An Indonesian Cloudbreak in Second Life

Cloudbreak; Inara Pey, July 2018, on FlickrCloudbreak – click any image for full size

Update, November 13th: Cloudbreak appears to have closed, and all SLurls have been removed from this article. My thanks to Miro Collas for letting me know.

Cloudbreak is the all-encompassing name for two regions  – one Full (Cloudbreak), the other a Homestead (Cloudbreak II) – offering visitors a taste of “an Indonesian inspired surfers’ paradise”, and both are very well put together to offer a nicely immersive environment.

Designed by Leaf (Peyton Darmoset) under the dirty.pretty banner she runs with partner Julz (Juliette Rainfall), the two regions have a distinctly north-south / east-west design, the land running down the eastern sides of the two regions, their western sides being open to the sea. The land itself is primarily rugged territory, backing directly on to the mountainous sim surround that greatly heightens the feeling that this is a remote coastal area in the world’s largest archipelago nation. To the west, the land drops sharply away to the water, a ribbon of sand winding up along the coast under the constant bombardment of a rolling tide of breakers.

Cloudbreak; Inara Pey, July 2018, on FlickrCloudbreak

The “official” (although not enforced) landing point lies to the south-east of the landscape, well up into the rocky terrain. It’s worth starting your visit here,  rather than simply dropping in anywhere on the map, as it really provides the best sense of immersion in the environment whilst exploring – plus there’s also a good chance a “blind” teleport will either drop you in the sea or possibly into one of the private rental properties to be found to the south and north. The landing point also provides information on the rentals, as well as on a local photography contest (running until August 3rd and with some impressive L$ prizes, as well as encompassing the regions of Ash Falls (read here for my July 2017 review of the region) and Erebos Harbor, also operated under the dirty.pretty banner).

Stone steps, guarded by small stupa-like objects, lead the way down into the richly forested landscape, where trails and wooden walkways offer a variety of paths to explore. Some of these run between the rugged highlands, others offer a way down through them. Some keep to the eastern extremes of the regions, others offer the way to cross to the west side before descending to the beaches. Two of the more impressive of these is a zip line that runs from the highest accessible point to the east down to a platform on the west side of a deep gorge, where (for those prepared to jump) a rocky path winds down under a great table-like slab of rook to reach the sands of the coast.

Cloudbreak; Inara Pey, July 2018, on FlickrCloudbreak

For those who don’t fancy the sliding and jumping, the second option is to follow the wooden walkways and steps that offer a way across the upper end of the gorge, close to a high waterfall, and a single bridge from which is suspended three great copper bells to join the path down the west side of the gorge, and thence to the beach.

Take the trails south or north along the rugged uplands, and you will eventually come to the rental properties. The northern most of these had, at the time of our visit, a rather aggressive security system (5 second warning prior to teleport to the edge of the parcel) and no sign to indicate it was private property – so care when approaching these might be advisable.

Cloudbreak; Inara Pey, July 2018, on FlickrCloudbreak

There are also public areas along the highlands as well, so don’t let the thought of security systems put you off. Perhaps the most prominent of these public spaces sits upon the great slab of rock mentioned above, and under which the waters of the gorge flow into the sea. Looking west to where Buddha sits atop a rocky island, it offers a cooling pool of water in which to relax and shades places to sit and cuddle. Elsewhere can be found camp sites and shaded wooden platforms, on which to sit and rest.

Those wishing to get a closer look at Buddha can do so via raised wooden walkways that reach out over the sea from the beach to his pinnacled seat. These go by way of an off-shore music venue on a sandbar to eventually reach the moorings clustered at the foot of Buddha’s island. The beach itself is broad, the golden sand tingled naturally with hints of pink along the high tide mark. There are rezzers to be found along the sands for those wishing to have a go at surfing (which can be fun), but for me, the most impressive aspect of the beach is the club house area which has clearly been kitbashed by Leaf from assorted sources, the parts brought together to create something genuinely unique  and perfectly suited to the environment.

Cloudbreak; Inara Pey, July 2018, on FlickrCloudbreak

Beautifully conceived and executed, Cloudbreak is a genuine gem of a setting. Stunning in vista, clever in layout, captivating to the eye and the camera (photos are welcome at the dirty.pretty Flickr group). Rezzing rights are available to those who need it by joining the local group. Note that a percentage of the fee paid to join goes towards supporting the Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) – an organisation of which I’ve long been a supporter – and dirty.pretty’s adopted Orca, Holly.

With thanks to Shakespeare for the pointer.

