Space Sunday: dust, rockets, landers and a last image

An illustration of the dust rings near the inner planets, circling the Sun. Credit:
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre / Mary Pat Hrybyk-Keith

We tend to think of the Earth orbiting around the Sun along a path largely free from debris. However, this is not strictly true. Twenty-five years ago, scientists discovered that Earth orbits the Sun along with a giant ring of dust which appears to have originated within the asteroid belt that lies between Mars and Jupiter. This belt is made up of millions of rocks of all sizes, many of which over the millennia crash into one another and grind together, producing a lot of dust. This gradually falls towards the Sun as a result of gravity – but along the way, some of it is influenced by the Earth’s gravity, becoming trapped along and either side of the Earth’s orbit, forming a ring.

Observations of Mars by NASA’s Maven orbiter have also given indications that the Red Planet could have a ring – or at least, a proto-ring – occupying its orbit, while 10 years ago, astronomers discovered a ring straddling the orbit of Venus. Now a new study reveals little Mercury has a ring of dust lying along its orbit – although by rights, it shouldn’t.

Mercury’s ring was discovered entirely by accident – ironically, those responsible for its discovery, Guillermo Stenberg and Russell Howard of Naval Research Centre in Washington, DC, were attempting to find a dust-free region that is thought to surround the Sun, created by solar energy radiating outwards from our star. The idea being that determining the size of this dust-free region would both reveal more about the nature of the Sun and the evolution of the solar system. But instead of locating this area of “empty” space, the astronomers discovered the ring sharing Mercury’s orbit.

People thought that Mercury, unlike Earth or Venus, is too small and too close to the Sun to capture a dust ring. They expected that the solar wind and magnetic forces from the Sun would blow any excess dust at Mercury’s orbit away.

– Astronomer Guillermo Stenberg

The two scientists worked with images from NASA’s STEREO solar observatory. This pair of satellites  follow highly elliptical geocentric orbits. Over time, one of them pulls farther ahead of Earth while the other falls further behind. This means that together they provide stereo images of the Sun. In studying the images from the satellites, Stenberg and Howard noticed an area of enhanced brightness along Mercury’s orbit, indicative of a dust ring being present.

The question is – how did it form? There’s no answer to this yet; as Stenberg notes, the ring shouldn’t be there, and the lesson of Venus has revealed that it’s better not to assume common factors in the formation of these rings.

This is because initially, it was assumed the ring around Venus was the result of the same gravitational forces that have created the dust ring along Earth’s orbit. However, when astrophysicists Petr Pokorny and Mark Kuchner from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre attempted to use extensive computer modelling to try to reproduce a dust ring matching the one in Venus’ orbit, they were unable to do so.

As a result, the two started researching and modelling possible explanations, and in a paper published on March 12th, 2019, the two suggest that the Venusian ring is the result of a previously undiscovered group of asteroids occupying the same orbit as Venus with a 1:1 resonance (that is, they complete one orbit of the Sun for every orbit Venus makes). Further, their research suggests that the group of asteroids are the remnants of a much larger asteroid ring that existed when the solar system was born.

The asteroid themselves have yet to be located – no easy task, assuming they do exist, as the Venusian dust ring is 25.5 million km (16 million mi) deep, and  9.6 million km (6 million mi) across, and bright enough to hide larger objects within it. However, if the asteroid are discovered, they would not only confirm the theory about how the dust ring around Venus’ orbit formed, but also hold clues to how the solar system formed.

Further SLS Changes

In my previous Space Sunday report, I covered the announcement by NASA that suggested  the Space Launch System rocket might have its initial launch delayed. Now it seems the system is to undergo further changes to both its initial flights and its future development.

Planned SLS development: under the White House 2020 budget request, the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS) planned for the Block 1B variants is to be deferred. Credit: NASA

As it was originally planned, the SLS was to have been initially launched in its Block 1 configuration. This would see the vehicle use what is called the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) as its upper stage. After that, launches would switch over to using the Block 1B version, intended to use a more powerful upper stage called the Exploration Upper Stage (EUS), being built by Boeing Aerospace.

