Space Sunday: BepiColombo and giant planets

An Ariane 5 rocket carrying the European-Japanese BepiColombo mission to Mercury rises from the pad at the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana on the 19th October, 2018 (local / 20th October, 2018 GMT). Credit: ESA-CNES-Arianespace

At 01:45 GMT on Saturday, October 19th, 2018, the European / Japanese BepiColumbo mission lifted-off from the European Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana at the start of a 7-year voyage to Mercury, the innermost planet of the solar system.

Named after Giuseppe “Bepi” Colombo, an Italian scientist, mathematician and engineer, who took a particular interest in Mercury, and first formulated the use of the gravity-assist as a part of an interplanetary mission (Mariner 10, 1973/75).

The mission actually comprises four elements. There are two individual satellites, the Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and Mio (Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter, MMO), an propulsion / power unit called the  Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) and a Sun shield designed to protect the more sensitive instruments on Mio.

BepiColombo elements (l to r) Mercury Transfer Module (MTM) with solar panels folded; Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) also with solar panel stowed;, sun shield and vehicle interface; Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO). Credit; ESA

Built by the European Space Agency, MPO weighs 1,150 kg (2,540 lb), and carries a payload of 11 instruments, comprising cameras, spectrometers (IR, UV, X-ray, γ-ray, neutron), a radiometer, a laser altimeter, a magnetometer, particle analysers, a Ka-band transponder, and an accelerometer. It also carries the smaller Mio, and will supply it with power until such time as the two separate once in orbit around Mercury.

Mio, built primarily in Japan, masses of 285 kg (628 lb) and carries five groups of science instruments with a total mass of 45 kg (99 lb). The is a spin-stabilised platform, meaning that prior to detaching from MPO, it will be set spinning at 15 rpm so it can remain stable as it operates in a polar orbit around Mercury.

The overall goal of the mission is to carry out the most comprehensive study of Mercury to date, examining its magnetic field, magnetosphere, interior structure and surface, with a primary mission period of one year. In addition, during the flight, BepiColombo will make the most precise measurements of the orbits of the Earth and Mercury around the Sun made to date as a part of further investigations of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

As noted above, it will take BepiColombo seven years to reach Mercury. This is because of a couple of reasons. The first is, contrary to what logic might suggest, getting closer to the Sun is actually harder than moving away from it when starting from Earth. The is because a vehicle departing Earth does so with a “sideways” motion relative to the Sun of around 67,000 mph (107,000 km/h), the speed the Earth is orbit the Sun, and this has to be overcome. At the same time, speed has to be managed so that the vehicle can also approach Mercury at a slow enough velocity to allow it to brake its way into orbit.

To achieve both of these goals, the MTM on BepiColombo is equipped with the most powerful ion propulsion system yet flown in space. This is capable for maintaining a low rate of thrust over exceptionally long periods – much long that could be achieved by rocket motors and for far less fuel, given the ion system is electrically powered, using two 14 metre (46 ft) long solar panels to generate the power. The motor will be used to help slow BepiColombo in its flight, acting as a long-slow-burning brake. However, the ion motors aren’t sufficient to get the mission to Mercury; more is required.

Computer composite rendering of the stacked BepiColombo spacecraft making a flyby of Mercury with the ion propulsion system of the MTM firing. Credits: Spacecraft: ESA/ATG medialab; Mercury: NASA/JPL

This “more” take the form of using no fewer than nine planetary fly-bys. The first of these will happen in April 2020, when BepiColumbo, now in an extended orbit around the Sun, will encounter Earth once more. This will bend the vehicle’s flight path inwards towards the Sun which will swing it past Venus in October of that year, the first of two Venus fly-bys. The second of these will occur in August 2021, and will bend BepiColombo’s orbit further in towards Mercury, which it will reach at the start of October 2021.