Space update special: the lake on Mars

An artist’s impression of Mars Express probing Mars using its MARSIS instrument superimposed on a radar cross-section of the southern polar layered deposits. The continuous white line at the top of the radar results above marks the beginning of the South Polar Layered Deposit; a layered accumulation of water ice and dust. The blue spots are areas of very high reflectivity and thought to be water. Credit D. Coero Borga/ESA / INAF

Whether or not liquid water exists on Mars has long been a source of study with regards to the Red Planet. There are many signs that the surface of Mars was once affected by free-flowing liquid – most likely water – in the planet’s ancient past. Curiosity, NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory rover, has confirmed the crater it has been exploring was home to several lakes during the early part of Mars’ history. What’s not clear is whether and how much of the remnants of that water still survives in liquid form today under the planet’s surface. Now a group of European scientists believe they have found direct evidence a sub-surface lake of liquid water on Mars.

The news comes via a paper published on Wednesday, July 25th in the Journal Science by a team of researchers involved in analysing the data from the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter – something of a “forgotten mission” around Mars, given the volume of US missions on and orbiting the planet.

Mars Express arrived at Mars on December 25th, 2003. Since then, it has been quietly working away, observing Mars, gathering data about the planet’s atmosphere, surface and sub-surface, using a range of instruments including the Mars Advanced Radar for Subsurface and Ionosphere Sounding (MARSIS) package capable of “seeing” what lies under the surface of the planet. It is data from MARSIS which points to the presence of the subsurface lake.

An artist’s impression of Mars Express over Mars. The long booms (40m in length) extending from the vehicle are the deployed radar emitters for MARSIS. Credit: ESA

The story actually begins in 2007, when data from a MARSIS survey of a region near the Martian south pole revealed very strong differences in the radar returns (“echoes”) of two subsurface layers. On Earth, such a strong differentiation in returns typically tends to be the result of one of the layers being subsurface water. Analysis of the data from MARSIS initially suggested the “bright” return from the region on Mars might be caused by a layer of carbon dioxide ice. However, as further data was gathered on the region, researchers noticed something odd: the measurements of the layer kept changing over relatively short periods of time, rather than remaining relatively constant as might be expected from a body of subsurface ice.

Investigations of the apparent fluctuations in different radar returns of the same area revealed something unexpected: such was the volume of data point being collected by MARSIS, the software aboard Mars Express to initially process the returns was effectively averaging things out – giving the impression whatever the radar was encountering beneath the surface of Mars was somehow fluctuating: present in quantity during one pass, all but gone a few passes later, only to suddenly return in volume.

A composite image showing the south pole of Mars (r) and the region where the MARSIS radar reflections have been found (l). Credit: ESA

With their understanding of what was happening with the MARSIS processing, researchers were able to work out a means of compensating for it, and began a campaign of gathering data from the region, which ran for three years between mid-2012 mid mid-2015. It is the Earth-based analysis of this data over the last couple of years that has led to the conclusion that not only had MARSIS discovered something under the surface of Mars, but that it is very likely liquid water sitting under a covering of relatively cleat ice.

It is unclear if the body, some 20 km (12 mi) across and at least 2 metres deep and lying some 1.6 km (1 mile) beneath the surface, is actually an ice-covered body of water, or if it is an aquifer created by water filling interconnected pores in Martian rock beneath the ice.

However, given the extremely low temperatures on Mars, any water under the surface of the planet would require high concentrations of salt held in suspension within it, because salt helps reduce the temperature at which water freezes (a 20% solution lowers the freezing point of water to -16oC (-2oF), for example).  The data gathered by MARSIS is consistent with the liquid containing high concentrations of salts.

The discovery also has possible repercussions for the idea of Martian life.

For Life to get started, it needs three things: liquid water, an energy source such as minerals leeching into the water, and a biological seed. As noted at the top of this article, the evidence for water once having existed on Mars is strong. What’s more, NASA’s Curiosity rover has already found evidence for the second requirement – an energy source in the form of leeching minerals – was present at the time the planet had liquid water on its surface. So, if the third element – the biological seed – was available, then it is possible that microbial life may have started on Mars. Thus, there is the tantalising question of whether those Martian microbes might have followed the water into places like the south polar lake. However, we’re still a very, very long way from answering this particular question.

From what I think we have learned about this sub-glacial lake, the most likely analogue for this environment is the sub-glacial lake that was recently discovered in Canada… in which the lake itself is in contact with a deposit of salt, and so it is very, very salty. There are micro-organisms that are capable of surviving well below zero even without being in contact with water, and there are micro-organisms that can use the salt, presumably the salt in the water on Mars… for their metabolism.

– Roberto Orosei, MARSIS instrument co-investigator, and co-author of the lake study

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