Author Archives: Inara Pey

About Inara Pey

Eclectic virtual world blogger with a focus on Second Life, VR, virtual environments and technology.

Space Sunday: exoplanets, dark matter, rovers and recoveries

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

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

On August 15th, I wrote about rumours that an “Earth-like” planet has been found orbiting our nearest stellar neighbour, Proxima Centauri, 4.25 light years away from our own Sun. The news was first leaked by the German weekly magazine, Der Spiegel, which indicated the discovery had been made by a team at the European Southern Observatory’s (ESO)  La Silla facility – although ESO refused to comment at the time.

However, during a press conference held on August 24th, ESO did confirm the detection of a rocky planet orbiting Proxima Centauri. Dubbed Proxima b, the planet lies within the so-called “Goldilocks” habitable zone around its parent star – the orbit in which conditions are “just right” for the planet to harbour liquid water and offer the kind of conditions in which life might arise.

Comparing Proxima b with Earth. Credit:

Comparing Proxima b with Earth. Credit:

The ESO data reveals that Proxima b is orbits its parent star at a distance of roughly 7.5 billion km (4.7 billion miles), at the edge of the habitable zone, and does so every 11.2 terrestrial days and is about 1.3 times as massive as the Earth. The discovery came about by comparing multiple observations of the star over extended periods using two instruments at La Silla to look for signs of the star “wobbling” in its own spin as a result of planetary gravitational influences. Once identified, ESO called on other observatories around the world to carry out similar observations / comparisons to confirm their findings.

Although the planet lies within the “Goldilocks zone”, just how habitable is it likely to be is still open to question. Stars like Proxima Centauri, which is roughly one-seventh the diameter of our Sun, or just 1.5 times bigger than Jupiter, are volatile in nature, all activity within them entirely convective in nature, giving rise to massive stellar flares. As Proxima-B orbits so close to the star, it is entirely possible that over the aeons, such violent outbursts from Proxima Centauri have stripped away the planet’s atmosphere.

Proxima Cantauri compared with other stellar bodies - and Jupiter (Credit:

Proxima Cantauri compared with other stellar bodies – and Jupiter. Credit:

In addition, the preliminary data from ESO suggests the planet is either tidally locked to Proxima Centauri, or may have a 3:2 orbital resonance (i.e. three rotations for every two orbits) – either of which could make it an inhospitable place for life to gain a toe-hold. The first would leave one side in perpetual daylight and the other in perpetual night, while the second would limit any liquid water on the surface to the tropical zones.

Nevertheless, the discovery of another world in one part of our stellar backyard does raise the question of what NASA’s upcoming TESS mission might find when it starts searching the hundreds of nearby stars for evidence of exoplanets in 2018.

Juno’s Second Pass Over Jupiter

NASA’s Juno space craft made a second successful close sweep over the cloud-tops of Jupiter on Saturday, August 27th to complete its first full orbit around the planet. Speeding over the planet at a velocity of 208,000 km/h (130,000 mph) relative to Jupiter, Juno passed just 2,400 km (2,600 miles) above the cloud tops before heading back out into space, where it will again slowly decelerate under the influence of Jupiter’s immense gravity over the next 27 days, before it once again swing back towards the gas giant.

“Early post-flyby telemetry indicates that everything worked as planned and Juno is firing on all cylinders,” said Rick Nybakken, Juno project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, as telemetry on the flyby started being received on Earth some 48 mins after the flyby, which occurred at 13:44 UTC.

A twin view of Jupiter captured by Juno on August 23rd, when the spacecraft was some 4.4 million km (2.8 million miles) from the gas giant and approaching Jupiter to complete its first full orbit. On the left is a colour image from JunoCam, on the right an infra-red image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS

A twin view of Jupiter captured by Juno on August 23rd, when the spacecraft was some 4.4 million km (2.8 million miles) from the gas giant and approaching Jupiter to complete its first full orbit. On the left is a colour image from JunoCam, on the right an infra-red image. Credit: NASA/JPL / SwRI / MSSS

All of Juno’s science suite was in operation during the passage over Jupiter’s clouds. However, due to speed at which the gathered data can be returned to Earth, and given it cannot all be relayed in one go or necessarily continuously, it will be a week or more before everything has been transmitted back to Earth. Nevertheless the science team are already excited by the flyby.