But things don’t end there. While planetary fly-bys serve to bend a space vehicle’s trajectory, allowing it to “hop” from planet to planet, it also increases the vehicle’s velocity. Even with the long periods of braking possible using the ion motors, BepiColombo will be travelling too fast to achieve orbit around Mercury at that first encounter. Instead, the spacecraft will be placed in a solar orbit that periodically intercepts Mercury in is orbit, and over a series of five such encounters between June 2022 and January 2025, BepiColombo will use Mercury’s gravity in conjunction with its ion engines to slow itself down to around the threshold at which it can make orbit.

BepiColombo’s flight to Mercury, via Phoenix7777

This will occur in December 2025, as the vehicle makes its seventh approach to Mercury. However, with a mass of around 4 tonnes combined, the vehicle will still have too much inertia for the ion motors to bring it into orbit. Instead, the MTM will be jettisoned, and the smaller, lighter MMO will use its own high-thrust conventional motor systems to brake itself into an initial orbit around Mercury. At the same time, Mio will be separated, so it can enter a more distant orbit around the planet.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: BepiColombo and giant planets”


Frankenstein, teleports, clocks and Secret Agents

Seanchai Library

It’s time to highlight another week of storytelling in Voice by the staff and volunteers at the Seanchai Library. As always, all times SLT, and events are held at the Library’s home at Holly Kai Park, unless otherwise indicated.

Sunday, October 21st

14:00 Frankenstein Live

Fantasy Faire Radio and Seanchai Library will present Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, specially adapted for radio and live performance in six voices, in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the novel’s original publication.  The two-hour performance will take place live at this year’s iteration of “Haunted Holly Kai” high above the Blake Sea based Art Park, and will benefit Relay for Life.

Da5id Abbot, Corwyn Allen, Zander Greene, Shandon Loring, Elrik Merlin, and Caledonia Skytower will come together to present the script adapted by Skytower and Abbot from Shelley’s original novel.  The performance, running just under two hours, will be live on stream at “Haunted Holly Kai: featuring Frankenstein” and simultaneously broadcast on Fantasy Faire Radio.

Frankenstein: Haunted Holly Kai

You can teleport to Haunted Holly Kai from Seanchai Library’s front door, or via the Holly Kai Park Information Centre.

Radio listeners can tune in by opening in their internet browser and choosing Fantasy Faire Radio in the left hand sidebar, by opening in a network audio player.

18:00: Magicland Storytime: Mary Poppins Comes Back

Pulled down from the clouds at the end of a kite string, Mary Poppins is back. In Mary’s care, the Banks children meet the King of the Castle and the Dirty Rascal, visit the upside-down world of Mr. Turvy and his bride, Miss Topsy, and spend a breathless afternoon above the park, dangling from a clutch of balloons.

Find out more with Caledonia Skytower at the The Golden Horseshoe.

Monday, October 22nd 19:00: The Infinitive of Go

Gyro Muggins reads John Brunner’s 1980 novel about matter teleportation and dimensional shifts.

Dr Justin Williams and his collaborator, Cinnamon Wright, develop a form of instantaneous teleportation in which the departure and arrival points appear “congruent” with one another, allowing objects to be instantly moved from one to the other in a transfer process termed “posting”.

The system works flawlessly with inanimate objects, and when a situation arises requiring an urgent diplomatic solution arises, Williams is called upon to transfer a courier from the USA to an embassy in a foreign location. But something goes wrong: on his arrival, the courier is armed – yet he carried no weapon on his departure – and further demands he be given a countersign by those at the embassy – when no such arrangement had been made. Believing the mission to be compromised, the courier shoot himself, and the package he is carrying self-destructs.

In order to prove he did not sabotage the system, Williams has himself posted – only to find that while he feels unchanged, the world around him has changed in the most subtle of ways. As time goes on, Williams – with the help of a doubly altered Wright – realises that the teleportation device is moving its subjects between parallel universes. It is also apparent that some of those arriving in the dimension in which he now exists have far more knowledge about what is going on.

The question is, is it the system that is causing people to move between universes, or ir it something more subtle?

Tuesday, October 23rd 19:00: The House with a Clock in it’s Walls

Faerie Maven-Pralou reads the first in John Bellairs’ Lewis Barnavelt series, originally published in the 1970s.

