Space Sunday: exoplanets, flying crews to orbit and a movie

Could up to 35% of the Earth-sized exoplanets so far discovered be “water worlds”? Credit: NASA

Exoplanets between 2 and 4 times the size of Earth may feature water as a large component in their make-up, with many comprising perhaps up to 50% water by weight (by contrast, Earth has just 0.02% water content by weight).

This is the conclusion drawn by an international team of researchers who have being pouring (pun intended) over data from the Kepler Space Telescope and the Gaia mission gathered on the 4,000+ exoplanets discovered thus far, many of which tend to fall into two categories: those with the planetary radius averaging around 1.5 that of the Earth, and those averaging around 2.5 times the radius of the Earth.

It was a huge surprise to realise that there must be so many water-worlds. We have looked at how mass relates to radius, and developed a model which might explain the relationship. The model indicates that those exoplanets which have a radius of around x1.5 Earth radius tend to be rocky planets (of typically x5 the mass of the Earth), while those with a radius of x2.5 Earth radius (with a mass around x10 that of the Earth) are probably water worlds. Our data indicate that about 35% of all known exoplanets which are bigger than Earth should be water-rich.

– Dr. Li Zeng of Harvard University, lead researcher on the study

The teams findings could have major implications for our understanding of the composition of Earth-sized exoplanets. However, if the team’s conclusions are correct, it doesn’t necessarily mean these are especially balmy places. Many orbit so close their parent stars their surface temperatures are liable to be in the 200-500o Celsius range (392-932oF), so the water on them is liable to be very different to how we find it on Earth, existing as saturating vapour in the atmosphere, then a world-girdling warm ocean with ice under increasing pressure below it, wrapped around a sold core.

Data from the European Space Agency’s Gaia mission was used by the researchers. Launched in 2013, Gaia is on a mission to take a “census” of one billion of the stars visible from its orbit around the Sun-Earth L2 position. And if that sounds a lot, it is actually represents just 1% of the galaxy’s total population of stars. Credit: ESA

The beauty of the model is that it explains just how composition relates to the known facts about these planets, and offers insight into how they were formed – most likely in a similar manner to the cores of the giant planets in our own solar system.

With a new generation of Earth-based telescopes capable of peering at distant planets currently gaining remarkable optical updates (such as ESO’s Very Large Telescope)  or under construction (the Giant Magellan Telescope or GMT), not to mention the James Webb Space Telescope and the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (see below for more in this), the hope is that the findings presented by the team will soon be backed-up with hard data as atmospheres around these distant worlds are properly characterised.

TESS Starts Work

TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite launched on April 16th, 2018, has started its primary mission – taking over from the ailing Kepler mission in locating exoplanets. This initial primary mission will last for 2 years, in which it is anticipated TESS will pay particular attention to the 200,000 brightest stars around us in the hope of detecting planetary bodies in orbiting them. It will do this using the transit method of observation – looking for dips in the brightness of stars which might indicate the passage of an orbiting planet between the star and the telescope.

How TESS will survey the stars around it. Left: The combined field of view of the four TESS cameras. Middle: Division of the celestial sphere into 26 observation sectors (13 per hemisphere). Right: Duration of observations on the celestial sphere. The dashed black circle enclosing the ecliptic pole shows the region which JWST will be able to observe at any time. Credit: NASA Goddard Spaceflight Centre

The first data gathering element of the mission commenced on July 25th, and will continue through most of August before the data is transmitted by to Earth from TESS’s unique orbit, a “2:1 lunar resonant orbit“, which allows the craft to remain balanced within the gravitational effects of the Moon and Earth, providing a stable orbital regime which should last for decades.

As a part of the mission, the TESS science team aims to measure the masses of at least 50 small planets whose radii are less than four times that of Earth, offering the opportunity to characterise their likely structure and composition. Many of TESS’s planets should be close enough to our own that, once they are identified by TESS, scientists can zoom in on them using other telescopes, to detect atmospheres, characterise atmospheric conditions, and even look for signs of habitability.

In this latter regard, TESS will pave the way for detailed studies of candidate exoplanets by the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), now scheduled for launch in 2021. While TESS cannot look for atmospheric or other signs of life on the distant worlds it locates, JWST will be able to do just that, which could see the 2020s a decade of remarkable extra-solar planetary discoveries.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: exoplanets, flying crews to orbit and a movie”

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Wurfi’s Little Gallery: celebrating SL photography in Sansar

Visiting Wurfi’s little Gallery with Silas Merlin

A while back, Linden Lab offered Sansar users a free, basic gallery building space. It’s not overly complex or particularly big; but it remains a nice freebie to have. At the time I thought it could make a neat little studio gallery for showing off SL photography; all it needed was the right artist.

