Space Sunday 30 years with HST; planets in lockstep

Hubble’s 30th anniversary image: a colour-enhanced view “Cosmic Reef” showing two nebulae – star forming regions – the blue NGC2020 (actually material ejected from a single, massive star 200,000 times brighter than our own), and the red NGC 2014. Both are part of the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy to ours, 163,000 light-years away. The clarity of the image reveals the star-forming region of HGC 2014 in stunning detail, and offers testament to the deep field imaging capabilities of the Hubble Space Telescope. Credit: NASA / ESA.

On April 24th, 1990, the Space Shuttle Discovery thundered into a spring Florida sky on one of the most important missions of the entire space shuttle programme: the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST), one of the four great orbital observatories placed in orbit in the closing years of the 20th century.

At the time of its launch, the telescope probably didn’t surface to any great degree in the broader public consciousness, although in the 30 years it has been in operation it has become if not a household name, then certainly one most people will recognise, even when abbreviated down to just “Hubble”.

April 24th, 1990: space shuttle Discovery rises from Lunch Complex 39B at Kennedy Space Centre, carrying aloft the Hubble Space Telescope. In the foreground can be seen the external tank and a solid rocket booster attached to the shuttle Columbia, sitting on pad 39A, as it awaits its own launch date. Credit: NASA

As I noted when marking 25 years of HST operations, Hubble’s roots go well back in history  –  to 1946, in fact;  while the whole idea of putting a telescope above the distorting effects of the Earth’s atmosphere can be traced back as far as the early 1920s. A joint NASA / European Space Agency operation, HST faced many challenges along the road to commencing operations: it’s low Earth orbit – vital for it to be within reach of servicing astronauts – meant it had to face bot extremes of temperature as it orbited the Earth, passing in and out of sunlight, and it would also have to contend with a slow but inexorable atmospheric draft, so would have to be periodically boosted in its altitude.

However, these issues paled into insignificance after HST was launched, when the commissioning process revealed something was badly wrong with the telescope’s optics, resulting in badly blurred images being returned to Earth. The problem was traced back to an error in the production of the 2.4m primary mirror – one side of which has been ground an etra 2.2 nanometres (a nanometre being one billionth of a metre) compared to the other, leaving it “out of shape”. Small as the error was, it was enough to prevent Hubble focusing correctly, leading to the blurred images  –  and the entire programme being seen as a huge white elephant around the world, despite HST completing some excellent science between 1990 and 1993.

Before and after: on the left, an image of the spiral galaxy M100 taken on on November 27th, 1993, without the corrective optics and camera system. On the right, M100 imaged by Hubble on December 31st, 1993, after the installation of the corrective optics and camera system

Again, as I reported five years ago, the optical error lead to a “Hubble rescue mission” in 1993, when the crew of the space shuttle Endeavour arrived to give HST corrective optics called COSTAR and an updated imaging system, the Wide Field and Planetary Camera (WF/PC). Together these effectively gave HST a corrective set of glasses that overcame the flaw in the primary mirror. In doing so, they assured Hubble’s place in history, as they allowed the telescope to exceed all expectations in its imaging capabilities, turning into into perhaps the most successful astronomical / science instrument of modern times.

When launched, HST could see both in the visible light and in the ultraviolet (the region in which it saw outstanding results even before the operation to correct its “eyesight”). In 1997, during another servicing mission which saw the Discovery return to the telescope it had launched and deployed, HST was given a set of infra-red eyes as well. These allowed it to see farther into space (and thus further back in time) than we’d been able to do previously, and they allowed Hubble to peer into the the dusty regions of the galaxy where stars are born, opening their secrets.

A HST image released on April 6th 2020 showing the barred spiral galaxy NGC 2273, some 95 million light years from our own. It is unusual because it comprises two arms extending from a central bar made up of densely-packed stars, gas, and dust, and which conceal a second set of spiral arms within them, giving the galaxy two pairs of curved arms. Credit: NASA / ESA

Together, Hubble’s various eyes and its science instruments – and the men and women supporting HST operations here on Earth – have given us the ability to look back towards the very faintest – and earliest – light in the cosmos, study star clusters, look for planetary systems around other stars, increase our understanding of our own galaxy, look upon and study our galactic neighbours, help to verify Einstein’s theories of the universe, and do so much more.