In the mid-west United States in the 1950s, 11-year-old, orphaned Lewis Barnavelt arrives at the home of his Uncle Jonathan, who has been appointed his guardian. Overweight, shunned by other children, he finds himself in his uncle’s the ramshackle mansion where the ominous ticking of a clock can be heard coming from within the walls.

Lewis soon discovers his uncle is a witch, as is his eccentric neighbour, Mrs. Zimmerman – who is obsessed with the colour purple and anything with “Z” on it – are witches. Fortunately, they are witches of the “good” kind, and they are engaged in a literal race against time.

The ticking coming from within the mansion’s walls belongs to a doomsday clock, and if Uncle Jonathan, Mrs. Zimmerman – and now Lewis – must work out where the bewitched clock has been hidden by the warlocks who once owned the house.

Wednesday, October 24th, 19:00: The Jennifer Morgue

Corwyn Allen reads the second volume in the Laundry Files by Charles Stross.

Bob Howard is an IT expert and occasional field agent for the Laundry, the branch of Her Majesty’s Secret Service that deals with occult threats. In this second outing, Bob Howard finds himself dragged into the machinations and conspiracies of megalomaniac multi-billionaire Ellis Billington, The Black Chamber and The Laundry…

Dressed in a tuxedo (what else for a globe-trotting British Secret Agent?) and sent to the Caribbean, Bob must infiltrate Billington’s inner circle via his luxurious yacht. His mission? Prevent the Billington from violating a treaty that will bring down the wrath of an ancient underwater race upon humanity’s head.

Offering a wonderful pastiche on both the world of James Bond and a wonderful mimicking of Ian Fleming’s style of writing, Stross produces a novel that also evokes Lovecraftian overtones that is delightfully entertaining to read. In true Bond style, Bob is (reluctantly) partnered with an American agent – in this case a stunningly beautiful woman who also just happens to be a soul-sucking succubus from another dimension. Which, being the case, marks Bob’s mission somewhat differently to those of Bond: not only must he stop the bad guys and come through this at best shaken, he must totally avoid being stirred towards getting the girl…

Thursday, October 25th Walking After Midnight – Tales of Halloween

With Shandon Loring at Octoberville – take the teleport from Seanchai Library. Also presented in Kitelyhop://


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

DiXmiX: CapCat and Meiló

DiXmiX Gallery: CapCat Ragu

Saturday, October 20th saw the opening of a new joint exhibition by CapCat Ragu and Meiló (meilo Minotaur) at DiXmiX Gallery – “joint” because not only are the two sharing the exhibition, they are also close friends in-world. A further connection between them is there respective exhibits share something of a related surrealist / post-modern surrealist lean that offers a subtext on identity.

CaPCat’s exhibition reside in the gallery’s Black Gallery hall on the lower floor. Entitled Fading, it presents a progressive series of images of an avatar’s head and shoulders, each labelled simply as “fading” with a number. Starting with Fading #1, with what appears to be a slightly out-of-focus study, they offer increasingly overlaid images in which the subject’s features are increasingly offset and overlaid, increasingly more detached from one another to become almost collage-like in form.

DiXmiX Gallery: CapCat Ragu

By presenting multiple, overlaid images, each picture raises questions of who we really are: we offer so many faces to the world – even to each other, no matter how well was know one another – that who we really are becomes blurred and distorted; the different versions of self overlaying one another, something almost combining, other times trying to become separate.

Within the gallery, the pieces have apparently been deliberately arranged out-of-sequence, suggesting the order isn’t so important as the commentary each individual piece makes on identity / the nature of self. However, I admit to finding following them in ascending order from Fading #1, gave the pieces an added narrative.

DiXmiX Gallery: Meiló

Located in the White Gallery hall on the mezzanine level, Meiló presents Stranger in a Strange Land, a series of intriguing paintings – self-portraits? –  each bright with colour. They depict an almost albino-like figure making her way through scenes and settings, mostly alone, but sometimes in the company of another – although she tends to always be the focus of the pictures.

