Space Sunday: a DART plus JWST and TRAPPIST-1 updates

NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) vehicle under thrust as it closes on the asteroid Dimorphos as it orbits Didymos. Credit: NASA

On November 24th, 2021, NASA launched the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission, a vehicle aimed at testing a method of planetary defence against near-Earth objects (NEOs) the pose a real risk of impact.

I’ve covered the risk we face from Earth-crossing NEOs – asteroids and cometary’s fragments that routinely zoom across or graze the Earth’s orbit as they follow their own paths around the Sun. We are currently tracking some 8,000 of these objects to assess the risk of one of them colliding with Earth at some point in the future. This is important, because it is estimated a significant impact can occur roughly every 2,000 years, and we currently don’t have any proven methods of mitigating the threat should it be realised. And that is what DART is all about: demonstrating a potential means of diverting an incoming asteroid threat.

Developed as a joint project between NASA and the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), DART is specifically designed to deflect an asteroid purely through its kinetic energy; or to put it another way, by slamming into it, and without breaking it up. Both are important, because by simply slowing an Earth-crossing NEO along its orbit, we give time for Earth to get out of its way; then, by not causing it to break, then we avoid the risk of it becoming a hail of shotgun pellets striking Earth at some point further into the future.

The DART mission. Credit: NASA

The target for the mission is a binary asteroid 65803 Didymos (Greek for “twin”), comprising a primary asteroid approximately 780 metres across, and a smaller companion called Dimorphos (Greek: “two forms”) caught in a retrograde orbit around it, with both orbiting the Sun every 2 years 1 month, periodically passing relatively close to Earths, as well as periodically grazing that of Mars.

Discovered in 1996 by the Spacewatch sky survey the pair has been categorised as being potentially hazardous at some point in the future. At some 160m across, Dimorphos is in the broad category of size for many of the Earth-crossing objects we have so far located and are tracking, making it an ideal target.

DART actually started as a dual mission in cooperation with the European Space Agency (ESA) called AIDA – Asteroid Impact & Deflection Assessment. This would have seen ESA launch a mission called AIM in December 2020 to rendezvous with Didymos and enter orbit around it in order to study its composition and that of Dimorphos, and to also be in  position to observe DART’s arrival in September 2022 and its impact with the smaller asteroid.

However, AIM was ultimately cancelled, leaving NASA to go ahead with DART. To reduce costs, NASA initially looked to make it a secondary payload launch on a commercial rocket. But it was ultimately decided to use a dedicated Falcon 9 launch vehicle for the mission, allowing it to make its September 2022 rendezvous with Dimorphos.

An artist’s impression of DART and the LICIACube cubesat, with Dimorphos and Didymos in the background. Credit: NASA

In order to impact the asteroid at a speed sufficient to affect its velocity, DART needs to be under propulsive power. It therefore uses the NEXT ion thruster, a type of solar electric propulsion that will propel it into Dimorphos at a speed of 6.6 km/s – which it is hoped will change the velocity of the asteroid by 0.4 millimetres a second. This may not sound a lot, but in the case of hitting an actual threat whilst it is far enough away from Earth, it is enough to ensure it misses the planet when it crosses our orbit.

This motor is powered by a deployable solar array system first deployed to the International Space Station (ISS). However, what is most interesting about these solar panels is that a portion of them is configured to demonstrate Transformational Solar Array technology that can produce as much as three times more power than current solar array technology and so could be revolutionary should it reach commercial production.

Accompanying DART is Light Italian CubeSat for Imaging of Asteroids (LICIACube), a cubesat developed by the Italian Space Agency, and which  will separate from DART 10 days before impact to acquire images of the impact and ejecta as it drifts past the asteroid. To do this, LICIA Cube will use a pair of cameras dubbed LUKE and LEIA.

