Space Sunday: of Pluto, Mars and crowdfunding space outreach

new-horizonNASA and the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) at John Hopkins University kept their promise a little earlier than expected.

With the resumption of image and data transmissions from New Horizons, at the start of September, they had indicated that Fridays would henceforth, and for the course of the next 12 months, be known as Pluto Friday, the day on which the latest raw images from the mission to that distant tiny world and its companions would be released.

However, the first set of images came a little sooner than advertised: on Thursday, September 10th, and they continue to show two tiny worlds which continue to astound and have planetary scientists rethinking much about their understanding of dwarf planets.

“Pluto is showing us a diversity of landforms and complexity of process that rival anything we’ve seen in the solar system,” New Horizons’ principal investigator Alan Stern, from the Southwest Research Institute in Colorado, said in a statement. “If an artist had painted this Pluto before our flyby, I probably would have called it over the top — but that’s what is actually there.”

Charon, Pluto's largest companion, as seen by New Horizons on July 14th, 2015, from a distance of some 464,000 kilometres (290,000 miles), revealing a rich and diverse range of surface features
Charon, Pluto’s largest companion, as seen by New Horizons on July 14th, 2015, from a distance of some 464,000 kilometres (290,000 miles), revealing a rich and diverse range of surface features (image: NASA / JHU / APL / SWU) – click any image for the full-size version

The images render details as small as 400 metres / 440 yards per pixel on the surface of Pluto, and reveal features that have scientists agog with excitement; so much so that at a NASA press conference, the images were summarised thus, “it’s complicated!”

In them, we can see a rich complexity of features: nitrogen ice flows which have apparently oozed (and might still be slowly oozing) out of mountain ranges and across broad plains; mountain ranges which are themselves reminiscent of chaotic regions on Mars and Jupiter’s Europa; complex valley systems which might have been carved by the action of material flowing across the planet; and even – perhaps most curiously of all –  what seem to be wind-blown fields of dunes.

A synthetic perspective view of Pluto, based on the latest high-res received from New Horizons presents a view of Pluto from around 1,800 km (1,100 mi) above Pluto’s equatorial area. Towards the bottom of the image is the cratered and dark region dubbed "Cthulhu Regio", and above it, the bright "heart" of Pluto, showing the icy plains of "Sputnik Planum". The images used to create this view were captured from a distance of 80,000 km (50,000 mi) from Pluto
A synthetic perspective view of Pluto, based on the latest high-res received from New Horizons presents a view of Pluto from around 1,800 km (1,100 mi) above Pluto’s equatorial area. Towards the bottom of the image is the cratered and dark region dubbed “Cthulhu Regio”, and above it, the bright “heart” of Pluto, the “Tombaugh Regio”, with the icy plains of “Sputnik Planum” prominent. The images used to create this view were captured from a distance of 80,000 km (50,000 mi) from Pluto (images: NASA / JHU / APL / SWU) – click any image for the full-size version

What is also particularly striking about these images of Pluto is the way that they reveal some of the oldest  (geologically speaking) regions yet seen on the planet sitting right alongside what are the youngest locations on the planet, adding further emphasis to the idea that Pluto has been, and might still be, an active world.

But what about those dunes mentioned above? If they are indeed what the images released on September 10th suggest, Pluto has once again served up a surprise.

“Seeing dunes on Pluto, if that is what they are would be completely wild!” William McKinnon from the mission’s Geology, Geophysics and Imaging (GGI) team, said, “because Pluto’s atmosphere today is so thin. So either Pluto had a thicker atmosphere in the past, or some process we haven’t figured out is at work. It’s a head-scratcher!”

The dunes of Pluto? This image, representing a portion of Pluto's surface some 350 km (220 mi) across, shows some of the planet's older, chaotic terrain at the bottom, and an enigmatic field of dark, aligned ridges that resemble dunes which have caused planetary scientists to feel their eyebrows further vanishing under hair lines. The image was captured from a distance of 80,000 km (50,000 mi) from Pluto.
The dunes of Pluto? This image, representing a portion of Pluto’s surface some 350 km (220 mi) across, shows some of the planet’s older, chaotic terrain at the bottom, and an enigmatic field of dark, aligned ridges that resemble dunes toward the top. The image was captured from a distance of 80,000 km (50,000 mi) from Pluto (images: NASA / JHU / APL / SWU)

More is also being discovered about Pluto’s atmosphere, which is also proving to be a lot more complex than had originally been thought, having many more layers within its thin haze than had been thought. However, these layers of haze have allowed the science team to glimpse surface features which might otherwise have remained unseen as sunlight caught by the haze over the terminator – the divide between the day and night sides of the planet – cast a soft glow over part of Pluto’s night side. When enhanced through careful processing, this glow could be used to reveal what lay below.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: of Pluto, Mars and crowdfunding space outreach”

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The hopes of puppets, disembodied minds and sisterly plots

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 events are held at the Library’s Second Life home at Bradley University, unless otherwise indicated.

