My Second Life in 2022

Catch a falling star

Each December, it has become my habit to offer a general look back on Second Life’s progress through the year – as I recently published for 2022, using the Lab’s own look back as a foundation (much as I did in 2021). In some of these looks back, I’ve included some personal notes on my own times in-world, although of late I’ve let that drop away, as is seemed rather self-indulgent. However, to break things up a little as 2022 draws to a close, I thought I’d toot my trumpet again and look back on the year and what it has meant to me.

Most notably on a personal level it’s been a year of evolving friendships, with two of particular note. The early part of the year was marked by times spent with Tasha, someone I’d met in 2021 and shared a good deal of time with having all sorts of fun, thanks to the two of us being in the same time zone and having fairly matching on-line times. Sadly, matters of the physical world meant that for the better part of 2022 we’ve had next to no time in-world, but the memories are precious.

More happily, 2022 brought me into contact with Tulsa, whose sense of fun and humour has prompted me to call her Imp, and whose companionship I’ve come to greatly appreciate, our sharing of a mutual time zone again making getting together easy, and allowing us to share a mutual interest in building. More recently, times in-world have been also shared with Wilhelmina, who has also been a welcome companion in exploring SL and visiting art exhibitions.

Imp being Imp and peeking at me from behind giant books during an August visit to Storybook (see: A Storybook’s return in Second Life)

One of the things blog-wise I did at the start of 2022 was to write about how I came to name my avatar; I did so as a result of having received multiple questions on my name and whether it was connected to the short-lived TV series Firefly (quick answer: yes). Again, I thought the piece to be self-indulgent, but it proved popular among readers and on social media – so thank you on that! Further self-indulgence came in April 2022, when after earlier mis-communications, Strawberry Linden interviewed me for the Lab’s Spotlight series; something I found to be an honour as well, given the luminaries who have featured in the series.

Of course, exploring SL continues to be a passion for me, and 2022 saw me complete over 180 visits and write-ups on in-world public spaces (a handful admittedly return visits later in the year to places I’d dropped into early-on in 2022). It’s an activity I genuinely enjoy because it allows me to see the creativity of others in second life who, whilst not “content creators” in the traditional sense, nevertheless have the creative eye and ability to bring together the works of others in a manner to offer us all places of beauty, mystery, fantasy, and more, where we can explore, relax, play, and have fun.

Sadly, 2022 brought the news that one of the Second Life region designers I particularly admired for his ability – often working with Jade Koltai – to bring us magnificent interpretations of some of the most evocative locations to be found within the physical world. As I noted in a personal reflection on his passing, Serene Footman will be greatly missed by Second Life explorers and photographers.

Black Bayou remains one of my favourite physical world locations Serene Footman and Jade Koltai brought to Second Life. First offered in 2018, it was a location they brought back for a time in April 2022.

In looking at some of the stats on the blog, I was also surprised to realise that 2022 has seen me visit and write about over 170 art exhibitions and installations.

The ability for Second Life to promote art is genuinely second to none. Capable of showcasing 2D and 3D art, whether produced in-world and / or with the assistance of external editing tools, and presenting the ability for artists to upload and display their physical world art, SL is an outstanding platform for artistic expression and audience reach. It has been, and remains, my delight and pleasure to cover art in-world as fully and broadly as I possibly can, although I cannot hope to cover everything, so to those who did through the year extend invites to their opening and exhibitions which I was unable to accept, I offer a genuine apology.

In respect of art and galleries, my thanks to Owl and the folks at NovaOwl and to Hermes Kondor for inviting me to display my own attempts at SL photography at their galleries this year (see: A touch of artistic self-promotion in Second Life and Fifty Shades of Pey in Second Life).

In April Owl, Ceakay and Uli graciously hosted an exhibition of my SL photography at NovaOwl Gallery

A habit I got into a while back, mainly as a means of offering an alternate kind of product review, was writing about the prefab houses I’d buy then promptly kitbash for use on the home island. It is something I continued at the start of the year, utilising a couple of Novocaine Islay’s builds (see: The InVerse Orlando house in Second Life, and The InVerse Nizza house in Second Life). However, I’ve not done anything like it for most of the latter part of the year, not because I’ve not (again) changed house, but because the current house is a scratch-build; albeit it strongly influenced by a commercial build.

In August 2022, I made a number of visits to see Cory Edo’s Jura Waterfront Cabin, trying to work out if it could fulfil an idea I had for a new personal home. Unfortunately, my examinations of the design revealed that I’d have to pretty much tear it apart in order to achieve my goal, so instead I went the scratch-build route, albeit using photos I’d taken of Cory’s design. As such, it’s not a build to be written about in its own right – and I hope Cory will forgive me my cheek! For those of you who are looking for a thoroughly engaging waterfront home, it’s a build I can still recommend it as design unlikely to disappoint.

