Space Sunday: returns and a collapse

The Hyabusa2 sample return capsule, measuring just 40 cm across, lies amidst the scrub of Woomera, southern Australia, carrying samples from asteroid 162173 Ryugu. Credit: JAXA via AP

On Saturday, December 5th (Sunday December 6th local time in Australia), Japan’s Hyabusa2 successfully returned samples gathered from the asteroid 162173 Ryugu.

It marked the culmination of a six-year mission to reach the asteroid, gather samples and then make a return to Earth – although as I mentioned in my last Space Sunday update, the return of the samples does not mark the end of the road for Hyabusa2.

Travelling at 43,190 km/h – too fast to enter orbit – the spacecraft released the 40 cm sample return capsule on the night of Friday December 4th, 2020, whilst still some 220,000 km away. With its cargo duties  discharged, Hyabusa2 performed an engine burn to start it on its way for a rendezvous with asteroid (98943) 2001 CC21 in 2026, before flying on to meet with 1998 KY26, in 2031.

With no means to slow down, the sample capsule slammed into the upper reaches of Earth’s  atmosphere at 17:28 GMT on Saturday, December 5th (the earlier  hours of Sunday December 6th in Japan and Australia). Following re-entry, that helped the capsule to slow to supersonic speeds, the capsule dropped to an altitude of 10 km before deploying its landing parachute, touching down in Australia at 17:47 GMT (04:17 a.m. local Australian time on December 6th), JAXA officials said.

Radio tracking systems deployed around the expected landing site were able to follow the capsule down allowing its landing point to be triangulated accurately so that recovery helicopters could quickly move in and retrieve the capsule and its cargo.

Following recovery, work started on capsule assessment and preparations to transfer it to the Japanese Space Agency’s (JAXA) Extraterrestrial Sample Curation Centre, a purpose-built facility designed to house and study cosmic material brought home by space missions. Here some of the samples – believed to measure just a few grams – will be studied by Japanese scientists, and some will be distributed to laboratories around the world, where scientists will study it for clues about the solar system’s early days and the rise of life on Earth.

The mission marks only the second time a dedicated sample return mission has brought samples of an extra-terrestrial body back to Earth, the first being the original Hyabusa mission, which returned samples from asteroid 25143 Itokawa in 2010. However, it will not be the last. China’s Chang’e 5 mission will shortly be on its way back to Earth with samples gathered from the Moon (see below for more), and NASA’s OSIRIS-REx will be returning samples from asteroid from 101955 Bennu in 2023.

Arecibo Collapses

When it came, it came suddenly and without warning – yet purely by chance, a drone was on hand to capture the event as it happened.

Cable break: a still from video footage recorded at the moment one of the two remaining primary cables supporting the 900-tonne receiving platform snapped, bringing about the destruction of the Arecibo radio astronomy telescope. Credit: UCF / NSF

I recently wrote about the fact that, having lost a primary and secondary support cable that were helping to keep its receiving platform aloft, the Arecibo observatory had been declared unsafe and was to be decommissioned, the replacement of the primary load-bearing cables – one of three in total – being determined to be both difficult and dangerous.

Due to the risk of the 900-tonne receiving platform collapsing onto the dish, built into a hilltop karst sinkhole, it had been hoped the telescope could be decommissioned and dismantled, possibly through the use of controlled demolition, sooner rather than later, lest further cables – including one of the two remaining primary cables – gave way.

But on December  1st, before decommissioning plans could be finalised, one of the remaining suffered a catastrophic failure, sending the receiving platform plummeting into the telescope’s 305-metre diameter dish.

The event took place shortly before 07:30 in the morning, local time – and by chance, engineers were monitoring the telescope’s cable system from the main control room and via an aerial drone positioned above the cable housings on the receiving platform when the cable failed. As a result, the entire collapse was caught on camera from two locations – although the drone had to be hastily moved away from the receiving platform as the collapse started.