As the cubesat is unable to orbit Didymos to continue observations, ESA is developing a follow-up mission called Hera, Comprising a primary vehicle bearing the mission’s name, and two cubesats, Milani and Juventas, this mission will launch in 2024, and arrive at the asteroids in 2027, 5 years after DART’s impact, to complete a detailed assessment of the outcome of that mission.

 ISS Gets a New Module

On November 26th, 2021, a new Russian module arrived at the International Space Station (ISS).

The Prichal, or “Pier,” module had been launched by a Soyuz 2.1b rocket out of the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan two days earlier. Mounted on a modified Progress cargo vehicle, the module was successfully mated with the Nauka module which itself only arrived at the station in July, at 15:19 UTC.

Carried by a Progress vehicle, the Prichal module approaches the ISS. Credit: NASA TV

The four-tonne spherical module has a total of six docking ports, one of which is used to connect it with Nauka, leaving five for other vehicles. However, when first conceived, the module was also intended to be a node for connecting future Russian modules.

But since that time, the Russian space agency, Roscosmos, has abandoned plans to support the ISS with additional modules. Instead, with relations with the west continuing to cool and the ongoing rise in nationalism in Russia, the agency has indicated it plans to orbit its own space station. This being the case, Prichal is viewed as the final element in the Russian segment of ISS, and potentially the first of the new station.

Unlike the arrival of Nauka in July, Prichal managed to dock with the ISS without the additional “excitement” of any thruster mis-firings. Now, the Progress carrier vehicle will remain attached to the module through until December 21st, allowing time for the Russian cosmonauts on the station to carry out a spacewalk to attach Prichal to the station’s power systems. Once it has been detached, the Progress vehicle will be set on a path to burn-up in the Earth’s atmosphere.

Visible over the top of a Progress resupply vehicle, the Prichal module and its Progress carrier can be seen docked with the nadir port of the Nauka module. Credit: NASA TV

As well as expending the docking facilities at the ISS, Prichal delivered some 2.2 tonnes of cargo and supplies to the station. The module will formally commence operations in its primary role in March 2022 with the arrival Soyuz MS-21.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: a DART plus JWST and TRAPPIST-1 updates”

Tea-time radio and seasonal stories in Second Life

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 in Nowhereville, unless otherwise indicated. Note that the schedule below may be subject to change during the week, please refer to the Seanchai Library website for the latest information through the week.

Sunday, November 28th, 13:30: Teatime: Holiday Radio Classics

Nero Wolfe, the brilliant, oversized, eccentric armchair detective created by mystery writer Rex Stout in the 1934, was more renowned for his preference from remaining ensconced in his New York City brownstone house than walking the streets to solve the mysteries that find their way to his door. At home, he could read his books, tend his orchids and await his next gourmet meal prepared by his personal chef. The legwork could always take care of itself – or more accurately, be taken care of by his sharp-witted, dapper young confidential assistant, Archie Goodwin who also got to take care of narrating the story of any mystery Wolfe chose to poke his nose into.

Since his origins, Wolfe has proven popular for radio, film and television dramas – and even on stage in three productions. Here, the Seanchai team of Corwyn Allen, David Abbot, Gloriana Maertens, Elrik Merlin, Kayden Oconnell, and Caledonia Skytower present one of Wolfe’s more unusual mysteries to solve when he is hired by a Santa to investigate the mystery deaths of a number of his sidewalk peers across New York City, and who fears he’ll be next.

So why not join the team for Nero Wolfe and the Case of the Slaughtered Santas.

Monday, November 29th, 19:00: The Stone God Awakens

A 20th century scientist is rendered frozen at the molecular level, and then reanimated millennia later by a freak accident. He finds himself in a strange world populated by sentient, anthropomorphic animals, who take his awakening to be the fulfilment of prophecy.

He accepts the mantle of godhood and sets about discovering this brave new world, hoping to find clues to the past while finding his place as the last human. But his quest leads to to question the reality of his status – might other humans also have survived? To find the answers he must lead his tribe of feline worshippers to the heart of a rival god: a great tree spanning half a continent.

