Space Sunday: Mars rovers, molecules & 1.8 billion pixels

NASA’s Mars 2020 rover. Credit: NASA/JPL

It might look like the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) rover Curiosity, but the vehicle seen above (in an artist’s impression) is in fact the Mars 2020 rover that is due to be launched on its way to the red planet in July of this year to arrive in early 2021.

Based on the chassis, body and power plant used by Curiosity, the 2020 rover is a very different vehicle that is tasked with very different roles. And now the 2020 rover has a name as well: Perseverance.

The name was selected following a US national competition in which K-12 students (kindergarten through to 17-19 years of age) were invited to suggest a name for the rover in essay form ( a practice NASA has taken with a number of missions to Mars, including the MER rovers Spirit and Opportunity and with Curiosity). From the initial entries received, NASA narrowed the choice down to nine possible names, with the public asked to cast their vote for their favourite – although the final decision on any name remained with NASA management. Those nine names were: Clarity, Courage, Endurance, Fortitude, Ingenuity, Perseverance, Promise, Tenacity and Vision, with each name identified by a single essay selected by NASA as best representing the goals of the pace agency.

The final choice of name, based on a combination of votes for the nine and an internal decision at NASA, was made by the agency’s associate administrator for science missions, Thomas Zurbuchen, who selected the name Perseverance based on an essay by 13-year-old Alexander Mather of Virginia. The formal announcement of the name was made by Zurbuchen at a special event at Alexander’s school on Friday, March 5th.

In making the announcement, Zurbuchen made note of the fact that Curiosity actually started its journey to Mars when Alexander and many of the other competition entrants were babies – or had yet to be born – citing their involvement in the competition as an example of the innate curiosity that draws us to want to explore the planets and stars around us. He also noted why he felt Perseverance was a particularly apt name for the new rover.

Yes, it’s curiosity that pulls us out there, but it’s perseverance that does not let us give up. There’s no exploration without perseverance.

Alex’s entry captured the spirit of exploration. Like every exploration mission before, our rover is going to face challenges, and it’s going to make amazing discoveries. It’s already surmounted many obstacles to get us to the point where we are today – processing for launch. Alex and his classmates are the Artemis generation, and they’re going to be taking the next steps into space that lead to Mars. That inspiring work will always require perseverance. We can’t wait to see that nameplate on Mars.

– Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science missions

As noted above, Perseverance may look like Curiosity, but it is a very different vehicle in terms of mission and capabilities.

An artist’s illustration of the Mars 2020 rover Perseverance, showing the “turret” of science instruments at the end of the rover’s robot arm. Credit: NASA/JPL

In terms of overall science mission, Curiosity was tasked with identifying conditions and finding evidence that show that Mars may have once been capable of supporting life on its surface – a primary mission it actually achieved within three months of arriving on Mars. However, it was not actually capable of identifying whether any of that life – and we’re talking microbial life here – may still be present, or of what it might have been. Perseverance will take the next logical step in the process:  it will look for actual signs of past life, or biosignatures, capturing samples of rocks and soil that could be retrieved by future missions and returned to Earth for in-depth study.

To achieve this, Perseverance will carry a host of new science instruments and more advanced versions of some of the systems found on Curiosity, together with additional enhancements born of lessons learned in operating the MSL rover on Mars for the past 8 years.

This means that the rover is slightly larger than Curiosity somewhat heavier, massing just over a metric tonne compared to Curiosity’s 899 kg. Part of this extra weight is accounted for by the systems that allow it to obtain samples of sub-surface material and seal them in containers for possible later retrieval by sample return missions. These include a larger, more robust drilling system mounted on the “turret” at the end of the rover’s robot arm, which also in part accounts for the increase in weight of that unit from 30 kg to 45 kg.

Perseverance rover: instruments and systems

Also, while Curiosity is equipped with 17 camera systems, with only four of them colour imagers. Perseverance has 23 cameras, the majority of which are colour imaging systems. These include a suite of 7 cameras that will provide unique views of the rover’s descent and landing, including views of the parachute deployment and views of it being winched to the ground by its hovering “skyhook” platform It also has a pair of “ears” – microphones that, if they work (NASA’s past attempts to operate microphones on Mars haven’t been successful), will allow us to hear the Red Planet for the first time.

Two further key differences between the two rovers are that Perseverance has a different set of wheels that are larger and designed to better handle Martian terrain, which has taken its toll on Curiosity’s six wheels. Perseverance’s steering  has been updated to give it better manoeuvring capabilities, while the second major difference is that Perseverance has a massively updated self-driving capability. These updates mean that Perseverance will be able to map its route far better than Curiosity, calculating route options five times faster than the older rover. This will eventually seen the time required to map and plan each stage in the rover’s drive route reduced from around a day to about 5 hours. In turn, this means that while Perseverance will travel at the same speed as Curiosity, it will be able to cover more ground in the same time periods, and gather more samples over the course of its prime mission.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: Mars rovers, molecules & 1.8 billion pixels”

Solving a mystery, time travel and youthful journeys in 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 unless otherwise indicated. Note that the schedule below may be subject to change during the week, please refer to the Seanchai Library website for the latest information through the week.