Before Hubble, we knew essentially nothing about galaxies in the first half of the life of the universe. That’s the first 7 billion years of the universe’s 13.8-billion-year life. Now Hubble, through remarkable surveys like HXDF [Hubble Extreme Deep Field] capability, has probed into the era of the first galaxies. Through this type of work, Hubble has discovered galaxies like GN-z11, the most distant discovered by Hubble. Just 400 million years after the Big Bang, Hubble is looking back through 97% of all time to see it, far outstripping what can be done with the biggest telescopes on the ground.

– Garth Illingworth, HST project scientist

The Hubble Space Telescope with the aperture door open to allow light into the optics, as seen from the space shuttle Columbia during the 2002 servicing mission

Hubble is a truly unique platform in this regard. Despite issues over the years such as with its various flywheels (the gyroscopes designed to hold it in place whilst it is capturing images), it can remain rock-steady for extended periods with no more than 0.007 arcseconds of deviation. To put this into context, that’s the equivalent to someone standing at the top of The Shard in London and keeping the beam of a laser pointer focused on a penny taped to the side of the Eiffel Tower in Paris, for 24 hours without wavering.

HST’s science mission is so broad, it occupies the working days of literally thousands of people around the globe. Dedicated teams manage the programme for both NASA and ESA, with the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI) located at the Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus in Baltimore being the primary operations centre, supported by the European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC), Spain, both of which will manage operations with the James Web Space Telescope when it is launched. Beyond these teams, scientists and astronomers around the globe can request time using HST and its instruments for their projects and observations, all of which makes the telescope one of the most used globally.

A visible light image of Jupiter captured by Hubble composited with an ultraviolet image of the planet’s northern aurora. Credit: NASA / ESA

Many of those currently working with Hubble share a unique link to it: they have either grown up with it as a part of their lives, learning about it at school and through astronomy and science lessons, or they been with Hubble since its launch, and have lived their entire careers with it.

Hubble has changed the landscape of astronomy and astrophysics,. It has far exceeded its early goals — no other science facility has ever made such a range of fundamental discoveries. It’s been a privilege to be associated with this effort that has become embedded in the culture of our time.

– Colin Norman, HST manger and senior manager, STScI (1990-2020)

Continue reading “Space Sunday 30 years with HST; planets in lockstep”

Gardens, science, fables and mystery solving nuns in Second Life

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, April 26th

14:00: Stories at Kultivate’s Spring Art Show

Kayden, Cale, Willow and Dubhna take the stage on Water Haven as part of Kultivate magazine’s Spring Art show with an hour of stories to amuse and delight. Live on Stream.

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, April 27th 19:00: The Higher Space

Gyro Muggins reads Jamil Nasir’s 1996 novella that mixes science and magic.

Bob Wilson is a lawyer with a house in the suburbs, a beautiful wife, and a predictable life. Then he agrees to represent a neighbourhood couple in what looks like an open-and-shut custody case.

But no sooner do the Wilsons take in fourteen-year-old Diana Esterbrook than Bob must ask himself some troubling questions. Is Diana a computer genius or a dangerously disturbed adolescent? Why is his house being bugged? Who is the mysterious man in black? And what about Diana’s birth mother, a convicted kidnapper just released from prison?

Wilson’s quest for answers will lead him to an enigmatic private detective, a meek professor with dreams of immortality, and finally to the secrets of a discipline called Thaumatomathematics a strange blend of magic and science where death becomes the key to beatific ecstasy.

Tuesday, April 28th:

12:00 Noon: Russell Eponym, Live in the Glen

Music, poetry, and stories in a popular weekly session at Ceiluradh Glen.

19:00: The The Sleeper and the Spindle

A thrillingly reimagined fairy tale weaving together a sort-of Snow White and an almost Sleeping Beauty with a thread of dark magic, which will hold readers spellbound from start to finish.

On the eve of her wedding, a young queen sets out to rescue a princess from an enchantment. She casts aside her fine wedding clothes, takes her chain mail and her sword and follows her brave dwarf retainers into the tunnels under the mountain towards the sleeping kingdom.

