Space Sunday: an eclipse, a space ship, lasers and a birthday

The total lunar eclipse as seen over the columns of the acropolis. Greece, on July 27th, 2018. Credit: Valerie Gache / AFP Getty Images

Friday, July 27th marked the longest lunar eclipse of the 21st century, which was visible from southern Africa, Australia, and Madagascar, Europe, South Asia and South America. Although many of us in the UK largely (and typically!) missed out, as the summer heat wave gave way to rain and clouds, a bit of a double blow, given we were just outside the reach of totality.

For about half the world, the Moon was partly or fully in Earth’s shadow from 17:14 to 23:28 GMT; six hours and 14 minutes in all, with the period of totality – when the Moon lies entirely within the Earth’s shadow, and so is at its darkest – lasting from 19:30 to 21:13 GMT.

Another view of the eclipse from Greece: the Moon appears between the ancient gods Apollo and Hera in Athens. Credit: Aris Messinisaris / AFP / Getty Images

In a special treat, Mars, which is currently at opposition, sitting on the same side of the Sun as Earth, and thus at its closest to Earth (roughly 92 million km /  57 million mi), was visible just below the eclipsed Moon, appearing as a bright “star”. Those blessed with clear skies also had the treat of Saturn, Jupiter and Venus being visible in the sky as well.

The reason the eclipse lasted so long was that the alignment between Sun, Earth and Moon meant that the Moon was passing right across the middle of the disc of shadow cast by the the Earth. This also meant this eclipse created a particularly strong blood Moon. This is a phenomena caused by the lensing effect of the Earth’s atmosphere scatters blue light from the Sun outwards, whilst refracting red light inwards, so the Moon appears rusted as  seen from Earth.

The July 2018 blood moon, seen from Siliguri, India, on July 28th, 2018 (local time). Credit: Diptendu Duttadiptendu Dutta / AFP /Getty Images

Virgin Galactic Reach Mesosphere for the 1st Time

VSS Unity took to the skies on July 26th, 2018, and reached its highest altitude yet: 52,000 metres (170,800 ft), the highest any Virgin Galactic vehicle has thus far reached.

VMS (Virgin Mother Ship) Eve, the WhiteKnightTwo carrier aircraft, took off from the Mojave Spaceport at 15:45 GMT and climbed to an altitude of 14,000 metres (46,500 ft), prior to releasing Unity, which dropped clear prior to its single rocket motor being ignited. The engine burned for some 42 seconds, powering the vehicle into a near vertical ascent and a speed that reached Mach 2.47.

This was enough to propel Unity on a parabolic flight that topped-out at 52,000 m, inside the mesosphere, which spans heights from approximately 10 km (33,000 ft; 6.2 mi) to 100 km (62 mi; 330,000 ft), representing the heights to which Virgin Galactic flights will typically carry fare-paying passengers so they can enjoy around 5 minutes of weightlessness.

VSS Unity mid-flight on July 26th, 2018, as seen from a chase plane. Credit: Virgin Galactic / / Trumbull Studios

It was a thrill from start to finish. Unity’s rocket motor performed magnificently again, and Sooch [co-pilot Mike Masucci] pulled off a smooth landing. This was a new altitude record for both of us in the cockpit, not to mention our mannequin in the back, and the views of Earth from the black sky were magnificent.

– Virgin Galactic’s chief pilot, Dave Mackay

The mesosphere is sometimes referred to the “ignorosphere”, as it sits above the range of instrument carrying balloons, but well below the height from which it can be studied from space, and so remains one of the least-studied parts of the atmosphere. As well as carrying passengers aboard their vehicles, Virgin Galactic plan to change this by also flying experiments up to the mesosphere that might be used to probe it.

