Space Sunday: Saturn, spacesuits and printing a base on the Moon

An artist’s impression of NASA’s Cassini passing Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, on its way to the first of its Grand Finale dives between the planet and its ring system

NASA’s Cassini mission has completed the first of its final 22 “dives” through the gap between  Saturn its ring system. In the process, the craft came to its closest past so far over the planet’s cloud tops.

As I noted in my previous Space Sunday update, after 20 years in service and with manoeuvring fuel running out, the mission is set to end on September 15th, 2017, when the veteran spacecraft will enter the upper reaches of Saturn’s atmosphere and burn up, preventing any risk of the vehicle colliding with one of Saturn’s moons and risk contaminating it with the radiation from its plutonium power cells.

Two images of a vast hurricane-like vortex at Saturn’s north pole. Left: the raw image captured by Cassini as it passed over the planet on April 27th, 2017 (UT). Right; a colour enhanced image (from a slightly different angle) showing the complex mechanics of the atmosphere around the vortex. Credit: NASA/JPL / Jason Major. Click for full size

This first pass between planet and rings was a complete dive into the unknown – so much so, that the spacecraft was out of contact for 20 hours during the critical part of the pass. This was because prior to making the pass, the vehicle had to be oriented so that its 4-metre (13 ft) diameter communications dish was facing away from Earth and into the direction of flight, so it could act as a shield to prevent any dust particles within gap impacting more sensitive parts of the vehicle.

NASA’s Deep Space Communications network lost contact with the vehicle at 09:00 UT, on April 26th, as Cassini cross Saturn’s ring plane. The signal was successfully re-acquired at 06:56 UT on April 27th, after the vehicle had cleared the gap and could re-orient itself and point its communications dish back towards Earth. The transfer of data gathered during the pass commenced a few minutes later.

A dramatic image from April 27th (UT) showing the darkened limb of Saturn with a thin band of the upper atmosphere catching the sunlight. Above the planet are the hazy, sunlight reflecting major rings of the planet with the bright wedding ring of the G-ring brightly catching the Sun’s light. Credit: NASA/JPL / Jason Major

“No spacecraft has ever been this close to Saturn before. We could only rely on predictions, based on our experience with Saturn’s other rings, of what we thought this gap between the rings and Saturn would be like,” said Cassini Project Manager Earl Maize at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California, as the data from the spacecraft started flowing. “I am delighted to report that Cassini shot through the gap just as we planned and has come out the other side in excellent shape.”

The gap between the rings and the top of Saturn’s atmosphere is about 2,000 km (1500 mi) wide, and Cassini came within 3,000 km (1900 mi) of Saturn’s cloud tops, in an area where there was a risk of smoke particle sized motes of dust being encountered. Small as they might be, the fact that the probe was travelling at some 124,000 km/h (77,000 mph) relative to Saturn meant that any dust striking an unprotected part of the vehicle could have been catastrophic, hence using the communications antenna (which could suffer some damage without serve loss of capability) as a shield.

Tipped on its side, this true colour image of Saturn shows the planet’s north polar region and vortex (just visible, bottom right), caught in sunlight, together with the planet’s ring system. Credit: NASA/JPL / Sophia Nasr

“In the grandest tradition of exploration, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has once again blazed a trail, showing us new wonders and demonstrating where our curiosity can take us if we dare,” said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters.

The data from Cassini is already being analysed and revealing more about Saturn and it’s atmosphere, but it has been the images that were released following the pass which have stunned observers on Social media – although some needed to have their perspective adjusted as the first of the raw images appeared.

“Hey, it’s a GIF of something you think’s gonna be cool, but it’s Cassini proving it’s no better at camera s*** than somebody getting shot at,” one commentator chose to Tweet. This prompted a quick response from fellow space enthusiast, Jason Major (whose images are used in this article); “Cute. Now realise Cassini is taking these pics w/a camera built in 1996 while travelling 65,000 mph where sunlight is 100x dimmer than here.”

Cassini’s second ring-dive will occur on Tuesday, May 2nd.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: Saturn, spacesuits and printing a base on the Moon”

Artefacts, adventures, archives and ransoms

It’s time to kick-off another week of storytelling in Voice 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.

Monday, May 1st 19:00: Architects of Hyperspace

Humour, hard science and speculative science fiction all combine in this novel by Thomas R. McDonough, who has worked with both the SETI Institute and The Planetary society.

