to take selected high-resolution images of Pluto at a scale of 50 metres / pixel. It is hoped that the average resolution of daylight images captured of Pluto will be around 1.6 km (1 mile) resolution, and will allow the composition of 4-colour maps of the surface.

From around 3.2 days before closest approach, long-range imaging will be used to map both worlds to a resolution of around 40 kilometres (25 miles).  New Horizons will also attempt to gather data on the nature of any atmosphere present on Pluto and seek evidence of any cryovolcanism which might be occurring or surface feature changes which might be attributable to snowfall or similar.

Titan: Even More In Common

An infographic released by NASA in June 2014 to mark Cassni's ten years in operation around Saturn
An infographic released by NASA in June 2014 to mark Cassni’s ten years in operation around Saturn – click for full size (NASA)

There are only two places in our solar system known of have rainfall, rivers and oceans, as well as a thick atmosphere, rocky ground and plate tectonics. They are Earth and Saturn’s huge moon, Titan. Now the joint ESA / NASA Cassini mission has revealed Titan shares something else with Earth: polar “winds” that suck gasses out of its atmosphere and into space.

Titan’s atmosphere has around a 50% higher surface pressure than Earth’s, and is comprised mainly of nitrogen and methane, and is rich in hydrocarbons, which also exist in lakes, reivers and seas on the surface of the planet.

Several years ago Cassini, which has been orbiting in orbit around Saturn for over a decade, revealed that around seven tonnes of hydrocarbons and nitriles were being lost every day from the upper layers of Titan’s atmosphere, but the mechanism causing the loss remained unknown until CAPS, the instrument which first recorded the loss recorded the “wind” in action.

Essentially, sunlight striking the upper layers of Titan’s atmosphere ejects negatively charged electrons out of the hydrocarbon and nitrile molecules resting there. These electrons are then drawn away along Saturn’s magnetic field, generating their own electrical field strong enough to “pull” the positively charged particles left behind by the formation of the original electrons out of the atmosphere along with them.

On Earth, this process charges particles in the atmosphere and draws them up along the planet’s magnetic field, where they can escape at the poles, and the same thing is happening on Titan. The discovery has lead to speculation that similar processes might be at work on Mars and Venus.

In this false-colour image, lakes and
In this false-colour image, lakes and “sea” of hydrocarbons can be seen scattered across the north polar region of Titan (the white areas indicate parts of the moon’s surface which had not been imaged at the time this mosaic was constructed (image: NASA)

Continue reading “Space Sunday: Philae, Titan and Pluto, oh my!”

SL12B: Let the celebrations begin!

The SL12B Main (live performances) stage: Toady, Flea, Cacia, Clover, iDev and LimRaeth
The SL12B Main (live performances) stage: Toady, Flea, Cacia, Clover, iDev and LimRaeth

Second life celebrate its 12th year as an open virtual word on Tuesday, June 23rd. Ahead of that, starting at 12:00 noon SLT on Sunday, June 21st, Second life residents are invited to join in with a full week of entertainments and events as a part of the Second Life 12th Birthday Community Celebration.

The regions are now ready – all 15 of them – and the stages are set. Exhibits from individuals, groups and community from across Second Life have been created for people to see and enjoy, and a host of entertainers are ready to bring music and dancing and more to the four main stages spread across the regions, and to special shows and events through the week.

The DJ Stage - Kazuhiro Aidian
The DJ Stage – Kazuhiro Aridian

As always with the birthday celebrations, there really is a lot to see and do across the regions, and the exhibit builds offer a mix of the breath-taking, the sublime, the wonderful, the stunning and the fun.

One of the things I love with the SLBCC events are the main entertainment stages. Each year, individual builders and teams come together to create a set of stages which are always amazing to see. This year is again something special, with the return of Toady Nakamura and Flea Bussy leading a team to build a truly amazing main stage for live entertainment, Kazuhiro Aridian once again providing a futuristic DJ stage, Miktaki Slade presenting another distinctive cake stage occupying the corners of four regions, and Cube Republic bringing us a remarkable build with in Ixtlan stage.

Ixtlan Stage - Cube Republic
Ixtlan Stage – Cube Republic

As well as these, there is the Dreamitarium, housing the auditorium which is hosting a range of talks and events, including those sponsored by Prim Perfect I’ve already highlighted, together with the time capsule display and a display on the history of the growth of the SL grid.

To help find your way around, do visit – or start your time at SL12BCC – at the Welcome Centre. Here you’ll find information on entertainments, stages, and attractions with takes the form of direct teleports,  landmarks and links to the SL12B events schedule pages. You’ll also find s truly haunting and impressive build by Walton F. Wainwright (Faust Steamer) – make sure you wander through it under the region’s default windlight, and climb the hill to the rear of the railway station.

Cake Stage - Mitaki Slade
Cake Stage – Miktaki Slade

Art is well represented this year, with Ziki Questi, Frankx Lefavre, Mistro HifengLivio Oak Korobase, and Ginger Lorakeet – to name just some I’ll be looking at during the week. Of course, a birthday wouldn’t be the same without gifts, and visitors can pick theirs up at Spectacular and at Impressive.