“We are getting some intriguing early data returns as we speak,” Scott Bolton, principal investigator of Juno from the Southwest Research Institute, stated. Some of that data included initial images of Jupiter captured as Juno swept towards the planet during the run-up to periapsis. “We are in an orbit nobody has ever been in before, and these images give us a whole new perspective on this gas-giant world,” Bolton added.

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Of hounds, time, mysteries and awakenings

It’s time to kick-off a week of story-telling in voice, brought to our virtual lives by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library. As always, all times SLT, and events are held at the Library’s Second Life home at Bradley University, unless otherwise indicated.

Sunday, August 28th

13:30: Tea Time at Baker Street

Tea-time at Baker Street returns for the summer, featuring a new location – 221B Baker Street at the University of Washington iSchool in Second Life. Caledonia Skytower, Corwyn Allen and Kayden Oconnell invite you to join them as they return to what is quite possibly the most famous of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works, and present their fourth reading from The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Baskervilles-1902The third full-length novel written about Sherlock Holmes, this is likely to be the one Holmesian story which – at least in outline – known to most, whether or not they have actually read any of Holmes’ adventures.

But do they know it as it was originally written? Over the decades the story has been adapted for film and television more than 20 times, starting as early as 1914/15 with the 4-part series, Der Hund von Baskerville, and continuing on through to Paul McGuigan’s The Hounds of Baskerville, featured in the BBC’s brilliant Sherlock series.

All of these adaptations have offered their own take on the tale. Some – such as McGuigan’s, have simply taken the title of the story and used it to weave a unique tale of their own; others have stayed true to the basics of the story whilst also adding their own twists and turns quite outside of Conan Doyle’s plot in order to keep their offering fresh and exciting to an audience.

So why not join Cale, Corwyn and Kayden as they read from the 1902 original, and discover just how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle unfolded this apparently supernatural tale of giant hounds and murder, and the pivotal role played by John Watson himself?

18:00: Magicland Storytime

It’s a Small World of Folktales at The Golden Horseshoe in Magicland Park with Caledonia Skytower.

Monday August 29th: The Crucible of Time

crucibleGyro Muggin’s takes his audience into the fix-up novel by John Brunner. First published in 1983 as a novel-length series of stories grown out of a two-part story first published in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, this is an ambitious tale – or series of tales – of alien intelligence.

Far off in space is an alien race which is so much like us, yet so unalike. From the birth of their earliest civilisation through to their attainment of star flight as their star system passes through the galaxy. Aquatic by nature, this race presents some significant challenges well outside the realms of anything encountered by humanity – yet they are driven by the same hopes, fears, desires, needs, wants, prejudices, the impact of religious ideologies, the growth of knowledge and enlightenment as a species, as we have experienced in the growth of our own civilisation.

Charting six periods of time a thousand years apart, the six stories making up the novel deal with the growth of this civilisation as witnessed through the efforts of a group of individuals in each era. Each of these growth is faced with a specific challenge or challenges, and their success in overcoming these challenges inevitably leads them to an understanding of their planet’s plight, and the ability to deal with that plight and the survival of their species.

Tuesday August 30th, 19:00: TBA

Please check the Seanchai Library blog for updates.

Wednesday August 31st: A Monstrous Regiment of Women (Mary Russell #2)

MonstrousReturn to 221B Baker Street at the University of Washington’s iSchool, Second Life, for the latter-day adventures of Mr. Sherlock Holmes (retired) and his young orphaned protégé, Mary Russell, originally from the United States, as written by Laurie R. King.

Taking a trip to London, Mary encounters Veronica Beaconsfield, a friend from Oxford, who in turn introduces her to the charismatic and enigmatic Margery Childe, leader of something called “The New Temple of God.” Sect-like, and seemingly involved with the suffrage movement, the New Temple and its leader offer both curiosity and intrigue for Mary, who is not convinced either are entirely aboard board.

Her suspicions appear to be correct when several of the Temple’s wealthy young female volunteers and financial contributors are murdered. With Holmes keeping a watchful eye in the background, Mary turns her curiosity into an investigation; in doing so, she faces her greatest danger yet.

Thursday, September 1st, 19:00: Rey’s Story from Star Wars the Force Awakens

With Shandon Loring (In Second Life and Kitely. Check Kitely event announcements for specific grid location).

Please check with the Seanchai Library SL’s blog for updates and for additions or changes to the week’s schedule.

The featured charity for July-August is WildAid: seeking to end the illegal wildlife trade in our lifetimes by reducing demand through public awareness campaigns and providing comprehensive marine protection.