A trio driven by personal ambitions comes together after a dying man’s last words send them in search of the secrets of a lost alien civilisation.

A wonderful tongue in cheek story backed by great speculative science. The combination of the sometimes screwball comedy with the specifics of how hyperspace could work and the details of the time lags of space communication, etc, made for a believable and well-formed diegesis. There were times reading this book that I just had to stop to laugh. The book reminds me a great deal of Red Dwarf. 

Join Gyro Muggins as he reads this unusual story.

Tuesday, May 2nd 19:00: Wild at Heart

Aoife Lorenfield continues Clare Alexander’s 2017 novel.

At 26 and unmarried, Nora Nicholson believes she has little choice but to follow her brother Edward away from England to West Africa. So it was that, having never set foot outside of the village where she had been born, she found herself boarding a Royal Navy frigate about to set sail for those exotic, distant lands.

Little did she know that she would find work illustrating birds for the naturalist and ship’s surgeon, John Sharples, or form the unlikeliest of friendships with Senhora Morena – or that she would meet Hugh Beaumont, naturalist and explorer, late of the 95th Rifles.

Once he led men in war, many of whom died in the field of battle. Now he desires to explore the rivers and forest of West Africa. But for Hugh Beaumont, leaving duty behind does not come easy. So it is he finds himself bringing criminals to justice and protecting Miss Nicholson, who is sorely in need of help. Then love enters the picture.

Wednesday, May 3rd 19:00 The Atrocity Archives Part 2

atrocity-archivesBob Howard is a low-level techie working for The Laundry, a super-secret government agency. While his colleagues are out saving the world, Bob’s under a desk restoring lost data. None of them receive any thanks for the jobs they do, but at least a techie doesn’t risk getting shot or eaten in the line of duty. Bob’s world is dull but safe, and that’s the way it should have stayed; but then he went and got Noticed.

Now, Bob Howard is up to his neck in spycraft, alternative universes, dimension-hopping Nazis, Middle Eastern terrorists, damsels in distress, ancient Lovecraftian horror and the end of the world.

Only one thing is certain: it will take more than control-alt-delete to sort this mess out…

Join Corwyn Allen as he resumes relating stories involving Charles Stross’ unlikely hero, Bob Howard.

Thursday, May 4th 19:00, Night of the Wolf

Robert E. Howard is perhaps best known as the creator of Conan the Barbarian and Solomon Kane. However, he also wrote a plethora of short stories involving a range of characters and settings. This story involves Cormac Mac Art, an outlawed Gael, a pirate and a Reiver.

Set on the island of Golara, North of the Scottish mainland, near the Shetlands. Here is a mix of native Picts, ostensibly under the “protection” of a Norse raiding group who are using the island as their base of operations – and their bitter enemies, the Danes, are using as a target.

Into this wades Irish legend Cormac Mac Art (and opponent of Danes and Norsemen), trying to operate in disguise to win the freedom of someone captured by the Norse raiding party who is not all he appears to be. Problem is, the leader of the Norse is not for a moment fooled by Cormac’s disguise…

Read by Shandon Loring and also presented in Kitely

Please check with the Seanchai Library’s blog for updates and for additions or changes to the week’s schedule.

The featured charity for March April is Project Children, building peace in Ireland one child at a time.

SL project updates 17/2: server, viewer Content Creation UG

Patankarblog post

Server Deployments

As always, please refer to the server deployment thread for the latest information  / updates.

  • There was no deployment to, or restart of, the Main (SLS) channel on Tuesday, April 25th
  • Depending on the outcome of late QA testing, the three RC channels may be updated on Wednesday, April 26th as follows:

DRTSIM-343: Allow Public Access Region / Parcel Settings Changes

This is the update to region / parcel access that will mean that if a region is explicitly set to Allow Public Access, parcel holders on the region will no longer be able to override the setting at the parcel level (see my update here). It had been deployed to the three RC channels a couple of weeks ago, but was then withdrawn. This may now be reappearing on an RC in week #18 (commencing Monday, May 1st, 2017), with Rider linden noting:

There were a number of suggestions about additions to the project. I just finished getting the code in that will send a notification to the parcel owner if their access settings are changed out from under them. Rider Linden: I’ve also fixed it so that the previous settings are stored in the simstate and restored if the override is reverted.