Given the amount of sheer hard work that has gone into all the preparations, it is perhaps unfair to pick-out favourites among the core builds within the SL12B regions. However, I’ve already confessed to loving the Dreamitarium, which houses the auditorium and forum stages, and I would not be being entirely honest if I failed to admit to finding the main (live performances) stage and the Ixtlan stage incredible. The wealth of detail in both is wonderful – make sure you find your way into the caverns of Ixtlan, and do tour the main stage area very carefully – there is a huge amount to discover, and touches of Toady’s and Flea’s humour can be found throughout (I love the selfie-taking frog 🙂 ).

I’ll have more to come on SL12B as the week progresses. For now, I’ll leave you with a video of the four main stages – let the celebrations begin!

Celebrating Midsummer and stories in Second Life

It’s time to kick-off another week of fabulous story-telling in voice, brought to our virtual lives by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library. As always, all times SLT, and all events in Second Life are held at the Seanchai Library’s home at Bradley University. Locations for events in InWorldz and Kitely are given within the write-ups for those events.

Sunday, June 21st 13:30: A Midsummer Celebration

Dress in white or summer colours, adorn yourself with flowers and join the staff and volunteers of Seanchai Library to celebrate Midsummer’s Eve with stories, dance and music.

“The solstice itself has remained a special moment of the annual cycle of the year since Neolithic times.  The concentration of the observance is not on the day as we reckon it, commencing at midnight or at dawn, as it is customary for cultures following lunar calendars to place the beginning of the day on the previous eve at dusk at the moment when the Sun has set.  In some countries still, Midsummer’s Eve is the greatest festival of the year, comparable only with Walpurgis Night, Christmas Eve, and New Year’s Eve.” – from the Seanchai blog.

Join the Seanchai staff and volunteers at the Seanchai stone circle for a Midsummer celebration, Sunday, June 21st.
Join the Seanchai staff and volunteers at the Seanchai stone circle for a Midsummer celebration, Sunday, June 21st.

Monday June 22nd, 19:00: Science-Fiction Shorts

Gyro Muggins reads Isaac Asimov’s 1966 science-fiction story The Billiard Ball, can anti-gravity be created and controlled? Could it even be used to kill someone during a simple game of billiards?

Tuesday June 23rd, The Great Gatsby, Part 5

Great GatsbyCaledonia Skytower, Corwyn Allen and Kaydan Oconnell continue reading of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s magnificent 1925 novel.

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.

Following a visit with them, Nick is slowly drawn into their world, both discovering Tom Buchanan has a mistress who lives in the Valley of Ashes, an industrial area lying between the Eggs and New York city, and finding himself increasingly attracted to the Buchanan’s friend, the beautiful, if cynically minded, Jordan Baker.

Then, one Saturday, Nick finds himself invited to one of Jay Gatsby’s great parties, and is thus drawn into an increasingly deep well of infatuation, lust, and tragedy, witnessing first hand a darker side of the so-called American Dream.

Wednesday June 24th 19:00: The Tail of Emily Windsnap Part 2

Faerie Maven-Pralou reads from the first volume in Liz Kesseler’s series about a young girl who, having always lived on a boat but having been kept away from the water by her mother, finally gets to have swimming lessons. With them comes a remarkable discovery that leads her into another world…

Thursday June 25th

19:00: Scottish Myths and Legends

With Shandon Loring.

21:00 Seanchai Late Night

With Finn Zeddmore.

Saturday June 27th 12:00 noon Seanchai Inworldz: X Minus One

Join Cale and Shandon as they read selected scripts from the NBC half-hour radio series X Munus One, originally broadcast between April 24th, 1955 and January 9th, 1958. this week: How-2, first broadcast in 1956, written by Clifford D. Simak, and Ray Bradbury’s Marionettes, Inc. (from his short story of the same name), first broadcast in 1955.



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 June / July is the The Xerces Society, at the forefront of invertebrate protection worldwide, harnessing the knowledge of scientists and the enthusiasm of citizens to implement conservation programmes.

Additional Links

LEA announce AIR 9 selection

LEA_square_logo_60On Friday, June 19th, 2015 the Linden Endowment for the Arts announced the successful applicants for the 9th round of the LEA’s Artist-in-Residence (AIR) programme.

They are: Kiesta Aljon, Cica Ghost, Thoth Jantzen, Livio Korobase, FreeWee Ling, Katharine McGinnis, MiaSnow Myriam, Fuschia Nightfire, Artistik Oluja, Caliandris Pendragon, Seafore Perl, Czechoslovakian Resident, Edie1943 Resident, Lacocinelle Resident, Storm Septimus, Pixels Sideways, Surreal Skytower, Misprint Thursday, Lorin Tone and  Michael Wexhome.

Cocytus: the 9th circle of Hell - Frankx Lefavre, AIR round 8
Cocytus: the 9th circle of Hell – Frankx Lefavre, AIR round 8

The LEA received over 40 applications, and those selected were viewed as presenting “truly outstanding proposals that represent a diverse range of virtual art” – and it is pleasing to note some new names within the list of awardees.

The successful applicants will each be allocated a full region within the LEA for a 6-month period commencing on July 1st, 2015. They will then have up to four months to prepare their projects, which range from full-sim immersions, to innovative builds geared specifically for multimedia works such as sound and machinima.

Each installation must be open for a minimum of two months of the 6-month allocation, and it is expected that some will be open in advance of the four-month build deadline. All exhibits must be open to the public by the end of October 2015 at the latest.

City Inside Out Phase II: "Stories" - Haveit Neox, AIR round 8
City Inside Out Phase II: “Stories” – Haveit Neox, AIR round 8

All openings will be announced in the LEA blog.