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2016 SL project updates 34 (2): TPV Developer meeting

Arranmore; Inara Pey, August 2016, on Flickr Arranmoreblog post

The majority of the notes in this update are taken from the TPV Developer meeting held on Friday, August 25th. The video of that meeting is embedded at the end of this update, and references to it are indicated through the use of time stamps in the paragraphs below. My thanks as always to North for recording and providing it.

This is not intended to be a transcript of the entire meeting, which featured discussions of some situations specific to individual region rather than SL as a whole. However, key discussion points have hopefully been highlighted.

Server Deployments

There were no scheduled deployments for week #34.

SL Viewer

Release Candidates

[00:15] Both of the current release candidates – the VLC Media Plugin replacement for Windows and the Visual Outfits Browser viewer, both have elevated crash rates. Both are liable to receive a further RC update in week #35 (week commencing Monday, August 29th.

[00:53] There will be a new Maintenance RC viewer appearing as well.

64-bit Viewer

[00:58] Progress is being made on the 64-bit versions of the viewer, and these are expected to surface (Windows and Mac) as project viewer quite soon.

Bento Project Viewer

As noted in my Bento update #24, the Bento project viewer was issued in what is hoped will be the final project viewer iteration before it progressed to Release Candidate status. Version, released on August 25th, includes the following updates among its changes:

  • The latest viewer updates body size less frequently (starting / stopping an animation) so vertical height repositioning should be less jarring.
  • During mesh upload, SLM files are by default not created and not used. This can still be overridden by changing the debug setting MeshImportUseSLM
  • The show bones display has been modified to use colors differently, distinguishing between joints that are skinned to, joints that have position overrides defined, and all other joints.
  • Animation of collision volumes has been fixed.

Voice Updates

[02:17] The voice updates are progressing, but is not expected to appear in a project viewer soon due to some remaining issues which need to be resolved.

[03:56] There are some server-side voice updates currently on Aditi undergoing test. When these will be moved to the main grid is subject to further discussions with Vivox, which are due to take place in the forthcoming week. When these updates are enabled on the main grid, they will be gird-wide.

[33:10] Oz offered a reminder that in-world / region issues are unlikely to be related to / cause Voice issues in the majority of cases where the latter are being experienced, as the only way the simulator and its host server are involved in voice is when a user is initially connecting to Voice (the simulator provides the channel addresses to the viewer). After this, all communications are between the viewer (via the SLVoice plugin and the Vivox voice servers.

[34:10] As a part of the ongoing work to better monitor and control Voice, the Lab will be introducing improved logging on exactly what the viewer is doing when connecting to Voice.

Exceptions Handling, etc

[02:44] As noted at the last TPV Developer meeting, the Lab is going to be making some source code changes, including a clean-up of asserts in the viewer and how exceptions are handled (the latter to try to prevent the viewer crashing as a result of encountering an exception), and further rendering pipeline clean-up. These will be showing up in a project viewer at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Accessing Crowded Regions & Increasing Max Number of Users Per Region

[08:30] Trying to access a crowded region for an event is often a matter of pot luck. when full, you have no real choice but to get re-trying via teleport or crossing  a region boundary. As a result, the Lab has frequently been asked to add some form of access queuing system to regions.

While a queuing system has been considered, the Lab feels it brings with it may questions around how it work to present an optimal solution for users. As such, while they are open to proposals for a queuing system, optimally, they’d rather work towards trying to increase the number of avatars regions can support. This is something also being looked at from time to time (see my May 27th, 2015 SL project update as an example), although there is no work actively being carried out on it right now.

Abuse Report Categories

[17:00] As indicated in my last TPV Developer meeting update, the Lab will be introducing a new region capability to handle abuse report categories. Once implemented, TPVs will be able to adopt the use of this capability, rather than having abuse categories held within the viewer, where they may get out-of-step with the categories supported by the Lab.

There is also a reminder in the meeting that abuse situations should be reported ASAP after the event, so that the Lab can refer to the related simulator logs during investigations, and that there is a L$10,000 bounty payable on SEC JIRAs which identify actual or potential abuse vectors  / exploits which the Lab can act upon to close.

AMD Graphics Issues

[26:10] Many users with AMD GPU (notably the RX400 series) have been experiencing glitches and “tears” appearing in their world view  – see BUG-20057 and FIRE-16829. User Hurana Ugajin reports she is having a dialogue with AMD on the issue, and a solution may be forthcoming soon. When / if available, a request has been to post it to the SL technology forum.

