Space Sunday: of Martian and lunar robots, distant worlds and ET

CuriosityAugust 2016 sees NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover Curiosity rack up four (terrestrial) years of operations on the surface of Mars.

The rover marked this anniversary rather quietly, by preparing to take further rock samples, this time from a target dubbed “Marimba”. Once gathered, the samples will be subjected to on-board analysis by Curiosity using the compact laboratory systems contained the rover’s body.

The sampling take place as the rover is engaged in a multi-month ascent of a mudstone geological unit as it continues its climb towards higher and progressively younger geological areas on “Mount Sharp” (more correctly, Aeolis Mons), which will include some rock types not yet explored.

August 2nd, 2016 (Sol 1,418)T: the Navigation Camera (Navcam) on Curiosity's mast images the rover's extended robot arm over a section of the "Marimba" target rock, ready to use the wire brush mounted on the "hand" at the end of the arm in order to scour surface material which otherwise might contaminate and samples gathered from the rock, prior to the rover taking a drilling sample. Credit: NASA/JPL / MSSS
August 2nd, 2016 (Sol 1,418)T: the Navigation Camera (Navcam) on Curiosity’s mast images the rover’s extended robot arm over a section of the “Marimba” target rock, ready to use the wire brush mounted on the “hand” at the end of the arm in order to scour surface material which otherwise might contaminate and samples gathered from the rock, prior to the rover taking a drilling sample. Credit: NASA/JPL / MSSS

In the meantime, examining the samples gathered from “Marimba” will allow a direct comparison with mudstone samples gathered further down the slopes of “Mount Sharp” and from the flatlands of Gale Crater. This will enable scientists to  build a more complete picture of the mineral and chemical  environment the rover is travelling through, and so further understand the general conditions which may have once have existed within the crater.

Goodnight from a Lunar Jade Rabbit

China has finally bid farewell to Yutu (“Jade Rabbit”, named for the companion to the Moon goddess Chang’e), its first lunar robotic explorer, after 31 months of surface operations.

The little solar-powered rover arrived on the lunar surface as part of Chain’s Chang’e 3 lander / rover mission on December 13, 2013, and was deployed from the lander some  7.5 hours after touch-down.

Yutu as imaged from the Chang'e 3 lander (part of the solar pnael from which can be seen in the lower right corner). Credit: National Astronomical Observatories of China
Yutu as imaged from the Chang’e 3 lander (part of the solar panel from which can be seen in the lower right corner). Credit: National Astronomical Observatories of China

However, due to the vast temperature differential experienced between the sunlit and shadowed parts of the rover at the time of the landing, operations didn’t commence until December 21st, when the rover was uniformly lit by the Sun. It’s first activity was to drive part-way around its parent lander and photograph it. After this, the rover travelled some 40 metres (130 ft) from the lander to commence independent science operations studying the lunar surface.

Yutu was designed to operate for just three months and travel up to 10 km (6.2 mi) within an area of 3 square kilometres (1.2 sq mi). Following its expose to the first 14-day long lunar “night”, the rover resumed operations in January 2014. However, as the second lunar night period approached (lasting 14 terrestrial days), the rover suffered a glitch in its drive mechanisms, leaving it susceptible to the harsh cold of the night-time, and on February 12th, following its second Lunar night, the rover was declared lost … only to resume communications with Earth within 24 hours.

Since that time, although immobilised, the little rover has maintained almost regular contact with Earth, but with each night period taking an increasing tolls on its systems. Even so, its continued survival gained it a huge and loyal following on the Chinese micro-blogging site, Weibo, where in a leaf firmly pulled from NASA’s book of social media engagement, Yutu had a first-person account.

It was via that social media account that Yutu’s final demise was announced, as if from the rover itself, on August 2nd 2016:

This time it really is goodnight. There are still many questions I would like answers to, but I’m the rabbit that has seen the most stars. The Moon has prepared a long dream for me, I don’t know what it will be like – will I be a Mars explorer, or be sent back to Earth?

The message gained a huge response from the rover’s 600,000 followers, and the Chinese space agency officially confirmed the rover had “died”, on Wednesday, August 3rd.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: of Martian and lunar robots, distant worlds and ET”

Disappearing ladies, aliens with headaches; sandboxes and lakes

It’s time to kick-off a week of 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, August 7th

13:30: Tea Time at Baker Street

Tea-time at Baker Street returns for the summer, featuring a new location – 221B Baker Street at the University of Washington in Second Life, and a return to His Last Bow.