Step forward Wurfi, virtual worlds explorer, blogger and photographer.

Wurfi has  – entirely independently of my own thoughts on the idea, which were never passed on to anyone – done just that. Wurfi’s Little Gallery is exactly what it says on the label: a little gallery exhibiting some of Wurfi’s SL photography; eight pieces in all (at the time of writing).

Wurfi’s Little Gallery: the bear in his art!

It’s a simple, elegant approach, the gallery sits essentially as a skybox, a spawn point inside, and the four walls adorned with Wurfi’s excellent photographs. It’s fast-loading, fun to visit, and offers a nice reminder of Second Life from within Sansar. It’s also a great little place for those who may not have tried Sansar to try out the client and the basic movement controls without being distracted or confused by Things. Just go, practice walking and admire the photography!

I’m hoping Wurfi expands it with more images from his Flickr stream in the future.

Experience URL

Lovefest 2018 in Second Life

Lovefest 2018: H.P. Lovecraft watches over the town

Lovefest – the Second Life celebration of the birth of H. P. Lovecraft – opened its doors on Friday, August 17th, 2018 and will continue through until Sunday,  August 28th. The theme for the festival this year is The Path of Madness.

This year marks the event’s 7th anniversary, and marks the 128th anniversary of Lovercraft’s birth on August 20th 1890. As with previous Lovefest events, there is once again a wide range of celebratory activities – shopping, music and dancing, live music, film showings, open microphone events, live storytelling in voice, dance troupes and an adventure for people to enjoy.

A high point for event Lovefest is the associated adventure visitors are invited to join. This year, things are taking a slightly different route, taking a walk along the event’s theme.; although the opening of the adventure has been slightly delayed to dealing with some last-minute issues.

With LoveFest 2018’s Story Quest (Hunt) we are treading along “the Path of Madness” this year…

Lovecraft Festival is thrilled to take on this new and extremely intriguing theme – inviting our guests to visit the notorious Arkham Sanatorium in the spirit of HP Lovecraft.

Please forgive the delay, but we will have this fine mini-quest in order soon. Our merchants and staff have some fine things in store for this great little experience. Hopes are to have it in full swing by Monday!

– Runa the Wild Elf, on the Lovefest blog

Arkham Sanatorium awaits adventurers – hopefully open from Monday, August 20th

Those visiting the festival will find themselves in a New England themed coastal town where the streets radiate out from a central landing point presided over by H.P. Lovecraft himself, in the form of a giant statue of the man. Here visitors will find a rich tapestry of merchant stores, entertainers, dancers and more within the market and the waterfront wharves.

Event Schedule and Other Information

The 2018 festival website has a full (and final, at the time of writing) schedule of events, together with a list of entertainers, DJs, readers and live performers. The website also includes a list of the event’s participating merchants and sponsors.

Lovefest 2018

About H.P. Lovecraft

Howard Phillips Lovecraft was born on August 20th, 1890 in Providence, Rhode Island, where he spent most of his life.

A child prodigy, he was reciting poetry when just three years of age, and writing his own poems by six. His grandfather – one of the adults who raised him – encouraged his reading, presenting him with a wide range of books and stories from the likes of One Thousand and One Nights, and the Iliad through to his own original stories of Gothic horror.

As an adult, Lovecraft was introverted, riven by a lack of self-confidence, was unwilling to promote his own literary efforts. Only published in pulp magazines in his lifetime, he was never able to support himself with his writing, and died in poverty at the age of 46 in 1937. It was only posthumously that his work gained recognition – notably the Cthulhu Mythos – and he was elevated to the status of one of the most influential writers of horror fiction in the 20th Century.

Rich in theme as well as narrative, his work has influenced generations of horror writers who followed after him, including the likes of Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell, Alan Moore, Junji Ito, Caitlín R. Kiernan, William S. Burroughs, and Neil Gaiman.

In addition, film directors John Carpenter, Stuart Gordon, and Guillermo Del Toro have all acknowledged Lovercraft as an influence in some of their work, whilst artist H. R. Giger of Alien fame has also pointed to Lovecraft’s tales as a point of influence.

SLurl Details

  • Lovefest (Ravenheart, rated: Moderate)

Cthulhu detectives, drugs and fear in Second Life!

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, August 19th, 14:00: A Study in Enerald, a Lovefest Special

With Corwyn Allen, Kayden Oconnell & Caledonia Skytower.

Who could possibly pour Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft into the cooking pot of the imagination, add a sprinkling of their own verve and narrative powers, then simmer for a while to see what happens? That was the aim of editors Michael Reaves and John Pelan, who challenged 18 authors to do just that for the 2003 anthology Shadows Over Baker Street.

Of the 18 stories published within it, Neil Gaiman’s A Study In Emerald stands as the lead-out story and one of the finest examples of Holmesian / Cthulhu cross-over mythos written.