VSS Unity about to touch down, July 26th, 2018. Credit: Virgin Galactic

As with previous flights, today’s test flight was designed in part to gather additional data about conditions in the cabin during flight, but it also marks a significant step closer to the company starting commercial tourist flights, which are currently earmarked to commence in 2019, or possibly the end of 2018. Before that, however, the company will make at least one flight  with Unity’s motor fuelled for a full duration burn of 60 seconds. When that might be, and whether it might follow  directly on from this flight (which represented an 11 second longer engine burn than previous flights) or be worked up to, has yet to be stated.

When operational, VSS Unity will be joined by at least two more SpaceShipTwo vehicles, and – at some point in the next couple of years – an additional WhiteKnightTwo carrier vehicle, given the company are looking to operate flights out of Italy as well.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: an eclipse, a space ship, lasers and a birthday”

From the sketchbook of Kayly Iali in Second Life

Visions of Beauty Gallery 2: Kayly Iali

Open now on the upper floor of the Visions of Beauty Gallery 2 is an exhibition of physical world art by Kayly Iali, featuring pieces from her sketchbook as well as paintings. Untitled, so far as I could tell, the exhibition includes 11 pen-and-ink architectural sketches, together with a selection of what appear to be pen-and-watercolour paintings, to offer a total of 28 images (including what might be regarded as the “title” image to be appreciated.

I’ve long admired the skill of those who can draw or paint – I lack any such abilities in either sphere – and I also have a love of architecture, so this exhibition really appeals to me. The pen-and-ink drawing, showing specific elements of buildings, coupled with the angle from which they have been captured, are marvellous exercises in art and perspective. They present not just the form of their building subject, but also its very nature; there is a wonderful beauty in the aspects Kayly has chosen to capture, the lines, materials, angles, that each of the buildings see offer here seems to be very much alive.

Visions of Beauty Gallery 2: Kayly Iali

The breath of life is very much in evidence in the paintings facing the sketches from across the gallery space. These comprise a range of subjects, from people through to architecture by way of nature. Most of these – perhaps because of their use of colour – offer not some much standalone images, as might be said of the pen-and-ink sketches, but vignettes; scenes of broader stories caught within their  frames. Just what are Heather and Lucy sketching? What is the raptor trainer telling us about the bird perched on his glove? Where will the story of the woman nursing her child take us?

Capped by a set of four painted architectural pieces that form a natural link between paintings and sketches (which particularly work if visitors follow the tendency to turn to the right at the top of the stairs to the display space), this is a genuinely delightful exhibit. My congratulations, also, to Kayly on her selection to be part of the 2018 (?) Crocker/Kingsley Art Competition – one of 75 artists to be selected out of 1,200 applicants!

Visions of Beauty Gallery 2: Kayly Iali

When visiting Kayly’s work, do take time as well to enjoy the exhibition of digital geometric art by Giselle Seeker on the ground floor of the gallery building, and more of Sisi Biedermann’s wildlife and fantasy art, some of which I wrote about recently, and which lies on the mid-level of the gallery building.

SLurl Details

From a train in the east to the plains of the west

Seanchai Library

It’s time to highlight 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 home at Holly Kai Park, unless otherwise indicated.

Sunday, July 29th

13:30: Tea-Time on the Orient Express

Join Seanchai Library and friends aboard one of the most luxurious means of rail travel, the Orient Express, as they continue their investigations into the most disagreeable events that have occurred en route to Paris.

Having been required to return to London from Istanbul post-haste, Hercule Poirot sought passage aboard the most famous train, gaining seat initially in second class, only to be “upgraded” to first class by his friend – and member of the board of directors for Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, the operators of the service – M Bouc. Prior to his “upgrade”, Poirot is accosted by one Samuel Ratchett, an American also travelling on the train, who demands the detective’s aide as he believes his life is in danger. However, Poirot refuses, on account of finding the American a distasteful individual.

The locomotive trapped in a snow bank; a passenger murdered; a mystery for Poirot! Murder on the Orient Express

Then, on the night after his upgrade to the sleeping berth next to Ratchett’s, he is woken by two events: the first is that the train has become stranded in snow not far from the city of Vinkovci in Yugoslavia. The second is the discovery that Ratchett’s fears about his safety were correct: his has been murdered in his cabin. But who is responsible?