SL Viewer

The AssetHTTP project viewer, which shifts remaining asset types to delivery over HTTP via the Content Delivery Network(s) leveraged by the Lab, was updated to version on Thursday, April 27th. This is primarily a bug-fix release, aimed at reducing the high crash rate exhibited by the previous version.

Content Creation User Group Meeting

The following notes are taken from the Content Creation User Group meeting, held on  Thursday April 27th, 2017 at 1:00pm SLT at the the Hippotropolis Camp Fire Circle. The meeting is chaired by Vir Linden, and agenda notes, etc, are available on the Content Creation User Group wiki page.

The meeting was more of a general Q&A session, live streamed / recorded by Medhue Simoni, and that video is embedded at the end of this update, my thanks to him for providing it. Timestamps in the text below will take readers directly to the relevant point in the video (in a separate tab) where topics are discussed. Note that there was a lot of discussion via text, with topics overlapping. The notes here, together with the time stamps and audio extracts from my own recording refer to the key topics where Vir Linden provided input / feedback.

Attachments Using non-Hand Bones Following Hand Movements

[5:31] Medhue Simoni has been trying to work out a way to have attachments used by the hand (such as a gun, or nunchuk system, for example) rigged to non-hand bones in the skeleton correctly track with the hands. This would, for example allow someone perform a set of nunchuk exercises without the weapons massively separating from the hands, or allow a gun to be drawn, fired, twirled on a trigger finger, etc, and then be returned to the holster in a fluid, hand-following movement.

The problem here is that s non-hand bones which might be used for this aren’t actually connected to the hands, they have no way of knowing where the hand might be placed. However, Medhue believes that given time, he might be able to solve the problem.

“Layering” Meshes using Alpha Textures

[9:20] Some content creators have been taking advantage of placing two meshes in the same location and using an alpha texture as an overlay, thereby forcing one mesh to always be on top.  This can add a certain level of realism to objects such as plants without the need for additional textures / baking.

However, how meshes with alphas are “sorted” at present appears to be more a factor of how the rendering pipeline is working at present, rather than being an intentional feature, therefore using layered meshes and alphas in this way is not recommended, as it cannot be guaranteed that a future update to the rendering system won’t change the behaviour.

Advanced Lighting Model and Lower-End Systems

[20:38] A question was asked if Advanced Lighting Model (ALM) “be made to work on lower spec computers”, so that more people have the opportunity to see materials in use.

ALM has tended to be a controversial subject, as it is often blamed for causing significant performance hits. However, on medium-to-high end systems, this is perhaps a case of people confusing enabling ALM with enabling ALM together with enabling shadow rendering (which does cause a performance hit); enabling ALM by itself shouldn’t result in any significant hit.

Lower specification systems and older GPU systems, however, are different. Some are not capable of handling ALM, regardless as to whether shadows are disabled, and a performance hit is noticed simply by turning it on. This, coupled with a number of other factors, means that trying to adjust ALM so be of use to lower specification systems isn’t really something that the Lab could realistically engineer.

Note that the above discussion continues for a large part of the meeting, mostly in text chat.

JIRA Feature Acceptance & Action

[26:38] Feature requests submitted via the JIRA can go in one of several ways. If a request proposes something that the Lab believes cannot reasonably be done, or which cannot be done, or which offer what is thought to be a small return for the amount of investment in terms of effort, which tend to get rejected.

Where a request is accepted by the Lab and pulled into their internal JIRA, this doesn’t mean it will definitely result in it being implemented. Again, this doesn’t automatically mean the idea will be implemented; it simply means the Lab is considering the idea. Again, it comes down to matters of overall benefit, resource requirements and availability, etc., as to whether it is actually implemented.

Supplemental Animations and Animated Mesh

[41:32] Both are still under consideration at the Lab, but no news on actual projects being on the horizon. Concerns about performance with animated meshes has been raised internally where people to fill there region / space with lots of animated meshes (NPS, trees with branches swaying in the wind, animals, etc.).

Next Meeting

The next content Creation User Group meeting will be on Thursday, May 11th.