Sunday, March 8th

13:30: Tea-Time Special: Death on the Nile

First published in 1937, Death on he Nile is one of Agatha Christie’s most famous and enduring Hercule Poirot murder mysteries. The book has been the subject of multiple theatrical, film and television adaptations, most of which had by necessity condensed elements of this tale of love, jealously, and betrayal to more readily fit the requirements of their format.

Now, Seanchai Library continues to present the opportunity to enjoy the story in full – and within a setting inspired by the novel, as Corwyn Allen, Da5id Abbot, Kayden Oconnell, Gloriana Maertens, and Caledonia Skytower bring Christie’s characters once more to life for us to enjoy.

The Karnak – Death on the Nile

In this, the final part of the story, Poirot reveals the who and the why of the murders and thefts that have dogged the cruise of the cruise of the steamer Karnak during its cruise along the Nile.

To be followed by a post-read party featuring DJ Elrik Merlin.

18:30: The Secret Garden

Caledonia Skytower continues this classic of children’s literature  by Frances Hodgson Burnett, first published in 1911, at the Golden Horseshoe in Magicland Park.

Orphaned after losing her parents in a cholera epidemic, young Mary Lennox returns to England from India, entering the care of her uncle Archibald Craven, whom she has never met.

Up until this point, Mary’s childhood had not been happy; her parents were selfish and self-seeking, regarding her as a burden over which they were not obliged to hold much responsibility. Not overly healthy herself, she is as a result  a temperamental, stubborn and unmistakably rude child – and her arrival at Misselthwaite Manor and the relative gloom of Yorkshire’s weather does little to improve her mein.

Her disposition also isn’t helped by her uncle, who is strict and uncompromising, leading to Mary despising him. But her uncle’s story is itself filled with tragedy, particularly the loss of his wife. As she learns more about her uncle’s past, so Mary learns about a walled garden Mrs. Craven once kept, separated from the rest of the grounds and which, since her passing has been kept locked by Mary’s uncle, the door leading to it kept locked, the key to it buried somewhere. 

Finding the missing key and the now hidden door, Mary enters the garden, and her passage into it starts her on a journey of friendship and discovery, one that leads her to the thing she never really knew: family.

Monday, March 9th 19:00: The Ugly Little Boy

Gyro Muggins reads a tale that started life as a short story by Isaac Asimov, and was later expanded into a full length novel by Asimov writing in collaboration with Robert Silverberg.

A 21st century time travel experiment results in a Neanderthal boy being pulled from his time. The intention is to study the boy and understand how his kind lived. However because of the potential for time paradoxes, the boy must be kept in a within a stasis module, a place physically separated from modern time; but he must still be cared for. So the company behind the experiment hires a children’s nurse, Edith Fellowes, to look after him.

Initially horrified by the child, Edith comes to forms a bond with him, discovering he is intelligent and capable of both learning and love. However, to Stasis – the company behind the experiment – the boy is little more than a commodity to be observed and with a story to be sold to the media. As such, he is only of value for as long as there is public interest in his story. When that fades, the company determines the child must be returned to his own time, his place to be taken by a subject from another era. But Edith knows that, thanks to all she has taught him, his own time is no longer a place he is equipped to survive within, and determines she must take action to protect him.

Tuesday, March 10th 19:00: Very Far Away from Anywhere

Ursula le Guin remains best know for her intelligent science fiction and fantasy stories. However, Willow Moonfire brings us one of her books that steps away from that genre entirely.

If you’d like a story about how I won my basketball letter and achieved fame, love, and fortune, don’t read this. I don’t know what I achieved in the six months I’m going to tell you about. I achieved something, all right, but I think it may take me the rest of my life to find out what.

So begins a moving coming-of age tale, centred on 17-year-old Owen, who is in the middle of his senior year in high school. A loner and intellectual, Owen is an introspective young man who hasn’t found any deep connections to anyone; only his interest in science offers a point of focus for him. While he does spend time with his two closest friends, is a member of various groups at school and enjoys sports, he looks upon that side of his life as a fiction, no more real to him than the pretend utopian world of Thorn, a place he created in his imagination whilst a child.

But Thorn is no longer a place of escape for him; it has become beyond his reach as he moves towards adulthood, and he must now face turning the “fiction” of the physical world into a reality in which he can function and move beyond the potential breakdown he might otherwise face, escape the threat of repeating the lives of his parents and take control of his destiny.