The current Isla Myvtan house, inspired by Cory Edo’s Jura Waterfront Cabin (inset)

And talking of homes, a genuine highlight for me in 2022 was the invite I received from Miltone Marquette to visit his exquisite in-world reproduction of Fallingwater, aka the Kaufmann House, the iconic house in the Laurel Highlands of southwest Pennsylvania designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

The original Fallingwater is a house within which I’ve had a long (and indirect) relationship with for many, many years. I’ve been an admirer of many of FLW’s architectural designs, with Fallingwater being the one I have myself built and re-built in-world over the years, and to which I’ve often returned in order to build far more personal takes on the essential looks and layout of the main house in order to give myself a personal home in-world.

However, none of my builds have been as faithful to the original as Miltone’s; his is a genuine work of art in which no detail from the original has been missed. As such it was an absolute delight to be able to visit it and tour the rooms – and drop into two of his other reproductions of FLW houses -, and I wrote about in Miltone’s Fallingwater in Second Life. If you have a similar passion for Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs, I thoroughly recommend contact Miltone directly in-world and arrange a time when you might visit his reproductions of Fallingwater, the Robie House and the Jacobs’ First House.

Fallingwater by Miltone Marquette, October 2022

Of course, 2022 has also allowed me to continue to inflict another pair of my interests on readers – those of space exploration and astronomy, subject which, like my love of sci-fi, came to me by way of late father. I have no idea how broadly popular Space Sunday might be (I try not to look too deeply ay blog analytics for fear I stop writing about what I enjoy and start focus on those subjects that gain the most clicks); however, I will say it is one of the hardest regular pieces I write for the blog; not because the subjects are hard for me to get to grips with, but rather because there is so much I want to cover, I have difficultly in reining myself in, so my apologies to those of you who might find the pieces a case of TL;DR!

Overall, however, 2022 has for me been nicely balanced between blogging and enjoying personal times. I’ll confess that on occasion in recent years I’ve wondered what the hell I am doing with SL outside of writing about it, so 2022 has been an opportunity – thanks in no small part to Imp and those close to me – to strike a new balance and get back to many of the things outside of blogging I enjoy. In this I also want to thank R, whose sage advice – given in 2021 – took root through this past year: do what you enjoy.

And keeping all that in mind, I’m keen to see what 2023 brings!

Space Sunday: Mars missions and the Soyuz leak

NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover has started preparations to have some of the samples it has gathered to be returned to Earth for extensive analysis.

Since its arrival on Mars in February 2021, the rover has been exploring Jezero Crater and collecting samples of sub-surface rocks in much the same manner as its older sister, Curiosity, which arrived within Gale Crater half a world away on Mars 12 years ago.

Some of these samples have been subject to on-board analysis by the rover’s internal lab, but for the most part they have been sealed in special tubes stored in an on-board cache, part of a total volume of 43 such tubes it carried to Mars tucked within its underside.

The idea behind the tubes – one of which has been used to collect a sample of the Martian atmosphere, and five more contain various materials intended to capture particulates in the ambient environment – is that they would form one or more sample caches Perseverance could deposit at locations where they could later be collected for return to Earth by a European-American sample-return mission.

Thus, on December 21st, 2022, the rover started building the first of these caches with the “drop” of the first tube to be selected for surface caching. The operation involved the rover parking at a recognisable feature within Jezero crater – dubbed “Three Forks” – and then rotating the rotunda of sample tubes so that the selected tube – containing samples of igneous rock collected at the start of 2022 – could be released and dropped to the Martian surface. Then, to confirm the operate had succeeds, and the tube wasn’t snagged somewhere in the mechanism, NASA commanded the rover to use its robot arm to peer down between its wheels and use the camera mounted on the end of the arm to confirm the position of the tube and check its overall condition.

Somewhat resembling a light sabre from the Star Wars franchise, the sample tubes are made up of a mix of materials designed to protect their contents from the rigours of being placed out in the harsh Martian environment and and rick of contamination by solar radiation or by the future process of transferring them to the vehicles that will be used to return them to Earth.

Resembling a Star Wars light sabre, a sample tube dropped by the Mars 2020 rover Perseverance on December 21st marks the start of an operation to place 10 sample tubes in a cache for collection by a future mission which will return them to Earth. Credit: NASA

This resemblance to a light sabre is something that has not been lost on the mission team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

I’ve been holding out my hand to my computer screen to see if the tube will be transported from Mars, since as director, I’m pretty sure the Force is with me, right? OK, so no joy so far, but I’ll keep trying!