Given issues with the development of the EUS, in late 2018 NASA announced the first two SLS launches, referred to as EM-1 and EM-2, and designed to send a Orion vehicle on a month-long trip around the Moon, the first uncrewed, the second crewed, will utilise the Block 1 version of the rocket, with flights thereafter shifting to the Block 1B rocket to undertake tasks such as launching elements of the Lunar Gateway. Now, under the Trump Administration’s 2020 budget request, it appears the introduction of the EUS is to be deferred – possibly indefinitely, with NASA ordered to carry out all initial flights using the Block 1 variant of the rocket.

The Space Launch System 2nd stage – the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) at Kennedy Space Centre, Tuesday, March 7th, 2018. Credit: ULA

While the ICPS stage is more than sufficient to achieve the objectives established for EM-1 and EM-2, it is not powerful enough to meet all of the demandd of the proposed Lunar Gateway development. Instead, NASA is expected to supplement SLS flights to build the Gateway with the use of commercial launch vehicles, such as the United Launch Alliance Delta V, the SpaceX Falcon Heavy and  – potentially – Blue Origin’s New Glenn.

Continue reading “Space Sunday: dust, rockets, landers and a last image”


A return to Alpha Tribe in Second Life


Miro Collas recently pointed out to me via Twitter that it’s been over three years since I’d last visited Alpha Auer’s region, Alpha.Tribe (see Finding fool’s gold in Second Life for more), and suggested a return visit might be in order – and he was right!

From the region description, it would seem the current region design is a follow-on from the one I visited back in 2015, and carries a number of echoes of that build whilst presenting something new as well. Captain Nemo remains well represented, for example, with not one but two copies of his Nautilus present – both of them serenely circling the sky, making an interesting trio with a steampunk airship.


This time around I wanted to build a sim that (unlike the previous version which was around for a very long time) did not have any gold whatsoever – at least on the ground level, since the golden Blueprint City is still around on one of the sky levels. While the previous rez was called “fool’s gold” this one now is called “The Straits” because of the strait that runs through it. I am not sure that it has a theme, as did “fool’s gold” but I know that you folks will be spinning your own tales as you wander around.

– Alpha Auer describing the current Alpha.Tribe

Part of the ground area is an amusement park – the rides can be tried and Alpha recommends the visitors “thoroughly plunder the grab a duck kiosk”, but I’d caution on using the bumper cars: when I tried, the ride was … bumpier … than might be expected.


Also to be found on the ground level is the aqua gym, located within a floating geodesic dome, which Alpha notes goes all the way back to aqua gym that dates all the way back to her Syncretia region. Close by is a “chemistry garden” (look for the departing galleon), while towards the centre of the region is another reminder of the previous build: the crazy cat parlour.

Island float above, and in sight of, the ground level, while higher up, alpha has retained her Blueprint City, together with a new build, Midnight Wastes, which Alpha recommends viewing into the altitude windlight (Wastes Midnight). This is a stunning city-style environment built on a glass platform, its “reflection” visible below, ornate buildings and structures raised on stilts and platforms.


Getting around the builds is best achieved by walking / flying at ground level, and using the teleport cylinders that are scattered around to reach the sky builds (and which also connect to the ground-level areas). As with past builds this incorporates elements by Arcadia Asylum, which Alpha has re-textured and re-purposed to  suit her design and which share the region with works by other Second Life creators.

Always fascinating, rich in curios, Alpha.Tribe remains an artistic expression and pleasing visit. However, do be aware the region can impact viewers that are running with high draw distances, shadows enabled, etc.


SLurl Details

A Quiet Man, an alien, and Irish tales

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, March 17th: 13:30 The Quiet Man

Released in 1952, John Ford’s The Quiet Man is regarded as a classic Irish-American romantic comedy / drama. Starring John Wayne, Maureen O’Hara (and assorted members of their RL families!) and Barry Fitzgerald, it is a popular choice among critics and film-lovers.

The screenplay for the film was drawn in a large part from a short story of the same name originally published in 1933 in the Saturday Evening Post, and penned by Irish author, Maurice Welsh. Together with a number of other short stories by Walsh, The Quiet Man was gathered into a single volume of his short stories, The Quiet Man and Other Stories, which dealt with many recurring characters living in rural Ireland of the 1920s, and set against the backdrop of the civil unrest which affected the country at that time, while examining the complexities and occasional intrigues of life, love and Irish traditions.