Sunday, September 13th 18:00: Pinocchio

An 1883 illustration from the original Le avventure di Pinocchio, drawn by Enrico Mazzanti and coloured by Daniel Donna
An 1883 illustration from the original Le avventure di Pinocchio, drawn by Enrico Mazzanti and coloured by Daniel Donna

Caledonia Skytower settles down at Magicland’s Golden Horseshoe to read selected adventures from the famous story of Pinocchio, the wooden puppet who comes to life through the granting of a wish, and who then has various adventures and misadventures along his path of life.

It’s a story we’re all familiar with in one way or another, and probably largely as a result of the 1940 Walt Disney adaptation of the tale, which is rated today as both one of the finest Disney features made, and one of the greatest animated films of all time.

But, how many of us are familiar with the original Adventures of Pinocchio, published in 1883 by author Carlo Collodi? For those all too familiar with Disney’s rendering of the little puppet who wants to be a boy, there is much in the book that is familiar – but also much that is very different.

So – what will Caledonia bring? Pincchio’s adventures as seen through the eyes of Disney, or as put to paper by Collodi – or perhaps a mix of both? Or will she cast her net wider?

Be at the Golden Horseshoe to find out!

Monday September 14th, 19:00: Solis

solisGyro Muggins continues reading Alfred Angelo Attanasio’s 1994 thought-provoking novel Solis.

What happens when you gamble your own future on the far future, and opt to have your head and brain frozen in the hope that one day, perhaps centuries to come, it – you can be revived?

That’s exactly what Charles Otis decided to do – only things don’t turn out so well. Found discarded but still in a cryonic state, his brain is purchased sans head and installed in a deep space ore carrier as its primary processor.

Until, that is, he is discovered and rescued by those sympathetic to his plight. And so the story takes a turn to matters of the legal status of a disembodied brain, restored for a specific purpose and of unknown origin; paid for, and – at least they would have it – owned by the corporation that purchased the brain, and which has little interest in any past identity the brain might have had.

Tuesday September 15th,19:00 Not That It Matters

AA Milne by Howard Coster, 1926
AA Milne by Howard Coster, 1926

Corwyn Allen concludes AA Milne’s 1919 collection of humorous essays. Best known for his tales of Wnnie the Pooh, Christopher Robin and the 100 acre Wood, Milne in fact wrote widely in bother fiction and non-fiction.

Here he passes observation on wide range of topics, starting with a reflection upon his own writing, “Sometimes when the printer is waiting for an article which really should have been sent to him the day before, I sit at my desk and wonder if there is any possible subject in the whole world upon which I can possibly find anything to say.”

With considerations ranging from why a gentleman’s collar might squeak, or the fact that Isaiah most certainly didn’t carry a notebook, with assorted thoughts on goldfish and daffodils along the way, this is a book of essays wide-range in topic and content. Some of it may, nigh-on a century since the essays first appeared in this book, appear dated and as solidly dated and trapped forever in the opening decades of the 20th century. Other are perhaps as relevant today in their insights and commentary as they were when freshly written. All of them come with Milne’s familiar humour and jovial observations.

Wednesday September 16th 19:00: The Penderwicks on Gardam Street

PenderwicksCaledonia Skytower opens the pages of Jeanne Birdsall’s 2014 volume about the Penderwick family, the second in the series.

When the four Penderwick sisters learn that, encouraged by his sister-in-law and the wishes of their late mother, their father is going to start meeting other women, they fear the worst, and so enact the Save Daddy Plan. They set their Dad up with dates he won’t get on with, while he, also not overly convinced of things, goes out on pretend dates.

However, things start to change as the sisters meet and get to know Ben from next door, and his mum, Iantha. Added to the mix the adventures and challenges each of the four sisters face, and it turns out to be quite a series of events and changes for the Penderwicks – one of them very much turning out for the best.

Thursday, September 17th

19:00 The Banshee’s Comb

With Shandon Loring.

21:00 Seanchai Late Night

With Finn Zeddmore.

Friday, September 18th Avast! There Be Pirates!

Coming on the eve of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, Seanchai Library brings us a deck full of salty tales of plucky plundering, piratical plots and more! Arrrrrrr!

11:30 Saturday, September 19th, 11:30: Folktales at Seanchai IW

to mark the opening of the new Community Library Estate, and their new Exhibition on Folk Tales.  Shandon and Caledonia will tell stories at 11:30 am followed by a Dance Party at Noon.

(https://inworldz/region/Calliope/150/6/28)  

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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 August / September is Water for People, “When one person or one family has clean, accessible water, their lives are changed. But when entire regions and countries have water, the world is changed.”

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