Biancajane’s art in Second Life

Sisi Biedermann Gallery: Biancajane

Biancajane Juliesse has been involved in art and painting since she was four years old and her mother gave her a paint by numbers oils set. From the start she fell in love with both the smell of the paint and the creative opportunities it presented.

The love affair continues to this day: known in the physical world as Mary Sparrow, Biancajane is a gifted artist whose work has shipped to over 30 countries around the world. Specialising in fine art creating commissioned heirloom portraits for over 25 years, and also works closely with interior designers to create custom artwork for residential and commercial spaces.

Sisi Biedermann Gallery: Biancajane

While she came to Second Life primarily as a means to relax, she became involved in its creative potential in a number of ways, such as her prefabs and furnishing business in-world, and through the exhibition and sale of prints of her original art.

A selection of that art can now be seen at Sisi Biedermann’s Gallery at an exhibition that officially opens on September 1st, 2021 – although it is open to the public now – and runs through until November 1st. In all, some 20 pieces are presented, the majority of them portraits, although a neat little selection of famous perfume brands is also offered.

The portraits are utterly captivating in their depth and detail. Several of the pieces include the subject’s pets – notably dogs – which adds a further layer of personality to them. As a cat lover, I particularly love the image of a woman in a red evening gown with her long-haired Siamese cat seated on a cushion at her feet. While the woman may be the intended focus of the picture, Biancajane has purrfectly captured the cat’s expression and the fact it knows who the real subject of the picture actually is!

As well as pictures that appear to have been posed, the selection also includes group and individual pictures that have a marvellous sense of immediacy about them, like snapshots that unexpectedly capture a moment of sheer, unstaged joy or a moment where thought distracts the subject, again adding a sense of life and vitality to them.

Rounded out by a portrait of Frida Kahlo, famous for her own portraiture and self-portraits, this is an engaging exhibition, with individual pieces offered for sale. A couple do appear to be mis-labelled, but this is a minor distraction, and while I would have liked to see some of Biancajane’s animal and landscape paintings among the selection (yes, I know, I’m greedy!), this is nevertheless a selection of start that will engage the eye and mind of any patron of the arts in Second Life and is more than worth a visit.

Sisi Biedermann Gallery: Biancajane

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Space Sunday: an “existential” rocket, Mars, and a bit on JWST

The Astra LV0006 launch literally goes sideways…

On August 28th, 2021, Astra Aerospace attempted to make the fourth launch of its Rocket 3 vehicle designed to place payloads of up to 150 kg to Sun-synchronous orbits 500 km altitude.

After two unsuccessful and one partially-successful flights of the launch system, it was hoped that this flight, carrying an instrumentation payload for the United States Space Force under the Space Test Program (and which was not designed to separate from the launch vehicle), would be a complete success.

Lift-off from Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska on Kodiak Island (high northern latitudes being ideal for polar orbital launches) came at 22:35 UTC, and it was immediately clear the rocket was having something of an existential moment, experimenting with moving sideways away from the launch pad, rather than upwards.

After almost 20 seconds of moving thus, the vehicle decided that “up” was perhaps the better option, and proceeded to climb into the sky, performing more-or-less perfectly through an ascent to 50 km altitude, successfully passing “max-Q” (the period when a launch vehicle experiences the maximum dynamic pressures across its frame) in the process and throttling to full power in a press for orbit.

Sadly, due to the post-lift-off incident, the vehicle had exceeded its range safety limits, risking passage over populated areas on mainland Alaska. The order with therefore given to shut down the first stage motors let it crash back into the sea.

Subsequent analysis of data suggests that one of the 5 Astra-built Delphin motors powering the rocket’s first stage failed at launch, likely resulting in off-centre thrust that caused the vehicle to strike one of its launch mounts, resulting in the sideways tilt and motion. However, despite the loss of the vehicle, the fact that it autonomously recovered to make a successful ascent to a point where, but for range safety concerns, it would likely have achieved a successful orbit, is seen as a remarkable testament to the rocket’s guidance and flight control systems.

Further launches will be pending a complete view of this flight.

Mars Updates

The Mars 2020 rover Perseverance is getting ready to make a second attempt to obtain rock samples for analysis and storage.

As I recently reported, a first attempt at sample gathering didn’t end successfully when it was discovered after-the-fact that the rock selected for the sample was made up of material too fine to be retained within the rover’s drill / sample mechanism following drilling.