This queen will decide her own future – and the princess who needs rescuing is not quite what she seems. Twisting together the familiar and the new, this perfectly delicious, captivating and darkly funny tale shows its creators at the peak of their talents.

With Willow Moonfire.

Wednesday, April 29th, 19:00: A Nun in the Closet

What do two Benedictine nuns, a secretive man-on-the-run, a Tibetan monk, three hippies, members of the Mafia and children of migrant workers have in common? Why, A Nun in the Closet, of course.

When a cloistered monastic community of nuns inherit an old house with 150 acres in up-state New York courtesy of a mysterious benefactor, they are at a loss as to what to do. Sister John and Sister Hyacinthe are therefore dispatched to give the property the once-over and report back. A simple enough assignment, except neither Sister is entirely prepared to deal with all that they find.

From hippies on the lawn to suitcase stuffed with money sitting at the bottom of a well, disguised cocaine and a wounded man who has hidden himself in a closet to avoid Mafia hitmen, not to mention strange apparitions in the night, It might have been better had Sister John and Sister Hyacinthe remained cloistered in the abbey. 

But it is amazing what two nuns can achieve armed only with their faith and boundless energy – up to and including a shocking revelation or two about ghosts, gangsters – and murder.

Join Caledonia Skytower as she reads Dorothy Gilman’s 1986 mystery.

Thursday, April 30th 19:00: Stone Angels – Stories of the Gothic South

With Shandon Loring. Also in Kitely – grid.kitely.com:8002:SEANCHAI).

Congratulations to Seanchai Library!

Beginning on March 8th, with the conclusion of their Death on the Nile series, Seanchai library has been accepting donations for Fantasy Faire to both sponsor a region in the Fairelands and to continue to support the matching fund for events. With the help of pledged matching funds from Gloriana Maertens (honoring the late Thea Dea) and Caledonia Skytower (honouring the late Jimmie Warnell) the Seanchai Community not only equalled the funds raised in 2019, but far surpassed it, raising a stunning L$165,000 in just a few weeks.
 
Fantasy Faire 2020: Isle of Shadows
 
That’s around US $600, every penny of which will be matched and multiplied – so it could easily become US $1200 – or more.  It makes Seanchai Library among the highest paying individual sponsors in Fairelands History. So please be sure to take time yourself this week to visit both Fantasy Faire and the Isle of Shadows, sponsored by Seanchai Library There you will find entertainment and plenty of reasons for you to donate to Relay for Life of Second Life and the global work of the American Cancer Society.

A Fairelands Journey: the valley and the castle

Fantasy Faire 2020: Elemaria

We broke our fast before the Sun had cast its first orange light across the broken walls and towers of Siren’s Lore, our guide having told us we must pass through the the Spirit Valley during the light of day, for our next place of rest lay on the valley’s far side, and at the end of a long journey. And so we passed beyond the wooden pathways of the city across the rugged lands beyond, our guide telling of the first place we would encounter, and how it came to have its mysterious name of Spirit Valley of Kuruk.

His tale sounded both wondrous and fantastical: bear warriors, ancient gods and and transformations. And yet we all knew that the Faireland realms held mysteries and wonders, so it was with excitement rising in my heart that we reached the pass that marked the start of the descent into the valley. At first I saw little worthy of the breathless tales our guide related, the path winding downwards, morning mists hiding the far side whilst fir trees at first screened or view of its deep floor.

Fantasy Faire 2020: The Spirit Valley of Kuruk

But then we rounded a rocky curve and caught sight of the valley’s broad bowl, the path now clinging to the side of its rocky face. But it was not this breath-taking view that held our eyes; for there seated at the side of the road was a great brown bear, it’s fur tufted and arranged around its neck like a collar of office. On seeing it, my kinsmen cried aloud and reached for their bows, but our guide stayed heir hands. Cool black eyes regarded us, and our guide instructed us to pass the bear in single file. As we did so, the great beast raised its forelegs slowly, paws outward as if in blessing as we passed, and I heard the rumble of its voice, chanting deeply.

I could scarce keep my eyes from this marvellous beast until it was carried from view by a bend in the trail; but as I regarded the valley once more, so I saw more of these strange bears, watching us from high perches, including one that stood upon a wooden trestle, banners draped behind it, its fur painted and arranged into a headdress. I found myself caught in the gaze of a great chieftain or perhaps a medicine leader, who watched our progress even to the valley floor.