Swinging towards the ground on the remaining support cables, the receiving platform disassembled as it fell, the bulk falling the 150m into the aluminium dish, the support frame swinging to smash into the the side of dish, the trailing cables also doing considerable damage. Such was the force of the failure, the mass of the platform tore away the top section of one of the support towers and brought about the complete collapse of another.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: returns and a collapse”

A path of reflection in Second Life

Path to Oneself Reflection

2020 will be – indeed is being – recorded as one of the most unpleasant years of the current century. For some, it marks the culmination of a period in which the politics of division and deceit have held sway, bringing forth the best in some and the worst in others.  For all, it has been the year in which a pandemic held sway, bringing personal and community hardship and suffering, whilst further amplifying both the best and worst in people in terms of care and support, and selfishness and carelessness.

The coming of the end of the year will not bring an end to all that has happened – the pandemic will not up and vanish;  nor will the division and deceit be so easily overcome. However, the end of the year does mark the opportunity for reflect on all that has happened in the last twelve months. With the Path to Oneself Reflection, the SL Random Art Crew led by RoxkSie (Roxie Logan)  have sought to do just that, by offering an immersive, art-focused environment that seeks to encourage us to review the year and consider all that has happened, and the manner in which it has both divided and united people.

This is both a complex and evocative installation, one in which art, mythology and history are brought together to frame our exploration of the year and offer subtle context to help steer thoughts and consideration. This actually makes Path difficult to define in writing, but when visited, easy to conceptualise – and as such, I do encourage people to pay a visit before it closes at the end of December 2020.

Path to Oneself Reflection

From the landing point, visitors descend steps to a path through a canyoned landscape in which the seasons pass as a part of the passage through the high rocky walls. Along the way, visitors pass first Michelanglo’s David, together with a explanatory text. Originally commissioned as one of a series of statues, it came to symbolise the defence of civil liberties within the Republic of Florence. Thus here, it is a reminder that the years leading up to 2020, as well as the year itself, have seen the very real erosion of the civil liberties afforded to some; whilst for others, the sensible constraints we have all been asked to observe until effective vaccines can be made available to overcome the threat of COVID-19, are – somewhat foolishly – have been an unbearable toll on their liberties.

Beyond this, a  statue of Mnemosyne encourages us to consider our own memories of the year and to recall how the year has affected us, together with a general introduction to Path, providing us with the approach the installation takes in informing, challenging and encouraging; the vignettes that follow recalling the events of the year – both directly and indirectly, and through the use the of figures from history and mythology -, each offered within the season of the year in which it occurred, culminating with the cold of winter, where we can consider the coming year and the role we might play.

Path to Oneself Reflection

Throughout the installation, events are presented in a manner that both gives pause for our own reflection and which offer counterpointed views. For example, up on a peak, we’re encouraged to consider the way fear of the pandemic led to a run on essential goods in stores as a result of selfish hoarding by some, counterpointed by the fact many acted selflessly to ensure the vulnerable within their families / communities were correctly shielded and cared for.

Also to be found are warnings that, as mentioned above, all that has happened both throughout 2020 and the the years leading up to it is not going to vanish with the turning of the year: there are wounds that will take time ho heal, and the pandemic itself has yet to be brought under control. Which is not to say this is a dark, brooding, installation. The presence of the art, the use of mythology and historical characters reminds us that humanity is capable of creating lasting beauty and has the ability to come together for its own betterment, whilst the setting itself reminds us that, like the seasons, life is always changing, offering a chance for renewal and growth.

Path to Oneself Reflection

Again, words alone do not do justice to this installation; a visit really is needed to grasp all of its context. Doing so also provides the opportunity to help the artists in their support for Relay for Life by making a donation at one of the RFL kiosks to be found within the installation. For those who enjoy the spoken word, stories are offered every Monday – details are available at the story amphitheatre that forms a part of the installation – and when visiting, do make sure you have local sounds enabled for the fullest experience.

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