Exploring Witch’s Rock in Second Life

Witch’s Rock Costa Rica, January 2020 – click any image for full size

Alsatian Kidd recently pointed us in the direction of the Homestead region of Witch’s Rock Costa Rica, the work of VW Sands and JT Castanea.

Apparently inspired by Roca Bruja or Witch’s Rock, on the west coast of Costa Rica, the region offers, like that location, the opportunity for surfing in a broad bay backed by high hills of rich green, the foreshore area presenting a mix of beach, hill walks and places to relax.

Witch’s Rock, Costa Rica, January 2020

The landing point is located in a deep valley to the south-east of the region, tucked neatly between the hills of the region and the hills of the off-sim surround, a curtain of trees dividing the two. It’s a neat location in which to arrive: the rest of the region’s offerings are neatly hidden from view and, while there is a place to sit and relax close to hand, a sign beckons arrivals to climb a set of stone steps cutting through a cleft in the hills. This leads to a path that quickly forks, a group of signs suggesting possible routes to take.

Follow those pointing along the horse trail / towards the bar, and you’ll quickly come across the back of the latter – circle around to the left of it to find your way up to the deck at the front. This offers a view westwards and down to the the shoreline and an almost continuous roll of breakers heading towards it.

Witch’s Rock, Costa Rica, January 2020

A stream running down from the hills splits the landscape, separating the grass and shrub topped dunes below the bar from the sands and surf paraphernalia of the local beach, a couple of simple wooden bridges spanning it. Those wishing to surf the waves can do so from the beach, while above and behind the rezzers is a bar awaiting customers.

A further stream tumbles over rocks to separate the beach and bar from the northern reach of the region. Sandy in nature again, this features a large corral and a barn, a track cutting between the two. A saddle sits by the barn’s fencing; those touching it can rez a horse and take to the hoof and ride around the rest of the region, taking the trail that runs eastward up the slope and between misty trees.

Witch’s Rock Costa Rica, January 2020

Following this route will being riders – and walkers – to large rocky pool, a single channel extending from it to form the head of the two streams mentioned above. Crossing this via the lone rope bridge allows travellers to follow a grass trail that runs back past the steps leading down to the landing point, and thence to the hilltop bar. Continue south and west along the trail as it descends back to the west coast, where a ride can be finished off by a gallop along the shallows of the shore.

Those who fancy spending time on the water without having to surf can do so either by taking a seat in the little rowing boat calmly sitting offshore despite the waves, or – if an eye is kept out for it – grabbing the little motor boat mooring at the southern wharf.

Witch’s Rock Costa Rica, January 2020

For those who enjoy SL surfing, Witch’s Rock Costa Rica makes for an interesting visit, while there is enough within the region to keep SL photographers happy as well, the local bird life and the ambient sound scape give the region further depth.

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All4Art at Beau Belles Village in Second Life

All4Art: Agleo Runningbear

All4Art opened its January / February 2020 exhibition on Saturday, January 25th. Featuring another ensemble of artists, the exhibition this time has moved to Beau Belle Village, offering visitors both the opportunity to visit the art on display and to explore the region itself – although for those who wish to focus their time on the art, a series of teleport discs are available to carry them back and forth between individual displays and the main landing point.

Established by Carelyna Resident, All4Art has a mandate to move art in Second Life beyond the more traditional exhibition spaces, as the group’s description describes thus:

The vision of this group is to make art inclusive and not limit them to the galleries in SL. This is a group of artists who are driven by the need to express themselves and create art for art’s sake. The artists will show their artworks in public places other than galleries in successive itinerant exhibitions.

All4Art: Leonorah Beverly

For this exhibition, All4Art is showcasing Etamae, EvangelinaBurroughs, Kimeu, MTH63, Mylena1992, Nabrej Aabye, Leonorah Beverly, Judylynn India, Agleo Runningbear and Carelyna herself. Together they present a rich mix of SL and physical world art, with a lean potentially towards the latter, given some of the Second Life images are rendered as paintings. Almost all of the artists confine themselves to 2D works, although Nabrej Aabye offers a trio of sculptures alongside his paintings.

Meanwhile, Beau Belle’s Village offers an intriguing space for the display, mixing as it does public spaces and private rentals. Those wishing to view the art by exploring the region should do so by following the arrows pointing the way from exhibit to exhibit – the first of these arrows can be found just down from the landing point teleport discs, directing people over a humpbacked bridge.

This route will take you first along the waterfront, passing JudyLynn’s art – a set of abstracts on the them of circles, thence to Leonorah Beverly’s Second Life landscape studies presented as paintings, and onwards still along the waterfront to Carelyna’s display (down on the wharf) which again offers Second Life scenes as paintings which might be said to have something of a Van Gogh influence to them, before arriving at Agleo Runningbear ‘s quite marvellous ink wash studies of New York City that are bracketed by two colour paintings.

All4Art: Mylena1992

A little back tracking from here is required to return to the tunnel leading to the rest of the region and the remaining artists (or you can scramble up a snow-sided hill and descend by wooden steps to reach the rest of the art!). Perhaps the most striking exhibit in this part of the region is Milena1992’s; this is in part because it is contained within a hard-to-miss semi-transparent yellow surround, but mostly because it pricks at the conscience by presenting concerns about the increasingly worrying state of the planet’s climate, and exhibition in part presented with a backdrop of trees engulfed in flames – a reminder of the wildfires that visited themselves on so many around the world in 2019.