Incorporating a blurred, hazy quality, the paintings have a similar surreal edge to them as the photos in the hall below. This not only causes the viewer to focus on the main subject, but also highlights the idea of travelling through a strange land: a world defined less by shape and form and more by colour. In doing so, they again seem to suggest a questioning of self: who we are within the world through which we travel, and what our place might be within that world. In this the albino-like presentation of the main figure adds to the questions raised, perhaps causing us to question who we are within this world – physical or digital.

DiXmiX Gallery: Meiló

When taken individually or as linked collections, Fading and Stranger in a Strange Land present thought-provoking exhibitions, something a little different for DiXmiX, but also something worth visiting and evaluation for yourself.

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Returning to the beauty of Winter Moon

Winter Moon; Inara Pey, October 2018, on FlickrWinter Moon – click any image for full size

Incredibly, it’s been five years since I last wrote about to Winter Moon, the always evocative Homestead region designed by Dream Shadowcry (see here for more). How I’d managed to let it drop from my list, I’ve no idea – so my thanks to Annie Brightstar for the reminder via Twitter.

In 2013, the region was a near-perfect embodiment of a monochrome setting, watched over by the tall tower of a lighthouse and making good use of water and coastline to present a memorable location. The lighthouse is still there, something of a signature piece for Winter Moon, and the use of water is retained, giving a feeling of familiarity after so long since my last visit, but unsurprisingly, everything has changed.

Winter Moon; Inara Pey, October 2018, on FlickrWinter Moon

From a monochrome photograph to a lover’s sanctuary, the transformation is wonderful to see – as are the many details that link this iteration of the region with past versions. The aforementioned lighthouse for example, or the ivory piano and the curve of a rocky arch; the upturned boat on the beach and the elegant use of water and land to present a memorable, romantic place in which to spend time.

Resembling an atoll with its southern aspect open the sea, the region sits beneath a default pink misty sky. Atmospheric when it comes to romance, the environment serves to make walking the ring of the atoll a journey of discovery. However, those wishing to take photographs may want to try an alternative windlight – and I have to say that doing so in no way diminishes the sheer beauty of the design; it can also make finding one’s way through the more wooded parts of the island easier.

Winter Moon; Inara Pey, October 2018, on FlickrWinter Moon

An informal path runs around the island, progressing from the landing point in thee west, not far from the lighthouse, to pass over flowered field and under leaf-heavy boughs. Circling a good part of the inner pool of water, it leads the way to where the land climbs towards a set of high, narrow cliffs forming a curtain on the east side of the island. Water tumbles down three sides of this high divide, which separates the lagoon on one side from and eastern expansion of beach on the other, a beach that circles visitors back to the open mouth of the lagoon, spanned by a bridge that reaches out to the lighthouse.

The beach, with broad sands and cut into three by narrows channels spanned by low bridges, looks out on three compass points, and is reached via wooden steps running down from the northern end of the high cliffs. Scattered across the sands are numerous places to sit in the Sun or under shade, be that shade from a windswept tree or the lacy drapes of an Arabesque pavilion.

Winter Moon; Inara Pey, October 2018, on FlickrWinter Moon

The beach isn’t the only place available for sitting: more chairs and perches can be found up on the cliff top, whilst array around the lagoon and seaward coasts are more pavilions and chairs sitting under the boughs of trees.

There is a wonderful mixing of styles here that increases the sense of beauty and romance. The Arabesque pavilion mentioned earlier, for example, sits on the beach like a tent in the desert, not far from the steam flowing outwards from tumbling falls where African elephants sit and bathe. Within the rounded shallows cupped by the land, and elven-like series of arches march out over the water to form a circle where couples can sit or dance to suitable music from the piano sited there; while from numerous trees chandeliers perhaps suits to the halls of some great Georgian house  hang to light the woodland paths.