Join Caledonia Skytower as she reads Walsh’s original tale of The Quiet Man, Paddy Bawn Enright to Mark St. Patrick’s Day.

Monday, March 18th 19:00: The World Of Ptavvs

Gyro Muggins returns to Larry Niven’s Known Universe to read the first novel Niven ever set within it  – given it was actually he first full-length novel. Within it, he lays many of the seeds, human and alien that would come to define that universe, its characteristics, traits and races.

A reflective statue is found at the bottom of one of Earth’s oceans, having lain there for 1.5 billion years. Humanity’s experiments with time manipulation lead to the conclusion the “statue” is actually an alien caught within a “time slowing” field.

Larry Greenberg, a telepath with highly developed and honed abilities is asked to participate in an attempt to make contact with the alien. This involves Greenberg and the “statue” being places within a single time slowing field, the effect of which is to nullify the one shrouding the alien.

The the new field in operation, Greenberg finds himself in the company of Kzanol, a member of a race called the Thrint. Powerfully telepathic, the Thrint once rules the galaxy pure through their mental powers and the ability to bend the minds of others to their own will. However, in the time that Kzanol has been trapped the result of a malfunction aboard his ship which forced him to abandon it and fall to Earth protected by the stasis field of his space suit, the Thrint were facing a revolt by all the races they had enslaved.

As a result of this, the Thrint had determined to wipe out every race in the galaxy using a thought amplifier. Now, his own mind mixed with that of Kzanol, Greenberg sets out with the alien with the aim of using the weapon to enslave every mind in the solar system…


Tuesday, March 19th 19:00: The Shadow at the Gate

Caledonia Skytower reads one of her original Irish tales from her first publication, A Trio of Irish Tales.

Wednesday, March 20th 19:00: Selections from Wind on the Willows

With Faerie Maven-Pralou.

Thursday, March 21st 19:00: The Lady of Finnegan’s Hearth 2

With Shandon Loring. (Also in Kitely

2019 SL User Groups 11/3: TPV Developer Meeting

Forest of Astray; Inara Pey, February 2019, on FlickrForest of Astrayblog post

The following notes are taken from the TPV Developer meeting held on Friday, March 15, 2019. A video of the meeting is embedded below, my thanks as always to North for recording and providing it. Time stamps are provided to the major topics of discussion, which will open the video in a new tab for ease of reference.

There was a lot of general text chat during the meeting, there these notes are purely a summary of the key discussion points likely to be of interest to most users.

SL Viewer


There have been no SL viewer updates this week, leaving the current pipeline as:

  • Current Release version, formerly the BugSplat RC viewer February 13th, promoted February 28th No Change.
  • Release channel cohorts (please see my notes on manually installing RC viewer versions if you wish to install any release candidate(s) yourself):
    • EEP RC viewer version, March 7th.
    • Love Me Render RC viewer, version, March 6th.
    • Estate Access Management (EAM) RC viewer, version, March 5th.
  • Project viewers:
  • Linux Spur viewer, version, dated November 17th, 2017 and promoted to release status 29 November – offered pending a Linux version of the Alex Ivy viewer code.
  • Obsolete platform viewer, version, May 8th, 2015 – provided for users on Windows XP and OS X versions below 10.7.

Updates to the RC viewer have been delayed due to “some small problems” being revealed when the viewers were updated with a security update to  Chrome and Chromium), which affects all versions except the very latest, 72.0.3626.121. This is being addressed by Linden Lab, but it will take time for the patch to filter out to all viewers. In the meantime, the current internal SL web browser is potentially vulnerable; do not use it to browse non-LL websites on it, and avoid using media on a prim from untrusted sources.

In addition, EEP, EAM and Bakes on Mesh are all awaiting server-side updates, with EEP apparently being deployed to the rest of the grid in week #12 (Magnum and SLS).

Attachments Detaching

[9:28-20:50 (including a lot of text chat)] : Linden Lab is getting some “large-scale” testing done on attachments detaching (e.g. after a teleport or following region crossings).