A 1917 anthology of previously published Sherlock Holmes stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the volume originally comprised seven stories published by The Strand Magazine between 1908 and 1917. However, later editions of the book saw an eighth story included, The Adventure of the Cardboard Box, originally published in 1892.

In this episode, Sherlock Holmes steps back from the spotlight as he dispatches John Watson to Lausanne, Switzerland, to investigate The Disappearance of Lady Frances Carfax.

Unwed, and denied what should be wealthy inheritance, Lady Fairfax is given to writing to her former governess every other week, wherever she may be – but for five weeks, nary a letter has been received, and fearing for her safety, the governess has contacted Sherlock Holmes.

Reaching his destination, Watson learns that Lady Carfax had been ensconced in the Hôtel International for several weeks prior to leaving suddenly, possibly the result of her being hounded by a large, bearded man. Watson also learns that Lady Carfax paid her maid a hefty £50.00 prior to the latter leaving her employ.

Thus the good doctor is faced with a series of riddles to solve: where did Lady Carfax go? Who was the bearded man and is he somehow involved in her disappearance? Why did she pay her maid so handsome a sum? And where did the maid go after leaving her employ?

15:00: Storyteller Sandbox

The world is full of stories, even the virtual world.  The Storytellers’ Sandbox makes its showcase debut at the Firestorm Community Gateway, featuring voice performers from all around Second Life to share tales of adventure.

The first of a series, this session features: Dubhna Rhiadra, John Morland, Eleseren Briana, Bryn Taleweaver, Hanna Hoo, and Shandon Loring, live in voice. See my article on the Seanchai / Firestorm partnership for more about this joint venture.

Monday August 8th To the Vanishing Point

vanishing pointGyro Muggins continues his Monday Night treat of sci-fi with Alan Dean Foster’s To the Vanishing Point.

When Frank Sonderberg insists his family make their annual vacation a road trip, his wife and kids are less than impressed. When he pulls over to the side of the road to pick up a beautiful young hitch-hiker apparently stranded in the desert, his wife definitely isn’t impressed.

But no sooner has the young woman, calling herself Mouse, boarded their motor-home than reality changes – and not necessarily for the better. Mouse, it turns out, is an alien on a mission and in picking her up, the family is inextricably joined with her in that mission. The universe, with all its many realities, is coming apart because the Spinner, the creator of those realities, has a headache. Mouse has the cure, but in order to give it, she must reach the Vanishing Point – and she needs the Sonderbergs to get her there.

Tuesday August 9th, 19:00: Blueberry Summers: Growing Up at the Lake

Kayden Oconnell reads from Curtiss Anderson’s classic coming of age memoirs.

BlueberryBorn in 1928 in Minneapolis, Curtiss Anderson grew up in an extended family of Norwegian-Americans, among whom the highlight of the year was time spent among the lakes of northern Minnesota.

For young Curtiss, growing up in the 1930s and 1940s, these were especially idyllic years. Time spent in the farmhouse among this extended family presented an opportunity for him to escape the strained and troubled relationship he had with his parents and enjoy the company of others, aunts and uncles, the loving care offered by family friends Leigh and Clara, the companionship of the family dogs – and the chances to experience young love of his own.

Through the tales he relates of these summers, so Anderson also explores the notes and letters he wrote as a boy, carefully produced on a hand-me-down typewriter. Missives and notes which, although he never realised it at the time, were in fact his first forays into what would blossom in his adult life into a distinguished career as a writer, editor and publisher.

Wednesday August 10th: Women Going Wild in the West

With Trolley Trollop.

Thursday, August 11th

19:00: Preview – EXPLORE the World of John Steinbeck

Seanchai Library’s Explore the Arts series in Kitely will continue in January 2017, supporting the Tacoma Little Theatre’s physical world stage production of Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. You can read the project announcement, and join Caledonia in-world (SL and Kitely simulcast), as she talks about the project’s aims, and what visitors will be able to see and experience.

21:00: Seanchai Late Night

With Finn Zeddmore.

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 July-August is WildAid: seeking to end the illegal wildlife trade in our lifetimes by reducing demand through public awareness campaigns and providing comprehensive marine protection.

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