Winter Moon; Inara Pey, October 2018, on FlickrWinter Moon

Throughout, there are many little touches that bring Winter Moon to life as a place used by lovers – such as the typewriter to be found in a waterside pergola, a heartfelt letter caught on its rollers or the champagne waiting on ice in another pavilion. Over all this, the susurration of water washing the shore or falling from high rocks mixes with the song of birds and the tinkling of chimes caught on the breeze, combine to add further depth to the setting, bidding visitors welcome and encouraging them to stay.

Beautifully imagined and executed, with a lot to see and discover, Winter Moon comes with a fitting dedication:

You know that place between sleep and awake, the place where you can still remember dreaming? That’s where I’ll always love you, that’s where I’ll be waiting.

Winter Moon; Inara Pey, October 2018, on FlickrWinter Moon

For lovers, romanticists, grid travellers and photographers alike, this is a region that remains an enduring place to visit and appreciate – and return to.

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Frankenstein comes to Second Life in aid of Relay For Life

Frankenstein: Haunted Holly Kai

On Sunday, October 21st at 14:00 SLT, Fantasy Faire Radio and Seanchai Library will present Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, specially adapted for radio and live performance in six voices, in celebration of the 200th anniversary of the novel’s original publication.  The two-hour performance will take place live at this year’s iteration of “Haunted Holly Kai” high above the Blake Sea based Art Park, and will benefit Relay for Life.

In 1814 and at the age of 17, Mary Godwin, daughter of the  political philosopher William Godwin, began a relationship with poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. It was to become the subject of much gossip and scandal, Shelley already being married and Mary bearing him a daughter. However, their love endured, and in 1816, they were able to spend summer with Lord Byron near Geneva, Switzerland (with Mary already calling herself “Mrs. Shelley”, although she and Shelley were not married until later in the year following the death of Shelley’s first wife).

Thanks to the inclement weather, Mary, Shelley and Lord Byron entertained their little party by reading German ghost stories. This resulted into the three agreeing a challenge to each write a “ghost story”, but Mary found herself unable to determine a suitable theme until, on a later evening, the discussions turned to the nature of the principle of life, and she found herself wondering about the potential to re-animate a corpse. Her imagination sparked, over the coming days she wrote the first draft of a story that would grow into one of the most famous horror novels of all time: Frankenstein: or, The Modern Prometheus, eventually published in 1818.

The novel received a positive reception when it first appeared – although it was also somewhat disregarded as a literally piece, being initially published anonymously (it was not until 1823 that Mary’s name was added to it). The initial reviews praised the novel as “very bold fiction”, while the then unknown author was praised for having, “the power of both conception and language”. It was only after Mary Shelley became the acknowledged author that the reviews became largely more negative – and in doing so, focused on the fact the author was a woman.

However, the novel proved itself more than durable, surviving the negativity, becoming an early subject for stage adaptation. The first of these, Presumption; or, the Fate of Frankenstein, opened in 1823. The novel then became a subject for film from 1910 onwards.

The most famous of these cinematic adaptations is perhaps the 1931 James Whale film, Frankenstein: The Man Who Made The Monster. Itself adapted from a stage play by Peggy Webling and loosely written around Shelley’s novel, the film starred Boris Karloff, in a role that transformed Shelley Creature into the Monster with bolts in its neck we all tend to visualise when thinking about the tale.

Frankenstein: Haunted Holly Kai

For the 200th anniversary of the novel’s publication, Seanchai Library and Fantasy Faire Radio will present a 2-hour adaptation of the original story, adapted by Caledonia Skytower and Da5id Abbot, who will be joined by the voice talents of Corwyn Allen, Zander Greene, Shandon Loring and Elrik Merlin.. The performance will take place in an outdoor amphitheatre and castle setting that features a mad scientist lab created by Stranger Nightfire.

Both the amphitheatre and castle will remain open to the public through until after Halloween, and will feature additional events will be staged to celebrate both the novel and its film adaptations.

To reach the event area, click the Frankenstein poster located on the wall at the Holly Kai Park Information Centre.