Join Gyro Muggins as he reads a novella by the fantasy and sci-fi author Philip José Farmer.

Tuesday, November 30th

12:00 Noon: Russell Eponym

With music, and poetry in Ceiluradh Glen.

19:00: The Wild Wood

A young artist returns to her cabin in the deep woods of Canada to concentrate on her illustrations. But somehow, strange and beautiful creatures are slipping into her drawings and sketches. The world of Faerie is reaching out to her for help – and she may be its last chance for survival.

With Willow Moonfire.

Wednesday, December 1st, 19:00 Adventures from Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather

Susan had never hung up a stocking . She’d never put a tooth under her pillow in the serious expectation that a dentally inclined fairy would turn up. It wasn’t that her parents didn’t believe in such things. They didn’t need to believe in them. They know they existed. They just wished they didn’t.

There are those who believe and those who don’t. Through the ages, superstition has had its uses; nowhere more so than in the Discworld where it’s helped to maintain the status quo. Anything that undermines superstition has to be viewed with some caution.

There may be consequences, particularly on the last night of the year when the time is turning. When those consequences turn out to be the end of the world, you need to be prepared. You might even want more standing between you and oblivion than a mere slip of a girl – even if she has looked Death in the face on numerous occasions.

Caledonia Skytower read selection from the 20th book in Pratchett’s Discworld series.

Thursday, December 2nd

19:00: The Further Adventure of Ebenezer Scrooge Pt 1

On a hot summer day some twenty years after he was famously converted to kindness, Ebenezer Scrooge still roams the streets of London, spreading Christmas cheer, much to the annoyance of his creditors, nephew, and his employee Bob Cratchit.

But in order to help his former partner, poor chain-wrapped Jacob Marley, Scrooge will need the assistance of all those he has annoyed; he’ll also have to call on the three ghosts that visited him two decades earlier.

Written in uncannily Dickensian prose, Charlie Lovett’s The Further Adventures of Ebenezer Scrooge is both a loving and winking tribute to the Victorian classic, perfect for readers of A Christmas Carol and other timeless holiday tales.

Join Shandon Loring to enjoy the story.

21:00: Seanchai Late Night

Contemporary sci-fi / fantasy with Finn Zeddmore.

Jeanie’s summer moments in Second Life

KonectART Gallery: Jeanie – Wishes and Wanderings

Jeanie (jeanienabottle) is the manager of Art Korner gallery in Second Life. – and she is also an excellent photographer-artist herself. Proof of this can currently be seen – for a while longer at least – via an exhibition of her work on display at KonectART Gallery.

Entitled Wishes and Wanderings, for anyone who is already tired of snow, snow, and more snow in regions, it might be a welcome harkening back to summer days and times outdoors or the warm colours of early autumn.

What I particularly like about Jeanie’s art is that whilst most of us (myself included) tend to keep to a single frame size when exhibiting their art for a sense of uniformity, she is not afraid to mix her canvas sizes, offering pieces that are cropped to precisely the narrative she wishes to present.

KonectART Gallery: Jeanie – Wishes and Wanderings

Thus we have marvellous pieces such as Plough, sitting against a backdrop of a 1940s/50s vintage pick-up truck; it captures a sense of history down the decades, from the era of the horse as the engine of the farm, to the era of the internal combustion engine through the opening decades of the 20th century.

Elsewhere, Jeanie provides more panoramic pieces that capture an entire landscape or the beauty of flowers sitting in the sun and all points between. Take, for example, the marvellous pairing of Peace; within it is a soft sense of autumnal comfort and romance. Throughout the selection are pictures that offer tales of childhood, times past, and stories of possible mystery (Summerland).

For someone who notes in her Profile that she specialises in avatar-centric studies, through Wishes and Wanderings Jeanie demonstrates she has a gifted eye for landscape and natural images and for cropping, together with a lightness of touch in post-processing that is utterly engaging.