An Asian Fusion in Second Life

Asian Fusion: Oyster Bay – click on any image for full size

We received word that Sera Bellic had given her Homeland region of Oyster Bay a further make-over some 24 hours before it appeared in the Destination Guide Highlights for Friday, April 28th – and I was immediately intrigued by the theme title: Asian Fusion. Regular readers of this blog will know that anything having any kind of Eastern or oriental flavour is bound to get my attention. So, off we hopped to take a look.

Now, truth be told, “Asian” and “oriental” fusions in Second Life often tends to lean towards regions with a blending of predominantly Chinese and Japanese elements, so I was curious to see if Sera would cast her net wider than purely Sino-Japanese influences. And she has. Quite marvellously so.

Asian Fusion: Oyster Bay

From the landing point in the north-west corner of the region, visitors are encouraged under a rocky arch and into a land that immediately puts one in mind of Indochina (or as we more boringly refer to it today: South-east Asia). Across a small river spanned by a simple yet ornate wooden bridge, a paired tier of rice paddies are stacked against a rocky bluff. Working oxen stand on the grassland between stream and paddies,  ignoring the click-clank of a nearby shishi odoshi which forms part of the region’s nods towards Japan. Another such nod can be found on the north bank of the river, where a small Japanese style cabin sits amidst elephant’s ears and clover, refreshments on offer inside, a sampan sitting at the river bank close by.

Immediately to the right of the rocky arch guiding visitors into the region is a clear nod to China. A bamboo grove rises on a step of clover-covered rock, home to a bamboo of pandas (I much prefer that to the the idea of an “embarrassment” of pandas, or the Royal Society’s 1866 decree that a group of pandas should be called a “cupboard”).  Like the oxen across the river, these bears are not the slightest bothered by the steady clank of an shishi odoshi.

Asian Fusion: Oyster Bay

Southwards across the region, and the landscape becomes home to a dense, forest-like woodland. Here one is put in mind of Myamar (Burma), such is the jungle-like feel, coupled with the presence of another vulnerable / endangered species: the tiger. Within this mini reproducion of what might be  the Hukawng Valley, can also be found a Japanese torii gate marking a set of ancient stone steps leading to a decidedly Chinese pavilion where Buddha sits, all of which speaks further to the beautiful fusion of influences provided. Guarding this pavilion and hilltop are white Bengal tigers, offering a further and interesting fusion.

Travel north from the forest, and another  torii gate and flight of steps await. These lead up to a Japanese house sitting behind the rocky bluff against which the rice paddies have been built. Another house stands further to the south, beyond the forest and not far from the pandas in their bamboo grove, while in the middle of the region, rich in cherry blossom petals, sits a tranquil pond which feeds into the little river.

Asian Fusion: Oyster Bay

I’ve long enjoyed Sera’s designs. each one tends to be unique and offer food for thought when considering designs and ideas of use at home or elsewhere. However, every so often there is a design which tends to stand slightly above Sera’s other builds for one reason or another. Asian Fusion is, for me, another such design; the way a range of influences have been brought together is simply marvellous (I even felt Sri Lanka, a country I love dearly reflected in a couple of places).

This is not so much a place to be visited as it is to be savoured. Simply wonderful.

Asian Fusion: Oyster Bay

SLurl Details

Asian Fusion (Oyster Bay, rated:  Moderate)

Portraits and studies in Second Life

Maddy, Melania Gallery

We received news on two new exhibitions featuring portraiture and avatar studies that have recently opened in Second Life. The first is at the Surreal Gallery, featuring the work of Lily Summerwind (LiliMango), and the second features the work of Maddy (Magda Schmidtzau) on display at the Melania Art Gallery.

Simply Lily opened on April 23rd and runs until June 23rd at the Blue Room at Surreal Gallery is the smaller of the two exhibits, offering fourteen images by Llily Summerwind. Given the title of the exhibition, the majority of the pieces are self-portraits, which are striking in their use of poses to convey a story or mood.

Simply Lily, Surreal Gallery

Self-portraiture is a form of photography which tends to engage me peripherally; while I can appreciate the artistry that is involved, often times the fact that the pictures are posed and stand as self-studies, rather than carrying a narrative tends to leave me distanced from the subject matter. However, I found myself drawn to number of the images presented in this exhibit, and for numerous reasons.

The first is that narrative is clearly evident in a number, with several offering a sense of anticipation / promise which draws one into them, wanting not so much to discover the narrative as be a part of it –Shhhh being a case in point. Then there is the use of colour, shading, light and shadow, all of which are quite extraordinary.