Abandoning that attempt, the rover was directed to travel 455 metres to a small ridge dubbed “Citadelle”, where it will now attempt to gather a fresh sample. The area was selected as it appears to be able to withstand erosion by the Martian wind better than the surrounding ground, and has a number of interesting rock formations in it.

A look at the rock dubbed “Rochette” (image centre) at the “Citadelle” ridge that has been selected as the next target for an attempt by Perseverance to gather samples for analysis / caching. This image was captured on August 26th, 2021. Credit: NASA/JPL

In order to help ensure a sample has been collected post-drilling, a new step has been introduced into the process: once drilling has been completed, the arm and turret will be raised and positioned to allow the rover’s MastCam-Z cameras to image as a visual confirmation that there is material within it. Once confirmed, processing of the sample tube through to the rover’s on-board storage area will then be allowed.

Nor has the first “empty” tube been an entire waste – it now contains a sample of pristine Martian atmosphere, something the mission had intended to collect at some point, and so it will form a part of a sample cache of tubes the rover will at some point deposit on the surface of Mars in anticipation of collection by a future sample return mission.

While atop Citadelle, Perseverance will use its subsurface radar, called RIMFAX – the Radar Imager for Mars’ Subsurface Experiment – to peer at rock layers below it. The top of the ridge will also provide a great vantage point to look for other potential rock targets in the area.

NASA has also confirmed the next mission to Mars, due to be launched in 2024. In keeping with the agency’s approach to alternating surface missions with orbital missions, it has approved the ESCAPADE mission of twin satellites for launch in 2024.

Led by the University of Berkeley, California, the Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers mission is a relatively low-cost (under US $80 million including launch costs) attempt to put two small satellites, dubbed “Red” and “Blue” into orbit around Mars to further study the Martian atmosphere and its interactions with the solar wind.

An artist’s impression of the ESCAPADE satellites approaching Mars. Credit: NASA

The satellites will be launched using two Rocket Lab Electron rockets, with the company’s Photon satellite bus used to protect / power them during a low-energy, 11-month cruise to Mars. This marks a significant increase in Photon’s capabilities, the bus originally having been designed to support the launch of satellites into Earth or cislunar orbits. As such, the mission is seen as a “high risk” venture – but as the team behind ESCAPADE note, most missions to Mars come with a price tag of US $800 million or more, and roughly a 90-95% chance of success in reaching Mars / Mars orbit. ESCAPADE is estimated as having an 80% chance of success in doing the same – but at one-tenth the cost, thus making the increased risk in using Rocket Lab systems worth the effort.

Once in orbit, the mission will collect data that could help reconstruct the climate history of Mars and determine how and when it lost its atmosphere. ESCAPADE also will study the ionosphere of Mars, which can interfere with radio communications on the surface and between Earth and Mars colonists. Finally, with simultaneous two-point observations of the solar wind and Mars’s ionosphere and magnetosphere, ESCAPADE will provide a “stereo” picture of this highly dynamic plasma environment in the planet’s upper atmosphere.

And when it comes to human missions to Mars, a new study from the University of California Los Angeles proposes a novel way of reducing the impact of radiation during the journey to / from Mars: by launching during periods of high solar activity, notably the periods immediately following that of solar maximum, when the Sun is at its most active. While launching missions during periods of high solar radiation to reduce the risk of radiation exposure might sound counter-intuitive, there is some logical to the idea.

Simply put, interplanetary missions face two radiation risks – solar, which can be reasonably well mitigated against in a variety of ways (but not entirely avoided or made “safe”) and galactic cosmic rays (GCRs), which are considerably harder to deal with, and more devastating in their impact. However, during periods of high solar activity, the more energetic solar radiation actually deflects GCRs away from the solar system. So the UCLA study suggests that by launching crewed missions in the years immediately following a period of solar maximum could massively reduce exposure to GCRs without significantly increasing the risk from solar radiation.

Just how practical it would be to restrict missions to Mars to certain time frames within the Sun’s 11-year cycle is debatable. If we are to practically explore and possibly establish a permanent presence on Mars, missions will need to be a lot more frequent; so more practical research into things like garment materials, materials used in space vehicle design, etc., that could help mitigate both primary and secondary radiation would likely be far more practical. However, the bright spot in the UCLA study does suggest that if missions are kept to below 4 years duration, then radiation exposure could be seen as “acceptable” – and currently, the more favoured “opposition” class of mission of 2.5 to 3 years duration falls inside that limit.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: an “existential” rocket, Mars, and a bit on JWST”