KonectART Gallery: Jeanie – Wishes and Wanderings

Having opened on November 17th, 2021, I believe Wishes and Wanderings will be around for another couple of weeks – and it is an exhibition that genuinely should not be missed. To reach it, take the elevator alongside the landing point.

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Majilis al Jinn and a return in Second Life

Majilis al Jinn and Shadezar, November 2021 – click for full size

For a brief time in August / September 2021, Hera (Zee9) brought back her fabulous role-play environment of Shadezar to her home region. An iteration of her Kingdom of Sand build, it may well have have originally been inspired by Shadizar The Wicked City, from the Conan sword and sorcery stories by Robert E. Howard; stories set in the pseudo-historical “Hyborian Age”, a time “after the destruction of Atlantis but before the rise of any known ancient civilisation”.

I wrote about the build alongside of Hera’s equally captivating Venesha in Sharing in Hera’s Dreams and Visions in Second Life, shortly after which Shadezar relocated to a new home in the sky above Majilis al Jinn, another role-play environment that might be considered from a similar swords-and-sorcery setting within it own uniqueness.

Majilis al Jinn and Shadezar, November 2021

Both setting are located within a Full region utilising the Land Capacity bonus available to private Full regions and held by Atossa (herminetic). Atossa actually invited me to reacquaint myself with Majilis al Jinn back at the time I visited Shadezar back in August, so my apologies to her for having taken a while to get to actually write about her setting, which has been designed by Atossa and Calein Flux.

The two locations are linked by a central landing point, where visitors and role-players can gather all the information they may need prior to visiting either location.

Majilis al Jinn and Shadezar – Shadezar, November 2021

Shadezar is very much as it appeared with Venesha on Hera’s own region, offering those who missed it earlier in the year to enjoy exploring and finding the many opportunities for photography and imagining Howard’s world  – even if his Shadizar was described as a centre of thievery and debauchery. Given I have previously covered it, I’ve focused primarily on Majilis al Jinn within the photos here.

An island of worn ancient cliffs sheltering a garden of wonders; Lost for countless ages in the midst of a vast ocean, home to Jinn, Elves and gentle spirits.

– Majilis al Jinn description

Teleporting from the landing point will deliver arrivals deep underground, with one of several routes of exploration – out to the sands of a beach, through tunnels to hidden caverns, or up winding stairs and straight stairways leading off of rooms and chambers of their own, to reach the main build with its gardens and grand palace.

Majilis al Jinn and Shadezar, November 2021

With its open rooms, curtains, water features, and high central dome, the palace has a sense of comfortable coolness whilst offering plenty to see whilst winding stairs lead up to rooftop pavilions and seating. It is also within the palace visitors can find an art gallery containing reproductions of classical painting that are offered for viewing pleasure. This gallery also includes a teleport disk, one of several to be found throughout the setting to help people find their way around. the ground level points of interest.

Nor is this all. For those one enjoy something a little different, the teleport disks also offer access to two further sky builds: a space station for the sci-fi oriented, and a Warbugs airfield for those who fancy a little aerial combat.

Majilis al Jinn and Shadezar, November 2021

Rich in detail, a pleasure to explore and with opportunities for resting and photography, Majilis al Jinn, together with Shadezar and the other destinations in the region make for an engaging visit.

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Sensual wings and written reflections in Second Life

Kondor Art Centre: Lika Cameo – One Thousand Wings

November 25th marked the opening of a new exhibition at the Kondor Art Centre, curated by Hermes Kondor, of a themed selection of images and words by Lika Cameo (LikaCameo) that is utterly extraordinary in its presentation of art, introspection / reflection and in its presentation style.

One Thousand Wings takes as its foundation, the major part of a quote from Virginia Woolf:

[Lock up your libraries if you like;] but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.

– Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Within that essay – the result of two lectures she delivered in October 1928 to the women’s constituent colleges of Newnham and Girton at Cambridge University, England – Woolf sought to explore social injustices and comment on women’s lack of free expression that existed at the time. This quote is joined by a verse by artist Erin Hanson:

There is freedom waiting for you,
On the breezes of the sky,
And you ask “What if I fall?”
Oh but my darling,
What if you fly?

