Capturing some still memories in Second Life

The Isle of Elar, December 2020; click any image for full size

Second Life blogger and photographer Rig Torok led me to Shayn Mackenzie’s Full region, The Isle of Elar, for what will be one of my last region visits for 2020.

With life being what it is right now thanks to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic refusing to to leave us alone and limiting opportunities for physical world interactions and getting out and about, coupled with various personal matters that have left me feeling I could do with time in the outdoors, wandering unknown paths under boughs heavy with leaves, The Isle of Elar proved to be just the ticket.

The Isle of Elar, December 2020

Rugged and split by streams fed by waterfalls, with rocky plateaus, shingle and sandy beaches, woodland trails and open spaces, cabins and ruins, deer and rabbits – and even a dragon awaiting discovery – the region genuinely offers something for everyone to appreciate – blogger, photographer, explorer or someone looking for a little space and / or peace a quiet.

From the landing point on the north side of the region, a path cuts its way south, apparently heading directly to the southern coast of the region before peeling off to cross the two streams via wooden footbridges. It presents the most direct means to start any exploration of the region, and a horse rezzer just off of the track presents a means of transportation for those who prefer exploring without necessarily relying on the use of their own pedal extremities.

The Isle of Elar, December 2020

However, it is not the only path to take; others are awaiting discovery, winding their way to numerous places of interest, be it old chapel ruins among the trees or a farm shop with camp site or garden chair overlooking the ocean, a greenhouse overlooking the main trail, a walled garden, and steps and an elevator that wind and lead their way up the rocky highlands of the region. All of these, and more besides, await visitors.

This is a place rich a detail, obvious and subtle. Some of the more obvious I’ve noted above. The more subtle include a little faerie garden, complete with magical ring, sings of various kinds awaiting discovery, a highland bench watched over by a friendly weasel, a raft in a little cove, rabbits enjoying the peace of the old chapel and the aforementioned dragon. All of this is supported by a fitting sound scape that encourages relaxation when making use one of the many places to sit waiting to be found throughout the setting.

The Isle of Elar, December 2020

The wealth of detail available within the region makes it easy to lose oneself during a visit, the sound scape encouraging cares and concerns to slip away, or to reminisce – hence the Still Memories part of the region’s name – whilst bringing to life the promise of its About Land description:

Elar is a woodland themed region depicting natural beauty all around you, Here you can explore, be romantic, spend time with friends, or take creative photos. 
The Isle of Elar, December 2020

Whether wandering alone or with a loved one, The Isle of Elar makes for an ideal destination, and visitors who take photos are invited to share them via the region’s Flickr group.

Not a destination to miss.

The Isle of Elar, December 2020

SLurl Details

Space Sunday: conjunctions, radio signals and budgets

Jupiter (bottom and brighter) and Saturn as seen between the sails of the post windmill at Brill, Buckinghamshire, UK. Credit: Jim Dyson / Getty Images

Monday, December 21st, the winter solstice, saw Jupiter and Saturn reach their closest point of mutual approach to one another when viewed in our evening skies, in what is referred to as a great conjunction.

I covered the event in some detail in my previous Space Sunday report, noting that 2020 would see the two planets appear to come with 6 arc minutes of one another as they lay low over the south-western horizon in last light following sunset.

Caught via a camera with telephoto lens is Jupiter (l) with the Galilean moons also visible (from top left: Calisto, Io, Europa, and furtherest out, lower right, Ganymede). Saturn, to the right, appears as a distinct oval due to its ring system not being sufficiently resolved by the camera lens. Credit: Peter Jay / Getty Images.

Unfortunately, British weather being what it tends to be, I didn’t get to see things on the night thanks to cloud and rain.  To add insult to injury, the skies were clear just 40 km away, allowing friends to witness the event on the night, while the rain and cloud continued here most of the rest of the week, preventing me from getting a further look at the two planets as they dropped ever closer to the horizon. Ho hum.

