Sunday, January 2022 saw Cica Ghost open her latest installation in Second Life – just in time for us all to have some extra New Year’s fun.
Funday offers a strange, partially-ruined town, a place where buildings are often lacking the accepted number of walls and roofs, and where courtyards and floors sit partially exposed, partially broken, while roads and paths are entirely absent – the way to get around is to simply wander over grass and under the trees.
However, this is not a place of ruination; rather it is a place of contrasts and brightest; a playground, if you will. Paintings of flowers and windows brighten walls – one of which has Cica’s smiling face peeking down on those below, and another of her playing with a butterfly; washing lines are draped with oversized socks and jumpers, and run between towers and poles, suggesting they could by shimmied along, Nor are all the buildings in ruins; a number of them form thin, squat towers sitting upon pedestals, some of which can be reached by ladders.
Scale is something that doesn’t matter here; chairs suitable for avatars mix with couches (and floor lamps!) big enough for giants. Meanwhile, the local inhabitants – cows, sheep and chickens – suggest a farm may once have been a part of the setting, while the local ponds are home to decidedly oversized frogs and a water worm.
Given this is a build by Cica, there is also a mix of interactive elements (including the seats mentioned above) awaiting discovery, allowing visitors to enjoy a dance or two and even perform some acrobatics.
Easy to explore and with elements that match its the first part of its name, Funday presents an easy way to relax and enjoy Cica’s creativity.
Following its launch on December 25th, the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) has completed several major steps in the deploying its critical hardware as it continues its month-long voyage towards its operational orbit at the Earth-Sun L2 Lagrange point.
Here’s a brief summary of what has happened thus far with deployments.
In the early houses of Wednesday, December 29th (UTC), Earth, JWST unfolded the forward sunshield pallet, lowering it away from its stowed position in front of the central deployable tower supporting the (still folded) primary and secondary mirror assemblies and the telescope’s massive radiator, and containing JWST’s vital electronics and science instruments.
The lowering process took 20 minutes to complete, and was followed by the aft sunshield pallet being unfolded from behind the mirror tower in an 18-minute operation. After this, JWST went through several hours of additional operations, including ensuring the pallets were correctly in place and their sub-systems operational, and orienting the observatory with respect to the Sun to provide optimal shielding when the sunshield is deployed and tensioned. Once all this was completed, the command was given for the pallets to lock themselves in their deployed condition.
Later on the 29th, the deployable tower was raised some 1.2 metres from its “stowed” state over a 6-hour period. This moved it away from JWST’s thrusters and provided the room needed for the sunshields to be deployed and tensioned.
Thursday, December 30th saw the deployment of the sunshield commence. A three-part process, and one vital to the observatory’s operations, this started with the drawing back of the membranes that have protected the delicate sunshield.
On December 31st, the booms that extend the five layers of the sunshield were extended. Operations began at 18:30 UTC, with the five segments of the portside boom extending outwards from the mid-point between the two sunshield pallets. The procedure took just over three hours to complete, and was followed by the extension of the starboard boom, which took a similar amount of time, also drawing out the membranes of the sunshield on that side of the telescope.
Overall, the deployment of both booms took longer than anticipated, but was successfully completed, with operations then being halted for New Years Day. On January 2nd, operations resumed on the tensioning of the membranes. A 2-day operation, this involves separating each of the 5 membranes from the others and then tensioning it using the side booms and four fore-and-aft boom mechanisms. Once this has been completed, the focus will switch to deploying the telescope’s “eyes” – its secondary and primary mirrors.
The other news on the programme is that such was the accuracy with which the Ariane 5 placed JWST onto its transfer orbit, coupled with the smoothness of the first “mid-course” thruster burns, far less propellants that had been estimated. This now means that the observatory has sufficient reserves to complete at least a 10-year mission (although NASA remains focused on the 5-year primary mission).
Space Highlights for 2022
I generally try to look ahead to key space events at the start of the year, and while this may not be as comprehensive as previous years, but the following is offered as a broad summary of high points.