Fantasy Faire 2020: The Spirit Valley of Kuruk

It was here that we paused to eat, a procession of children marching to us from a nearby village. They bore platters of fruit and jugs of water for us to partake, as our guide informed us these were the Grizzly Cubs, who follow the path of the Great Bear Tribe, and defend the spirits of the valley and its healing ways.

The children said nothing as we ate, but sat with us as we ate. Afterwards, they walked to either side of us as we climbed the long path, passing the painted mouths of caves our guides said we should not enter, least too much time pass and we fail to arrive at the night’s destination at our appointed hour. As we reached the pass that would carry us into the lands beyond the valley, a slender boy came to each of us and indicated we should bow in turn as he painted symbols on each of our foreheads, our guide telling us not to wash or otherwise remove them until after the Sun had set.

Fantasy Faire 2020: The Spirit Valley of Kuruk

Beyond the valley the land changed quickly, rocks giving way to verdant grass and tall trees warmed by a rich afternoon Sun. At length we came to high curtain walls, their stones faced and well-fitted. Guardsmen hailed us from square towers draped with the Banner of Elemaria, and our guide went before us so that we might be allowed access to this walled realm of which I had heard so much.

Formed by the the elements – air, earth, water and fire all working in equal measure at the Edge of Time -, Elemaria lay as the Home of Nature, the elements present throughout its landscape, each having given of its best to create a place wherein harmony rules, and men, women and creatures live in peace, tending the land and creating a kingdom where all can find welcome and peace.

Fantasy Faire 2020: Elemaria

And so we passed along the grass-edged paths and between tiled-roofed homes and stores of Elemaria’s citizens, all of whom greeted us warmly or, on seeing the painted marks of the Grizzly Cubs upon our foreheads, with a degree of reverence.

Around trees and over streams we passed, drawing ever closer to the great castle the rose over this pleasing land, until we at last came to a paved circle marked by three arches. Here we were met by the royals of Elemaria, tall and fair folk of great grace and beauty, descended from the first people to enter this lands and peacefully occupy it to live in harmony with nature. 

Fantasy Faire 2020: Elemaria

They greeted each one of us in turn, taking each of us by the forearms drawing us close as we each gripped theirs, until forehead lightly touched forehead. Then one each paired with us, and by twos in a line, we climbed the stone stairs up to where a garden of water and blue-hued trees lay before the towers of the castle, the roar of the falls that fell true and sheer from these gardens bringing an end to conversation until we passed over the gardens atop arched bridges to pass within the walls of the castle. Here the sound of the water passed behind us, to be replaced by music as light and warmth greeted us within those high, dressed walls.

And so we arrived in Elemaria, the length of our journey soothed by the music, and the grace and beauty of our hosts who guided us to our quarters high within the castle, treated as royalty even though they who served us and welcomed us to their banquet later, were themselves of high office. 

Fantasy Faire 2020: Elemaria

Spirit Valley of Kuruk designed by Loki Eliot and sponsored by Spyralle, Little, Big Designs, Team ACTS, Totally Tinies. Featuring stores by: Attitude is an Artform, Atomic Kitties, Cerridwen’s Cauldron, Cheval D’or|Elysian, CHIMAERA, Designs by Isaura, Dinkie Boutique, Fantavatar & Moonstruck & Lilith’s Den, Icaland ind, Peeps Dinkies, Prehistorica: The Dawn Kingdoms, Stytchwytch Designs, Tiny Inc., and Twisted Whiskers & Dinkie Duds.

Elemaria by Bee Dumpling & Solas Enchantment and sponsored by Silvan Moon Designs, Secrets of Gaia. Featured stores: ABADDON ARTS, Ab.Fab skins and Fantasy, :: ANTAYA ::, =ED= Eagle Designs, FaceDesk Creative Creations, Flying Horse Head Studios, Gecko Creations & ~Soraida~, God Mod, Laminak, Last Ride, Stardust, Star Journey, The Elven Forest, The Wooly Pig, TRB – A Woman’s Touch, Unity Maxim, Valkyrie Designed, and .Viki.

Total raised by the end of the Faire’s third day: L$3,779,514 (US $15,118).

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