  • Some of the tests have involved region crossings carrying more than the permitted number of attachments, and data from these experiments is still being gathered.
  • It has apparently proven difficult to consistently reproduce issues, which has delayed data gathering and investigation.
  • Part of the issue seems to still be wearing to many items on a single attach point (mesh items are particularly susceptible to this due to many creators simply utilising the default right hand attach point for their clothing, etc., rather than rigging to alternates).
  • Some have pointed to stressed (i.e. those bring over-used by avatars and scripted objects – such as busy shopping event regions) can exacerbate the issue, which could be the result of messages to / from the viewer being lost.
  • Others have suggested the issue is related to the complexity of attachments (visual and scripting).
  • Some testing by users has suggested that it a result of kill messages being received during multiple region crossings (e.g. an avatar crosses from region A to region B and then to region C, and gets missing attachments after crossing into C as a result of a kill message being received from region A causing the viewer to think something has been detached).

In Brief

  • [20:53-28:07 (including text chat)] Inventory Requests During Log-In: the viewer has a series of tags related to inventory requests that are used during the log-in process. LL has asked TPVs to check on to see if they have made any changes to how the tags are used, as changes may be coming as an overall part of the project to improve inventory robustness.
  • [32:16-32:40] Group  tag change/group role change throttle: the is currently a means for users to change their group tag and role rapidly using RLV/a scripting. However, this can put enormous strain on server-side services. Because of this, LL are introducing a server-side throttle on requests to change group tag information, and it appears likely that this will be deployed in week #13 (commencing Monday, March 25th, 2019).
  • [33:08-37:15] Video playback issues:
    • Autoplay of You Tube videos within the viewer appears to be broken, and a check on recent server changes will be made to see if there is anything in particular that might be responsible.
    • There are no plays for further Chrome Embedded Framework (CEF – media playback) updates until after the work on updating the viewer build process to Visual Studio 2017 has been completed.
    • It is possible that after the VS2017 upgrade, the Lab may be able to re-enable codec support for playback of MP4 format videos – although there is no time frame for this happening at present.

WuWai’s Blue Second Life

Club LA and Gallery: WuWai Chun

Club LA and Gallery, curated by Fuyuko ‘冬子’ Amano (Wintergeist) presents a new exhibition of art by WuWai Chun, someone I’ve long followed in the SL Profile Feeds, but I’ve rarely seen exhibited in-world, so it was a delight to receive an early invite to see her work at the gallery from Fuyuko.

Second Life Blue is located on the gallery’s mezzanine level, and is an eye-catching selection of art. Perhaps the first point to note about it is that WuWai is donating 100% of all sales during the exhibition to Feed A Smile / Live and Learn Kenya. Full details on this charity – which we support at Holly Kai – can be found at the entrance to the exhibit itself, as can instructions on how to purchase images to donate. There’s also a FAS donation kiosk available, if you prefer to make a direct donation or give a little extra.

Club LA and Gallery: WuWai Chun

Twelve images form the exhibition, and as the title suggests, they present scenes from around Second Life that have been post-processed to give each of them a blue finished tone. This allows WuWai to present a series of dramatic captures of Second Life that are deeply evocative and  equally soothing to view. Landscapes share the space with avatar studies and images of in-world art, which makes the breadth of images presented equally rich and diverse as their emotional expression.

As per the notes displayed at the entrance of the exhibit space, this is an exhibition best seen with Advanced Lighting Model (ALM) enabled in the viewer. This doesn’t change our perception of the images per se, but it does enable the local projected lights which add further depth to the night sky environment WuWai has created in which to frame her images. In addition, I suggest making sure local sounds are enabled, as WuWai has also presented a sound scape for the exhibition.

Club LA and Gallery: WuWai Chun

Another enticing exhibition from Club LA and Gallery, beautifully presented – and I further offer kudos to WuWai in her use of vendor boards as picture frames. This allows visitors to both purchase images and to touch them and use the Info button on the displayed menu to receive text information on the image: where it was taken, price, and permissions and a link to the original image on WuWai’s Flickr stream.  I may well be “borrowing” her approach for my own pictures!

The official opening for the exhibition is at 13:00 SLT on Saturday, March 16th, 2019.

SLurl Details

New Linden Homes Preview

New Linden Homes preview – available until Sunday, April 7th, 2019

Friday, March 15th marked the opening of the 2019 Home and Garden Expo in support of Relay for Life and the American Cancer Society.