Region Resource Allocations

[36:19] A question is asked on whether it would be possible to allocate simulator resources (script usage, etc), on the same basis as object land impact – thus allowing resources to be assigned / capped by parcel size, etc.

The Lab does not believe this can be done without significant changes to SL, as a lot of the underpinning resources are not location-based (e.g. scripts are run on the basis of where they are). Instead, the Lab is focused more on penalising individuals for excessive use of resources (e.g. if you run a script which abuses resources in a region, all your active scripts are throttled, not just the offending script). Such abuses can also be AR’d by those noting them.

Other Items

Aditi Access

[04:42] Some users are apparently being told that in order to access Aditi, they require Payment Information On File (PIOF) and to have completed a tutorial. These are actually part of the requirements to be able to upload mesh. No special requirements are required to access the beta grid other than your user name and password.

There is , however a problem with new user accounts not showing up on Aditi when they should, and a request has to be passed to support to enabled them. This is down to changes in how the Lab is handling account data, which has left Aditi in a state of flux, but a fix for this is in the pipeline.

Account Management

[06:22] The account work mentioned above is part of ongoing back-end work the Lab is carrying out related to personal data is handled and stored even more securely, and help resolve some account management issues. One outcome of this will be a single change to a user’s password will be applied pretty much immediately to both Agni and Aditi.

Large Texture Over-Use

[43:40] A continuing problem in SL is the over-use of large (1024×1024) texture on every surface, no matter how small. While this is a bad content choice, it has been suggested that to discourage this, LL should consider charging differently for different texture sizes. This has been discussed by the Lab, with the admission that given the already low cost for uploads (L$10 per item), there is a certain lack of conviction that introducing a nominal fee scale based on image size will do much to discourage the practice.

Avatar Complexity Calculations

[48:18] As noted at the last TPV Developer meeting, the Lab will be carrying out further refinements in how Avatar Complexity is calculated. A suggestion put forward at this meeting is that as well as having a per avatar limit, if a scene-wide limit could be defined / set. This is viewed as an “interesting” idea.

Immaculate perceptions and reflections in Second Life

“There is no truth, there is only perception … immaculate perception,” Krystali Rabeni enigmatically states in her introduction to Immaculate Perception – Immaculate Reflection. “What you see is what you thought before you looked … The immaculate perception of it is an immaculate reflection of the viewer. A very interesting abstraction proving that there is no truth, only perception.”

It’s a provocative statement leading the way into a surreal and thought-provoking setting, one complete with touches of abstract and the absurd – but one which is also compelling, given the artist’s statement. Across a watery landscape sits a host of vignettes drawn from multiple sources. Pieces in some of them will be familiar to visitors, others will be wholly new.

All present some curious scenes: animals hanging from balloons, a pair of women in 50’s style clothing walking a pair of hot-dogs, skeletons watching TV, chess pieces from one side pinning the king from the other side under a net, a pat of flamingoes examining images of other flamingoes; pocket watches with starfish, the list goes on.

However, what is important here is not from whence they came or even, necessarily, what the artist may have intended each to represent – but how we perceive them, and how that perception may be informed by the shadows of our own thinking even before we see what is in front of us.  Of course, how we perceive and interpret any art is a matter of personal reflection, but it is generally a subconscious process; here we’re being asked to consciously think about that process – which in turn further influences our perceptions.

In this, the track of thinking can become recursive: we question whether or not how much of what we’re perceiving in one vignette is shaped by our prior thinking, and then as we move on,  how much of that thinking is influencing our perception of the next vignette we see, which in turn calls into question our perceptions of the next vignette, and so on. Thus observation becomes as much introverted act, as it does a consideration of the art itself.
Within the installation, the potential recursiveness of our thinking  is perhaps enhanced by how the various vignettes are  placed. It is almost impossible to observe one without seeing two or perhaps three others, thus shifting our attention, directly or subliminally, influencing our thinking on the piece at hand, and thus influencing our perception of it.

However, and with all that said, we can leave the deeper considerations about Immaculate Perception – Immaculate Reflection to one side, and simply approach each vignette entirely on its own. Each offers a scene captivating to the eye which can be enjoyed in its own right, regardless of what is informing our perception, whilst also allowing us to tease ourselves with possible allusions which may appear to be in some of them which might otherwise be missed in any deeper appreciation / introspection.

However you approach this installation, it offers plenty of opportunity for visual appreciation and / or considered speculation.

SLurl Details