– Erin Hanson

Kondor Art Centre: Lika Cameo – One Thousand Wings

While there are some core against various views Woolf expresses within that essay, Lika uses the quote from her essay, and the words by Hanson to explore what it means to freely express emotions in a century that has started to feel as if our freedoms are being increasingly being constrained by intolerance and when life has been constrained by a global pandemic, complete with a layering of what freedom means to her.

In doing this, Lika presents trios of avatar studies, all utilising the same pose and with a motif of wings, each piece finished individual to its partners. This approach leads to three images that, whilst all identical in terms of posing and motif, offer three pieces that offer a vastly different sense of depth, focus and emotions.

Accompanying them is a piece of prose  / blank verse (by either Lika or possibly Zakk Bifrandt, it’s not entirely clear) that offers an outlook / sense of emotion or thought that works to both complement and compliment the images.

Kondor Art Centre: Lika Cameo – One Thousand Wings

Complement, because the text can be taken as a whole with each version of the image and the trio as a whole, forming pairings with each image, working with the subtle differences in presentation and finish to tell a unique story of reflection / emotion. Compliment, because whether taken as pairings or as set of four panels, they together form a whole, works balancing image(s).  Each set of images is further reflected in animated double-sided panels that offer a further, changing take on the sets.

As expressions of freedom, these image carry a powerful metaphor in the use of birds and butterflies to express the freedom of thought taking flight, as captured in Erin Hanson’s words. As reflections of emotion and release in a time when were are under pressure to conform or keep our feelings under wraps, this is an incredibly powerful series of images. More particularly they stand as insightful, emotive reminders that it is so easy to become trapped within ourselves  – something that Lika expresses beautifully through her own words:

Often our thoughts tangle around the soul, forging our prisons, never grasping that we are always the key to our infinite free will.

Lika Cameo

Kondor Art Centre: Lika Cameo – One Thousand Wings

As demonstrations of art and how to use lighting, colour, tone and other post-processing techniques to impart a range of emotional responses to a single image, One Thousand Wings is equally as powerful an exhibition; and while I’ve oft said this – it is an exhibition that should be seen and appreciated.

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A Winter Solstice in Second Life

Winter Solstice, November 2021 – click any image for full size

Winter Solstice is another region that offers a mix of public spaces and private residential parcels that I recently had occasion to visit. As a Full region, it offers to the north and south – the later separated from the rest of the region by a body of water that cuts deep into the landscape, leaving the centre of the region open as a public spaces built at the foot of a tall mountain.

Held and designed by JasmineSnow (jasminesnow333), it is the home for her estate’s main rental office, but offers a lot of opportunities for photography throughout the public spaces whilst also containing a subtle nod towards Christmas through the presence of a Santa or two, whilst a number of static mannequins give further level of life to the setting.

Winter Solstice, November 2021

Most of this can be found along the region’s “main street” that runs south-to-south along the foot of the central mountain, with shops, places to grab a hot drink and even a small stables where horses can be found. Behind the street, the mountain rises, from which a single track railway track emerges to mark the edge of the water that cuts into the region to the south, before running up to the north and then back to around to re-enter the mountain, marking an informal boundary between the public spaces and the rental properties along north side of the region.

There are also opportunities for activities such as ice skating an horse riding to be found within the region – again, allowing for the private residences. As well as the main street, the eastern end of the region provides plenty of open space for wandering, sitting, whilst to the west there is a music and event space.

Winter Solstice, November 2021

Beyond this, there is not a lot more to say – simply because the region, simply because it genuinely speaks for itself. It is photogenic, both thing the built-up area and in the open spaces. And with this in mind, rather than prattle on, I’ll leave you with further images and encourage you take a visit.

Winter Solstice, November 2021
Winter Solstice, November 2021
Winter Solstice, November 2021

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