Not of this Earth: Jupiter and Saturn with rings visible, as seen on December 21st from lunar orbit in an image captured by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. Credit: NASA

Fortunately, however, many around the world did have clear skies and captured the event using cameras equipped with telephoto lenses or attached to telescopes. I’ve included a handful of my favourites shots here.

The event was also captured on film by Jason De Freitas, who captured the space between Jupiter and Saturn being neatly “cut” by the passage of the International Space Station.

ET Probably Isn’t Radioing Us

A radio signal detected in a part of the sky that neatly aligns with our closest stellar neighbour,  Proxima Centauri, is unlikely to be of extra-terrestrial origin.

The radio burst was detected in  April-May 2019 by the Parkes Radio Telescope in  Australia, one of two radio telescopes used by the Breakthrough Listen project, which since 2015 has been listening to the one million closest stars to our own in an attempt to pick up artificial radio signals that might indicate extraterrestrial intelligence.

The primary 64-metre radio telescope dish of the Parke observatory, New South Wales. Credit: John Sarkissian

At the time the signal was detected, the telescope was engaged in radio observations of Proxima Cantauri, some 4.2 light years away, and a star known to have two planets orbiting it, one of which – Proxima b – is a rocky world about 1.7 times the size of Earth that sits within the star’s  habitable zone.

Parkes wasn’t listening for radio signals at the time they were picked up, but was engaged in radio observations of flare activity from the star. However, when detected, the signal was immediately intriguing due to its relatively narrow frequency – 982.002Mhz – which ruled out it being caused by known natural phenomena. In order to verify it, the Breakthrough Listen team received permission to “nod” the telescope dish.

This is a common technique used to verify radio signals that involves deliberately swinging the receiving dish away from a signal for a period of time, and then back towards it in order to see if it can be re-acquired (indicating it is not an artefact of the telescope itself), and to measure whether the signal has moved relative to the dish (which would indicate the source is likely in Earth’s orbit). In this case, the signal was reacquired, with measurements suggesting it could be emanating from Proxima b.

When news of the signal, and the on-going analysis to try to determine it’s likely point of origin / cause, was anonymously leaked recently, it was picked up by a number of media outlets and caused something of a stir. However, before ET Hunters get too excited, there are a number of additional facts to consider.

Firstly, it is devoid of any modulation – and so is likely devoid of any meaningful data, were it indeed to by an extraterrestrial, which makes sending it a little pointless. Secondly, it was entirely transient; following the period of initial detection in April / May 2019, it was “lost”, and has never been re-acquired. Were it a deliberate signal, it would not be unreasonable to expect it to remain fairly constant in terms of detection, either by Parkes or (preferably) other centres around the world.

But the biggest counts against it being ET “‘phoning home” (or at least us), lies with the fact that the signal came from the general direction of Proxima Centauri. As our nearest, and oft-observed stellar neighbour, the star has been under observation for decades, and nary a once have we received anything amounting to an peep out of it that might suggest aliens are playing with radio systems there.

More particularly, however, is the fact that Proxima Centauri is a red dwarf star. As I’ve noted numerous times in these pages, these  M-class stars are prone to exceptionally violent solar flare. Given the close proximity of Proxima b to its star, these flares would likely, at a minimum, be bathed in hard radiation, and at worse, completely rip away the planet’s atmosphere within a period of around 100-200 million years. Therefore, it is highly unlikely the planet really is the point of origin for the signal.

An artist’s impression of Proxima b with Proxima Centauri low on the horizon. The double star above and to the right of it is Alpha Centauri A and B. Credit: ESO

instead, the most likely explanations for the signal are that it might either be something like the carrier wave from a long-forgotten piece of orbital debris of human manufacture or – mostly likely – actually originated on Earth, with conditions in the upper atmosphere serving to “bounce” it into the Parkes Telescope sphere of detection.

The Breakthrough Listen team and their partners certainly lean towards the latter as an explanation, although as noted,  they are still analysing the data gathered on the signal.

This is not a natural phenomenon—I haven’t seen the data, but if it passed BL’s tests then it’s too narrowband to be natural. It’s definitely caused by technology. But it’s almost certainly our own technology.

– Jason Wright, Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at Penn State University

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