– Laurie Leshlin, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory director

A photo of the “Three Forks” cache site in Jezero Crater, Mars, depicting the points at which the ten sample tubes will be dropped by the Perseverance rover. Credit: NASA

In all, ten of the 22 tubes so far used by the rover will be dropped around the “Three Forks” location – each one in its own drop point to facilitate easier pick-up. The second of the ten – containing the longest core sample thus far collected by the rover, comprising sedimentary rock taken from the edge of an ancient outflow delta in the crater – was dropped on December 22nd. A second cache of tubes will be established elsewhere in the crater at a later period in the rover’s mission to offer an alternate collection point for samples.

The current plan for the sample-return mission (July 2022) requires an orbiter / return vehicle to be supplied by the European Space Agency and delivered to Mars orbit in May 2028. At around the same time, a Sample Retrieval Lander built for NASA, will also arrive on Mars relatively close the the selected sample cache and carrying an sample ascent vehicle and two small helicopters similar to Ingenuity, already operating on Mars in concert with Perseverance.

The Mars Sample-Return Mission elements. top: the ESA- built orbiter / return vehicle; right: the sample lander with the ascent vehicle above it, carrying the sample back to the orbiter; left: the Perseverance rover and an Ingenuity-class Mars helicopter, one or other of which will be used to transfer sample tube to the lander vehicle, which will load them into the ascent vehicle. Credit: NASA / ESA.

Perseverance, which will have returned to the cache site in the interim, will then collect the sample tubes and pass them to the lander vehicle, which will then use a special robot arm to stow them in the ascent vehicle. Should Perseverance be unable to carry out the collection and transfer, the two helicopters will do so instead. Once all the samples have been collected, the ascent vehicle will launch to a rendezvous with the orbiter, and the containment unit with the sample transferred to it for the return to Earth, arriving in 2033.

Goodnight, InSight

As one team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory were celebrating the success of the latest phase of their mission, another team was saying a final “farewell” to their mission vehicle.

Having operated for a total of four years on Mars – two years longer than its primary mission period – the NASSA InSight lander’s mission was officially brought to an end on December 21st, 2022, its mission team no longer able to communicate with it.

InSight on Mars, December 1 2018, on Flickr
Three images captured by the HiRISE camera on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, released on December 13th, 2018. Left: the lander’s aeroshell and parachute. Right: the heat shield, discarded after EDL and ahead of parachute deployment on November 26th, 2018. Centre: InSight itself with a surrounding ring of regolith blasted by the lander’s landing motors. The teal colour is not genuine, but the result of sunlight being reflected off of the lander and its parts saturating the HiRSE imaging system. Credit: NASA/JPL

Whilst not as exciting as an ambulating rover mission, InSight – short for  INterior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport – was a massively ambitious mission, full details of which can be found in Space Sunday: insight on InSight. As the name suggests, the overall aim of the mission was to gain information on the processes going on deep within Mars.

To achieve this, the lander notably included two experiments it had to transfer from its deck to the surface of Mars, post-landing. One of these experiments, the Heatflow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) and involving a self-propelled “Mole” designed to investigate how much heat is emanating from Mars’ core, did not fare too well, the Mole becoming stuck very early in its attempt to burrow into the ground.

However, the second surface package, SEIS (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure) – the primary mission element for the lander – proved to be highly successful in its goal of recording details of “marsquakes” and other sound-generating events within and on the planet (such as recording meteor impact later traced to a new 150m diameter crater on the planet), allowing scientists build up a clearer understanding of the planet’s internal structure and activity.

In all, SEIS measured over 1300 seismic events in 4 years, marking Mars as still being geologically active deep below its surface. Fifty of these events were “loud” enough to reveal information about their location on Mars, with a large cluster of them coming from Cerberus Fossae, a region of the planet having been thought to be geologically active relatively recently in its 4.5 billion year history, with many “young” surface features.

SEIS also showed that the Martian core is molten but is larger than thought and less dense than the lower crust. Lighter elements mixed with molten iron in the core lower its density, which explains how the core can still be molten even after cooling considerably.

By reading how vibrations from impacts and Marsquakes travelled through the planet, SEIS gave scientists the data they needed to understand Mars’ interior structure. Image Credit: S. Cottaar, P. Koelemeijer, J. Winterbourne, NASA

As a static lander, InSight always had a limited lifespan; as a solar-powered vehicle, its panels would inevitably become so coated in dust and subject to deterioration in the harsh Martian environment that they would no longer be able to generated sufficient power to charge the lander’s batteries.  However, it had been hoped that dust devils, tiny Martian tornadoes created during the changing of the Martian seasons, might help “clean” the panels in much they same way they have with the solar-powered MER rovers. Unfortunately, this was not the case – possibly because the 2m diameter solar arrays used by the lander were simply too big for passing dust devils to effectively blow accumulated dust off of them.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: Mars missions and the Soyuz leak”