Also to be found inland are the displays by EvangelinaBurroughs (which includes a part of eye-catching paintings-as-drapes), Kimeu, Etame and Nabreij, while nestled on the north-east beach is a selection of abstract expressionist pieces by MTH63.

All4Art: EvangelinaBurroughs

Taken together, this is a richly diverse selection of art, for which there is no official closing date – the exhibition will remain in place as long as the region holders are prepared to host it.

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Space Sunday: a farewell to Spitzer, capsules, stars and space planes

A composite image of NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope. Credit: NASA

The end of January 2020 brings with it the end of a 16-year mission to explore the galaxy in the infra-red, as the Spitzer Space Telescope (SST) is shut down.

Launched in 2003, Spitzer was one of NASA’s four Great Observatories, following in the footsteps of the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory. Its infra-red vision has allowed Spitzer to peer through the dusty reaches of the cosmos to witness stellar nurseries, provide insight into the deaths of stars and the very formation of the universe, and increase our understanding of the structure of galaxies and the nature of black holes.

Spitzer operated as planned for 5.5 years – three years longer than its initial primary mission – until a lack of coolant prevented the telescope from operating within its planned low temperature range. A switch to a warmer operating mode allowed the telescope’s mission to be extended another 10.5 years, albeit it with only two of its sciences instruments able to function in the higher temperature range.

NASA’s four space-based Great Observatories. Credit: NASA

The official reason for ending the mission, even though the two remaining IRAC instruments remain operational, is issues of balancing operational requirements with those of power generation and communications. Spitzer occupies a similar orbit to Earth but is moving more slowly; as the gap between them widens, so to does the triangle formed by the Sun, Earth and the telescope, and it has now reached a point where in is impossible for the telescope to maintain both line-of-sight communications with Earth and keep its solar panels pointing to the Sun to generate power. Add to this the need to orient the telescope to observe study targets, and operating the telescope has become an increasingly complex and fuel-costly dance.

In 2017, NASA attempted to spin-off the telescope’s operations and management to academic institutions in 2017, but was unsuccessful. So, on January 29th, Spitzer will transmit to Earth the last of the data it has gathered, then on January 30th, it will be put into a hibernation mode, oriented in a permanent “sun-coning attitude”. In theory, it would be possible to recover the telescope from this state at some point in the future, except for the fact that the custom ground system for operating Spitzer is to be dismantled after the telescope has been shut down.

Overall, the cost of the Spitzer mission from launch to this final close-out will have been US $1.3 billion, a modest price for the wealth of data the mission has returned to Earth: over 8,700 scientific papers related to Spitzer’s discoveries and data have been published. However, the shut down will effectively bring space-based infra-red observations of the galaxy around us to an end – at least until the James Webb Space Telescope commences operations. This is expected to launch in 2021.

The telescope has made many discoveries beyond the imaginations of its designers, such as planets outside our solar system, called exoplanets, and galaxies that formed close to the beginning of the universe. We have a lot of new questions to ask about the universe because of Spitzer. It’s very gratifying to know there’s such a powerful set of capabilities coming along to follow up on what we’ve been able to start with Spitzer.

– Michael Werner, Spitzer project scientist, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

China Prepares to Test Launch Its Next Generation Crew Vehicle

In 2018, I first wrote about China’s upcoming “next generation” crewed space vehicle that will eventually replace the Soyuz-derived Shenzhou craft. Since then, work has been proceeding with the design, with structural test articles being rigorously tested together with the vehicle’s parachute and landing systems, while the first flight-ready unit has also been under development and assembly.

The first of China’s next generation crew capsules being mated to its Service Module. Credit: CAST

The new craft mirrors both the the Apollo Command and and Service Module approach to crewed space systems and Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner. Like the former, it comprises a conical crew capsule supported in space be a cylindrical Service Module equipped with a single large motor and designed to provide the capsule with power and life support whilst in space. The Service Module is also thought to offer two variants: a small version for operations in Earth orbit, and a larger unit to help support missions further afield – such as to the Moon.

Like Boeing’s Starliner, the capsule is designed to carry up to 6 crew, or a combination of crew and cargo, and can be re-used up to 10 times. At the end of each flight, it will make a dry land touchdown using both parachutes and air bags.

The 14-tonne (l) and 20-tonne next generation Chinese crewed vehicles – remarkably similar to Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner. Credit: Beijing Institute of Space Mechanics and Electronics

On January 20th, the flight test vehicle arrived at China’s Wenchang Satellite Launch Centre on Hainan island in the South China Sea. It will be integrated with a Long March 5B launch vehicle – currently China’s most powerful booster – ready to for an uncrewed flight that will carry it some 8,000km from Earth before returning and making a soft landing. This first flight could take place as early as April 2020.

The vehicle has yet to be given an official name, and no date has been given for its possible entry into service. However, it is seen as a key component in China’s upcoming new space station – construction of which may also start this year – and in their human Moon exploration programme.

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