Simply Lily, Surreal Gallery

In terms of colour and shading, everything from powerful monochrome (again, witnessed in Shhhh) through a joyous richness of colour demonstrated in the likes of Rainbow Bright or the balance of colour and lighting which is so powerfully used in Geisha. The skilled use of contrast is also presented, through pieces like Me and My Shadow, Spring Flower and The Butterfly Effect.

Maddy is the larger of the two exhibits, presenting around 40 images by Maddy on display at both indoor and outdoor spaces at the Melania Gallery, making full use of what is a charming setting, complete with canal, gallery buildings, a bar and canal-side walks built by Terrygold.

Maddy, Melania Gallery

Once again there is a richness of style and approach to the pieces on offer, with a broad mix of subject matter, albeit again with a focus on avatar portraiture. In particular, sitting within the indoor spaces are a series of surreal / collage pieces which are especially eye-catching (see above). Colour is once again used to great effect, with a studied use of depth of field present in some images as well.

Many of the pieces are untitled, making it somewhat difficult to draw attention to specific pieces on  offer, which is a shame, as show really are deserving of recognition, such as the fantasy piece sitting alongside the landing point (and which is to the right of the image headlining this article), together with the aforementioned surreal pieces. There also appears to be some grouping of pictures thematically between the various exhibition areas – although this could equally just be the way I looked at things.

Maddy, Melania Gallery

However, this does underline a small problem with this exhibition:  there are perhaps too many pieces on display. Sometimes, less is more and such is the volume of work on display, it can be a little overwhelming as one wanders through the exhibition spaces. That said, the pieces on offer are undoubtedly striking, and very much worth viewing,

SLurl Details

  • Simply Lily, Surreal Galley (Claressa, rated: Moderate)
  • Maddy, Melania Gallery (White Beach, rated: Adult)

BURN2: Burnal Equinox 2017

BURN2 Burnal Equinox – poster via BURN2

Friday, April 28th marked the opening of the 2017 BURN2 Burnal Exquinox event, which will run through until Sunday, April 30th.

The theme for this year’s event is Scared and Profane, with the press release for the event reading in part:

What does this mean? The sacred–profane dichotomy is an idea posited by French sociologist Émile Durkheim, who considered it to be the central characteristic of religion, “Religion is a unified system of beliefs and practices relative to sacred things, that is to say, things set apart and forbidden.”

In Durkheim’s theory, the sacred represented the interests of the group, especially unity, which were embodied in sacred group symbols, or totems. The profane, on the other hand, involved mundane individual concerns. Durkheim explicitly stated that the sacred/profane dichotomy was not equivalent to good/evil. The sacred could be good or evil, and the profane could be either as well.

BURN2 Burnal Equinox

Throughout the playa, is a series of builds offering various takes on the theme. As one might expect, religious symbolism is heavy throughout, together with the more “traditional” images of BURN2. Plenty of humour is also on offer – such as the Lanterns That Must Not Be Touched (but which rain carrots if they are…).

A full weekend of entertainment and festivities will be taking place through the three days of the event, which kicked-off at 10:00 SLT on Friday, April 28th with a Lamp Lighter procession. You can find full details of activities in the BURN 2 calendar, some of the highlights of which include (all times SLT):

  • Saturday, April 29th:
    • 19:00 – 19:30: BURN2 Acrobat Fire Dancers
    • 19:30 – 20:00: Royal Lepus Fashion Show
  • Sunday April 30th:
    • 10:00 – 11:00: Lamp Lighters and Fire Dancers
    • 11:00 – 12:00 noon: first Burn of the equinox
    • 12:00 noon – 13:00: Chang High Sisters
    • 15:00 – 16:00: DRUM
    • 17:00 – 18:00: Lamp Lighters and Fire Dancers
    • 18:00 – 19:00: second Burn of the equinox
BURN2 Burnal Equinox

About BURN2

BURN2 is an extension of the Burning Man festival and community into the world of Second Life. It is an officially sanctioned Burning Man regional event, and the only virtual world event out of more than 100 real world Regional groups and the only regional event allowed to burn the man.

The BURN2 Team operates events year around, culminating in an annual major festival of community, art and fire in the fall – a virtual echo of Burning Man itself.

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