Meet the narrator, a Major in the Army of Albion (the British Army), late returned from a terrible war in Afghanistan and who received a physical wound to his arm, as well as mental injuries. Without a home in London – the result of his mental trauma – he fortuitously meets a singularly observant, brusque and easily given to keeping strange hours, fellow whilst at Barts Hospital, and the two enter into shared lodgings at Baker Street.

It soon emerges that the Major’s Friend (that’s all we know him as) is a “consulting detective” often called into assist the police with their more perplexing crimes. And so it is that Friend and the Major are engaged in dealing with the murder of an alien noble from Germany. This brings about an audience with The Queen, one of the monarchs of the Old Ones, who have ruled the world in the wake of Humanity’s defeat 700 years earlier, before – after a brief trip to see a stage show – the Major’s Friend is announces he has confirmed the identity of one of those responsible for the murder of the alien noble, and that he was assisted by a surgeon with a limp.

But is it simply a matter of case closed, and “off to the Yard with him, Inspector Lestrade!”? Hardly. There is a richness to the tale that goes beyond the obvious. Drawing most evidently on A Study in Scarlet, the tale also references other works in the Holmes canon – notably A Scandal in Bohemia, The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter, The Adventure of the Empty House and The Valley of Fear. In doing so, Gaiman offers up a story fans of Holmes and Cthulhu alike will find more that satisfying; but it is also one that also has a mystery of its own that reaches beyond the murder and its resolution: just who, really, is hero and villain here? The clues are there to be found; some are obvious (I’ve mentioned perhaps the most obvious one above), while others are a little more … academic, shall we say?

But even without a deeper knowledge of all things Holmes and Watson, this is a tale perfectly bridging the mythologies of Conan Doyle and Lovecraft, guaranteed to sate the appetites of all who hear it.

Travel to the 7th annual Lovefest in Second life to hear more!

Monday, August 20th 19:00: The R-Master

In the 21st century utopia has arrived in the form of a repressive but seemingly benevolent, if omnipresent, bureaucracy. Their perfectly ordered world, seemingly run for the benefit of all, is actually ruled with an iron fist. In claiming to have people’s best interest at heart, those in power keep the population occupied and docile with menial tasks and the promise of advancement with the aid of the strictly controlled drug, R-47.

For the vast majority, R-47 actually does nothing.But for a special few, observed and selected by the ruling Council, it can massively enhance their intellect, elevating them to the status of “R-Masters” allowing them to solve problems, see advancements, and help ensure – wittingly or not – the Council’s control over the world, cosseted and pampered well away from the drudgery of ordinary life.

However, there is a darker side to R-47: just as it can elevate the intellect of some of those chosen to receive it, so to can it reduce them to imbeciles – and there is no way of knowing who the outcome might be in advance. Wally Ho is one selected to receive R-47 – and suffers the latter fate.

Determining it will raise his problem-solving abilities and restore his brother, Etter Ho obtains R-47 and takes it. But, once elevated to the privileged ranks of the R-Masters and witness the truth behind the Council’s rule, Etter determines the established status quo cannot allowed to continue, and Big Brother must be brought to heel.

Join Gyro Muggins as he reads Gordon R. Dickson’s 1973 novel about life in what is now our times!

Tuesday, August 21st

The Library is closed for the evening.

Wednesday, August 22nd 19:00: Tales of the Arabian Nights

With Caledonia Skytower – check the Seanchai Blog nearer the time for more details.

Thursday, August 23rd

14:00: Fireside Tales

With Dubhna Rhiadra – check the Seanchai Blog nearer the time for more details.

19:00: The Lurking Fear

Shandon Loring takes us back into Lovercraft’s world with the 1922 short story of four chapters.

When a monster hunter and his assistants are drawn to Catskills mountains in search of a “lurking fear”, a storm forces them to seek shelter in the abandoned Martense mansion – one for the hunter’s companions to disappear, seemingly taken by a demonic creature whose shadow is cast on the chimney breast by a flash of lightning.

Determined to complete his task of uncovering whatever lies within the area, he continues his investigations, initially – if briefly – with the help of a journalist. As the hunter’s search for the truth continues, he finds that everything is connected to the Martense mansion where he and his assistants first sought shelter, and the local storms themselves appear to play a natural role in things. And so it is that he hides within the abandoned house, resolute to find the truth…

Also presented in Kitelyhop://grid.kitely.com:8002/Seanchai/144/129/29.

21:00: Seanchai Late Night

Contemporary science fiction and fantasy with Finn Zeddmore.

Saturday, August 25th 14:00: Seanchai Library at Lovefest

Join Seanchai library for Lovecraftian tales at the 7th annual Second Life Lovefest.


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.