Frankenstein – click the poster in the Holly Kai Information Centre to teleport to the event venue

About Seanchai Library

Seanchai Library (Shawn-a-kee, which means “Storyteller” in Irish.) was founded in March of 2008 in Second Life. The program remains dedicated to promoting the power of stories to transform and inspire through live voice presentations: “We bring stories of all kinds to life, in Second Life and other virtual worlds.”

About Fantasy Faire Radio

Since 2014, Fantasy Faire Radio has been a special event station, sponsored by Radio Riel in its role as Media Partner in Fantasy Faire, the annual celebration of fantasy art, writing, design and creativity that raises money every year in the virtual world of Second Life for the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life, supporting cancer research, caregivers and cancer sufferers all over the world. In 2017, FFR began broadcasting 24/7, as a full‐time Internet radio service. Listeners can tune in by opening in their internet browser and choosing Fantasy Faire Radio in the left hand sidebar, by opening in a network audio player.

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November 15th Town Hall with Grumpity, Oz and Patch

Patch Linden, Grumpity Linden and Oz Linden

Linden Lab has announced the next in their series of Town Hall meetings, this one again featuring three of the decision-makers for Second Life’s ongoing development: Director of Product, Grumpity Linden, Technical Director Oz Linden, and Senior Director of Product Operations, Patch Linden.

Like the September 13th event, this will be a single session, the date and time being:

Thursday, November 15th 2018 from 10:00 SLT onwards.

The official blog post notes:

Collectively, these three have over 28 (!) years of experience working on Second Life and work closely with all the Second Life teams to continue to improve this platform that we’ve all come to love.

They are some of the biggest stakeholders in the direction of the product development roadmap each year, and know the product inside and out!

If you have a question that you would like to ask these Lindens, please take a moment to post it in the Community Forum thread “Town Hall Meeting with Grumpity, Oz, and Patch Linden – November 15” in advance of the Town Hall. Questions will be selected from all submissions made prior to November 9th, so be sure to get your question in before then.

The Town Hall meeting venue

For the benefit of those who may not be familiar with Patch, Oz and Grumpity, the following is a brief outline of their responsibilities which I hope may help when considering questions to submit for consideration at the meeting.

Oz Linden is the Technical Director for Second Life, having joined in 2010 with initial responsibility managing the viewer open-source project and rebuild what had become a fractious relationship with TPVs, with his role expanding over time to encompass more and more of the engineering side of Second Life.

As work on Sansar started to progress in earnest, he pro-actively campaigned within the Lab for the role of Technical Director of SL, building a team of people around him who specifically wanted to remain solely focused on Second Life and developing it. His team works closely with the product and operations team to ensure SL constantly evolves without (as far as is possible) breaking anything – a process he refers to as rebuilding the railway from a moving train.

Grumpity Linden is the Director of Product for Second Life. She originally came to Linden Lab while working for The Product Engine, a company providing end-to-end consulting and software development services, and which supports viewer development at the Lab. Grumipty was initially involved in the development and viewer 2 (as designed by 80/20 Studio).

She became a “full-time Linden” in 2014. Her current position involves coordinating the various teams involved in bringing features and updates to Second Life (e.g. Engineering and QA), liaising with legal, financial and compliance to ensure features and capabilities meet any specific requirements in those areas, etc. This work can involve looking at specifics within various elements of the overall SL product, such as UI design and layout, etc.

Grumpity jokingly refers to herself, Patch and Oz as the “hydra” or troika, responsible for the development and direction of all aspects of Second Life.

Patch Linden is the Senior Director of Product Operations at Linden Lab. Originally a Second Life resident, he joined linden Lab in 2007, after being invited to apply to the company as a result of his work as a community leader and mentor from 2004 through until the invitation was extended.

His role is the only one of the three here that also encompasses Sansar, as he manages the respective support teams for both platforms. In this regard, he recently established a support centre in Atlanta, Georgia. For Second Life, his work also involves overseeing the content development teams, the Mainland Land Team, the Linden Department of Public Works – LDPW, aka The Moles, and managing the account support team.