Several new launch vehicles will undergo initial launch tests / flight in 2022, including:
Block 1 NASA Space Launch System (USA): maiden flight, February 2022 carrying the Artemis 1 mission hardware and cubesats for ten missions in the CubeSat Launch Initiative (CSLI), and three missions in the Cube Quest Challenge. The payloads will be sent on a trans-lunar injection trajectory.
Just before the New Year, Gnaaah Xeltentat kindly sent me a personal invitation to visit the latest iteration of Florence, his Homestead region, which has once again been given a new look by Iska (sablina), assisted by Tippah.
At the time of my last visit, almost a year ago (see: Spring at Florence in Second Life), the region had just been given a clever re-working by Iska and Tippah that offered a new twist on the layout originally created by Minnie Atlass in 2020 (see: Witnessing Florence at Low Tide in Second Life). For this iteration, however, the region has been completely redressed by Iska, who has drawn her inspiration from a location in the physical world; the Salin d’Aigues-Mortes (salts of Aigues-Mortes), Camargue, in the south of France.
A natural wetland sitting between the Mediterranean Sea and the two arms of the Rhône delta, it is home to what are regarded as the largest salt water marshes in Europe, one designated a Wetland of International Importance. It is also noted as an Important Bird Area, being home to over 400 species of birds (including being one of the few European habitats for the greater flamingo). And if that weren’t enough, the area is also the one of the largest producers of salt in Europe, producing around 500,000 tonnes annually.
Whilst relatively unknown outside of France, the salt marshes are a popular destination for the French – the rather vicious local mosquitoes notwithstanding ; the result of both the richness of the birds and wildfowl in the area, and the natural pink colouring to the waters of the marshes.
The latter is due to the microscopic algae, Dunaliella Salina (the same algae that gives flamingos their pink colour) which is common in high concentrations of enclosed salt water environments such as the waters of the Camargue. As the algae grow, they synthesise beta-carotene (which also gives some fruit and vegetables their red/orange pigment) to protect them from the Sun, and it is this that makes the water in the marshes appear pink.
All of this is encapsulated in the new design for Florence in a simple, elegant layout that has much to attract the eye and camera. The landing point is located alongside a collection of 31 rectangular salt tanks, representing those used by the Salin Group to “farm” salt from the region. To the east, but close by are three high peaks of salt, representing the massive tables of salt that tend to be a feature of the region as the salt is gathered and dried..
To the west, the land forms more natural bodies of salty water, sand / salt bars between them helping to form paths, and the waters being enjoyed by flamingos and other waterfowl whilst other birds fly overhead. Along one of the “sand bars” there sits a little artist’s retreat, its flat roof offering a good look-out point, while a wooden deck extends out into another pool, offering a further place to sit – or from which to fly a kite.
Crossing the region from east to west is a set of rail tracks long which flatcars of salt can be rolled, a rutted cart / vehicle track paralleling them. A bridge from here spans a water channel to reach a larger dry landmass, home to a lighthouse and the local hotel. The latter also reflects the relaxed nature of the area: unsupervised access to the salt lakes in Camargue is not permitted; visitors are expected to stay locally and join one of the guided tours offered by foot or bicycle – or, for those who like a little more comfort – in a 75-minute train ride (perhaps again reflected by the presence of rail tracks in the region).
Also to be found in the region are horses, emblematic of the Camargue horse, an ancient breed of horse of unknown origin and indigenous to the region, believed to be one of the oldest breeds of horses in the world. These hardy little horses live in semi-feral conditions and are the traditional mount of the Camargue “cowboys” who herd the black Camargue bulls. The latter are also represented in the region by a pair of cattle.
As well as getting around on foot, the region offers a little motor boats visitors can putter around it, motoring along the water channel, or out to the little island that sits on its own, or around to the western side of the region, and the cover that awaits to one side of the hotel.
It is clear that a lot of care and consideration has gone into the creation of this setting such that it offers a good suggestion of the Camargue salt marshes whilst also being a very individual region design even if one does not reference them. There are multiple places to sit – outdoors and in, and – as noted – numerous opportunities for photography. But don’t take my word for it – get your 2022 off to a non-snowy start and pay a visit yourself!