Wednesday, March 11th, 19:00: The Phantom Tollbooth

Finn Zeddmore reads Norton Juster’s fantasy adventure for younger readers.

For Milo, everything is a bore and all activities little more than a waste of time. Then one day he arrives home in his usual state of disinterest, only to find a package waiting for him. He has no idea where it has come from or who might have sent it, but is clearly intended for him, given the label. Opening it, he discovers a small tollbooth and a map of “the Lands Beyond,” illustrating the Kingdom of Wisdom.

Reading the limited instructions – that warn him to have a destination from the map in mind – and thinking the package to be some kind of game, he sets the tollbooth up, decides Dictionopolis should be his destination, and propels the accompanying little car through the tollbooth.

Immediately he finds himself driving an actual car through a city that is clearly not his own. Here he discovers he must remain focused, lest his thoughts wander, and his journey wanders as well; a lesson he only discovers when he does daydream and finds himself in the Doldrums.

Also as he travels and meets new friends, so he also realises something else: life is far from boring or dull; it actually offers much to be discovered.

Thursday, March 12th:

19:00: The Lord of Pengersick Castle

With Shandon Loring, also in Kitely –

21:00: Seanchai Late Night

contemporary sci-fi and fantasy with Finn Zeddmore.

Cica’s new Fairy Tale in Second Life

Cica Ghost – Another Fairy Tale

Cica Ghost opened her latest installation on Saturday, March 7th 2020 for a month-long run. Entitled Another Fairy Tale, it offers a continuation of ideas first presented in Fairy Tale in 2017 (see: Cica’s Fairy Tale in Second Life), introducing a new family of fantastical creatures scattered across a twilight landscape.

Like Fairy Tale, this installation is introduced with a quote by a writer of tales, with Cica using words from Hans Christian Andersen: Everything you look at can become a fairy tale and you can get a story from everything you touch, and such is the evocative nature of the scene that for anyone who visited Fairy Tale, the intervening years between it and this installation simply vanish, and it is as if we’ve turned a page in Cica’s magical story and arrived at the start of a new chapter.

Cica Ghost: Another Fairy Tale

But while the original featured a somewhat bleak and barren landscape with columns of rock and branches bereft of leaves vied to reach the sky, here we are in a garden setting, where tall flowers point their colourful petals towards the darkening sky, and leafy vines droop their way around rocks even as flowerless shoots also rise towards the clouds scudding overheas, the ground beneath them mottled and covered by verdant, moss-like grass,

Within this setting reside creatures fantastical, some seemingly born of the land, some of the sea and some of the air; some with legs and / or wings, others limbless or with forelegs ans sinuous tails. Many are quadrupeds, some with cloven, hoof-like feet, with or without claws, others with foreleg appendages that appear to be capable of manipulating other objects.

All of them are united in the facial features, which range from the almost bovine (at first glance) of some through to the very anthropomorphic looks, the latter most noticeable in the winged creatures, graced with very a human-esque placement of forward looking eyes above a nose-like snout that in turn sits above a lipped mouth. All are faces suggestive of intelligence and awareness, eyes occasionally focusing on visitors, expressions set in frowns at being disturbed or what might be smiles of greeting.

Cica Ghost: Another Fairy Tale

How and where these creatures evolved is perhaps part of the region’s story. There is a suggestion that while some are now quadrupeds, they mostly share a heritage born of the surrounding waters, and that even now  evolution is being witnessed as those with sinuous tails or bodies are adopting to life ashore, growing forelimbs – or they are at least given to being equally at home on land or in the sea. This idea is aided by another creature that rises slowly from the waters just offshore,  as if gradually worming its way ashore, while nearby, a second, massive creature (a wonderful combining of mesh elements and the region’s terrain on Cica’s part to give it form and life) raises its bulk and head above the waves to look down on the landscape like a mother watching over her brood at play.

Whether this is a land of our own planet but hidden far, far, away from everyday human affairs (as can be the way of fairy tales) or is perhaps part of another world entirely is something also left to the imaginations of visitors. For those who like the interactive elements of Cica’s builds, be sure to mouse around; sit and dance points are waiting to be found within flowers and close to some of the land creatures, while grabbing a leg of one of the flying chaps will take you on a journey across the region, revealing many of its delights and curiosities – such as the Jaws-like rocks pushing up from the grass their open “mouths” partially lined with “teeth” revealing they are nests and home to as yet flightless version of the airborne creatures.

Cica Ghost: Another Fairy Tale

Imaginative, whimsical, and delightful, Another Fairy Tale is a delightful continuation of a trips through Cica’s worlds of the imagination. Do be sure to at least enable ALM when visiting to appreciate her always considered use of lighting projectors and materials.

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