I’ll have a report on this year’s event coming up soon, but for this article I’m focusing on a special element within the event: the preview region for the new Linden Homes continent that will be débuting very soon for Premium members (Patch linden indicated it is just “weeks” away now) as a long awaiting “upgrade” to (and eventual replacement of)  the old 512 sq metre parcel Linden Homes.

I hopped over to the preview region – which is presented just as one of the regions in the new continent will look – as Patch Linden and members of the Linden Department of Public Works were available and taking questions. Rather than go on at great length, I’ve attempted to summarise the key points below.

Note that the preview region will remain open until the end of the Home and Garden Expo on Sunday, April 7th, 2019.

New Linden Homes preview

Launch and Availability

  • No precise launch date has been announced, but Patch indicated it is now “weeks” away for the initial deployment.
  • When launched, the new Linden Homes will be available to all Premium members, and will not be tied to any new Premium tier option.
  • Obtaining a new Linden Home will follow similar lines to the current Linden homes – using a web page to make an initial choice of home type, before selecting the style of house when in-world.
  • Premium users will be able to swap between house types, just as they can with current Linden Homes.
  • When launched, the new Linden homes will be made available on a new continent  – apparently to be called  Bellisseria (according to the covenant.
    • This continent will form a “bridge” between two of the existing Mainland continents (which continents has yet to be announced) to form “a larger contiguous continent”.
  • In time, as take-up of the new Linden Homes increases, the existing Linden Homes mini-continents will be retired and removed from the grid, with those remaining on them rather than obtaining a new linden Home being encouraged to move.
The new Linden homes include houseboat options, couple with moorings for boats

Parcels and Houses

  • Linden Homes (and houseboats) will be provided on 1024 sq m parcels.
    • Premium members must have 1024 sq m of available tier to obtain a home.
    • Premium members are limited to one Linden Home per Premium account.
    • Parcels will have a total of 351 LI for use by those using them (houses and houseboats do not count towards the total).
  • Parcels will be made available in themed areas, and house types will be in keeping with the theme.
    • Parcel terraforming is not permitted.
  • Each parcel will be managed by a mailbox, which will offer four house styles in keeping with the overall theme / type.
    • Houses may not be removed, modified, exchanged, set or deeded to group, or transferred.
    • All of the house styles are deigned to provide garden / yard space.
    • Houseboats include moorings for boats.
  • Additional buildings or structures are allowed as long as they are in theme and meet the height restrictions.
    • Privacy walls or fences should match the theme and extend no more than 4m above ground level.
    • All other structures should not extend higher than 15m above ground level or sea level, whichever is higher.
    • Note that house styles are presented with boundary walls / hedgerows / both for privacy
  • The interiors of Linden Homes can be decorated to residents’ likings. The exteriors should always remain in theme.
  • Types and styles of houses / houseboats include interior / exterior décor options, working curtains / blinds and house control system.
  • Skyboxes are permitted, providing they are above 2000m altitude.
Individual house styles (4) for a given type can be selected from the mailbox associated with a parcel

There is also a new covenant for these linden home, that can be viewed via About Land when visiting the preview region.

General Impressions

The new houses are well presented and offer a good choice of style  – unsurprisingly a good step up from the very long-in-the-tooth current batch of Linden Homes (first introduced in 2010), and I’m personally quite enamoured of the houseboats with their moorings.

Providing infrastructure to the new regions – roads, parks, coastline, beaches, rivers, etc., will hopefully help build more of a community feel to the new Linden Homes than the approach taken with the first series, and in this, providing houses that sit within their parcels and with privacy boundaries (walls / hedgerows) to me both increases the sense of ownership and also the look and feel of these developments being a residential development. True, the privacy is only visual (you’ll need parcel privacy) and the shape of the houseboat parcels tended to make these feel a little crowded, but on the whole, the layout appears to work.

Patch’s indication that the new homes will be part of a “bridge” between two existing continents came as a surprise, and seems to suggest the SSP regions where Linden home development work is being done may be relocated prior to the new Homes starting to be offered.

The Linden Homes preview offers some hints as to the landscaping found within the new continent regions

SLurl Details