With nowhere to go until assistance for the stricken locomotive arrives, Poirot sets out to discover – did someone board the train in secret to put an end to Ratchett, or was one of his fellow passengers in fact the murderer? And what of Ratchett himself? Was he really all he seemed?

Offered in a special setting, Murder on the Orient Express, one of Agatha Christie’s most popular stories, continues into its second weekend reading!

18:00: Magicland Storytime

When a fortune-teller’s tent appears in the market square of Baltese city, orphan Peter Augustus Duchene knows the questions that he needs to ask: Does his sister still live? If so, how can he find her?

The fortune-teller’s mysterious answer that an elephant – an elephant! – will lead him to his sister, sets off a chain of events so remarkable, so impossible, that you will hardly dare to believe it’s true. And thus we’re off on a wondrous adventure of the kind only Newbery Medalist Kate DiCamillo could tell.

In this timeless fable, she evokes the largest of themes — hope and belonging, desire and compassion — with the lightness of a magician’s touch, and we are joined in a world of What if? Why not? Could it be?

Join Calaedonia Skytower at the Golden Horseshoe for this most enchanting of stories.

Monday, July 30th 19:00: The Drowning World

They call it the Drowning World; Fluva, a planet on the fringes of the Commonwealth where the rain is – but for one month in the year – maddeningly torrential. For Chief Administrator Lauren Matthias, it is a new posting; one which comes with a major requirement: keeping the indigenous and warlike Sakuntala and immigrant and hard-working Deyzara, from annihilating one another.

But when the vessel used by bio-prospector Shadrach Hasselemoga crashes in Viisiiviisii, an immense, mostly unexplored jungle, and the wettest place on the planet, Matthias must dispatch a team made up of one Sakuntala and one Deyzara on a rescue mission. Can the two form an alliance long enough to both rescue Hasselemoga and survive the deadly jungle?

But as the mission unfolds, Matthias realises something much bigger and darker is occurring on Fluva. A mysterious presence is at work, manipulating events, one which not only puts the lives of the rescue mission at risk, but also her own – and which could ultimately threaten the Commonwealth itself!

Join Gyro Muggins as he reads story #21 in Alan Dean Foster’s Humanx Commonwealth series.

Tuesday, July 31st 1900: Brief Cases

Corwyn Allen dives into Jim Butcher’s 2018 collection of several of his excellent short stories and novellas from the universe of Harry Dresden.

The tales presented here not only offer excellent short narratives that dabble between the scenes of the other novels in the Dresden Universe series, they even encompass what might be Dresden’s greatest challenge…

….Becoming a father.

Wednesday, August 1st 19:00: Mythos

The Greek myths are the greatest stories ever told, passed down through millennia and inspiring writers and artists as varied as Shakespeare, Michelangelo, James Joyce and Walt Disney.

They are embedded deeply in the traditions, tales and cultural DNA of the West. In Stephen Fry’s hands the stories of the titans and gods become a brilliantly entertaining account of ribaldry and revelry, warfare and worship, debauchery, love affairs and life lessons, slayings and suicides, triumphs and tragedies.

Through them, you’ll once again fall in love with Zeus, marvel at the birth of Athena, wince at Cronus and Gaia’s revenge on Ouranos, weep with King Midas and hunt with the beautiful and ferocious Artemis.

Thursday, August 2nd

14:00: Fireside Tales

Bryn Taleweaver brings ghostly tales to the fireside!

19:00: Weird Westerns: The Banshee Singer and The Magic Grindstone

Shandon Loring reads two tales from Lon Thomas Williams’ collection of Weird Westerns featuring Deputy Marshal Lee Winters. Also presented in Kitely (hop://


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

The current charity is Feed a Smile.