[2300AD] Realistic Star Map Project: Part IV – The New American Arm (v2.0)

NOTE: This is version 2.0 of the New American Arm – it has been updated from its original version. See here for the full explanation for the change, otherwise read on for the updated Arm!

Next, here’s a look at the New American Arm in the realistic star map. Here’s what it looks like from “above” Sol:

3D Map of the New American Arm (view from "above")

3D Map of the New American Arm (view from “above”)

And here’s an easier to understand “subway map” of the Arm:

American Arm Subway Map

Subway Map of the New American Arm

The New American Arm is not too different from the original one. One of the biggest differences is that it now only shares the Chinese Arm up to Broward (which is now AX Microscopii). Also, Davout (Gliese 682) is now exclusively on the Chinese Arm.

Some stars have been replaced by different ones, because of errors or different astrography:
– Serurier is still Ross 154, but Broward is now AX Microscopii (both stars are shared with the New Chinese Arm).
– Gliese 661 (Red Speck’s original star) is also off-track, so Red Speck is now 2MASS J1835+325 – a young M8.5 Brown Dwarf, somewhat more appropriate for the name of the system!
– Ross 863 (Gliese 655) was also in the wrong spot on the original map – it’s actually located beyond Kingsland on the Extended Australian Arm, not before it. Its spot is now taken by WISE J1738+2732 (another dim Y0 Brown Dwarf).
– Ellis is now 61 Cygni, which is actually quite accessible (it was described as being beyond 7.7ly and ‘inaccessible’ from the network in 2320AD, but on the realistic map it’s very straightforward to get to).

Otherwise, the American Arm remains the same as before – the only other differences are the extensions, which add a lot more systems to it:

– There is a small ‘extension loop’ of systems that can be explored between Clarkestar (Wolf 630) and King (Gliese 673).

– The Australian Arm now extends out for many systems beyond Kingsland, so there’s plenty of room for them to expand into. It also loops around ‘behind’ Kafer Space, providing an opportunity to access a ‘backdoor’ into their systems. The closest system to Kafer Space on the Extended Australian Arm is SDSS J1628+1804, which is 8.56ly from 2MASS J1553+1532, a binary brown dwarf system that is about 7ly from both Gamma and Lambda Serpentis.

– The Beta Aquilae arm branches from Mu Herculis (Hermes). There is a gap of 9.35 ly between Gliese 745 and Mu Herculis (Hermes), which requires a Stutterwarp Tug (there are no brown dwarfs in this region) – another Tug is then required to traverse the 10.9 ly gap between Gliese 745 and Gliese 748 (both Tug routes are shown as dotted lines on the subway map). Gliese 748 is the first accessible system in the Beta Aquilae Cluster (Delta Aquilae is the Aquilan homeworld). Note that nobody is aware of the Aquilans yet in MGT 2300AD, but they are of significant interest in 2320AD.

– The Vega Extension doesn’t contain many particularly interesting stars (Gliese 706 is a K2 V, the rest are M dwarfs), but it’s extra space to expand into.

– Red Speck’s Extension leads to Altair, which would be of scientific interest.

– Gliese 1245’s extension leads to Sigma and Chi Draconis – both potentially habitable systems (G9 V and F7 V respectively). Gliese 1245 is not present on the original maps, and is an ‘extra system’ between Red Speck and Ellis.

– One significant change to canon that I would propose is that the Extension that branches off from 61 Cygni should now be the new Bayern Route (used with the permission of the Americans) – this would make far more sense than the original route, since it actually points directly towards the Pleiades (unlike the canonical route, which goes all the way ‘up’ towards and beyond Aurore on the French Arm before coming back down again). Littlendia would be one of the systems on this route – probably Gliese 75 (a G9 V star similar to their canonical home system).

Interestingly (and unlike the New French Arm), the New American Arm contains several systems that are currently known to have planets – Alpha Centauri has at least one earth-sized planet in a torch orbit around the dimmer B star, there are several superearths orbiting the C component of Gliese 667 (Avalon would be 667Cd or Ce), and Vega has a protoplanetary debris disk and possibly a distant jovian.

Previous article: Realistic Near Star Map Project: Part III – The New French Arm
Next article: Realistic Near Star Map Project: Part III – The New Chinese Arm

[2300AD] Realistic Star Map Project: Part III – The New French Arm (v2.0)

NOTE: This is version 2.0 of the New French Arm – it has been significantly updated from its original version. See here for the full explanation for the change, otherwise read on for the updated Arm!

Following on from my overview of what 2300AD’s Arms could look like on a realistic starmap, let’s take a closer look at my reinterpretation of the French Arm (as well as Pentapod and Kafer space) by starting off with a general overview (and some 3D maps!):

View of the French Arm from above.

3D Map of the New French Arm (view from “above”).

This new 3D map shows what the revised “New French Arm” looks like in the realistic starmap, as seen from “above”. The solid blue lines show the explored and colonised parts of the French Arm, the red/pink section is Kafer Space, and the light pink section is Pentapod Space. Dotted lines are “extensions” that haven’t been colonised yet but provide space for future expansion. Sol is located at the bottom left corner of the network, and Pentapod and Kafer space are “above” Sol, closer to the viewer.

While a 3D map is nice to look at to get an idea of the real layout of the stars, they are a little hard to interpret! Fortunately, the nature of the Arms is such that they can be represented using a much simpler “subway map” (shown below) that displays all of the connected systems in and around the French Arm much more clearly. This map was made using the very handy subway map generator at http://beno.org.uk/metromapcreator/ – it has a few quirks (such as not saving the maps properly – some screen capturing and assembly in Photoshop was required!) but it works pretty well once you get used to it.

Subway Map of the French Arm and Alien Space

Subway Map of the French Arm and Alien Space

The subway map shows the Arms and branches much more clearly. I’ve tried to arrange it so that the lines vaguely agree with reality, though in doing so it looks a little un-intuitive – I had to put Sol at the bottom right end of the dark blue line (with the French Arm extending to the left from it) in order to get the Beta Canum Branch on the same side of the map as the Arcturus Branch.

I’ve also had to move some of the named systems around to get the history working with the new map, and also had to incorporate the systems that were at fictional stars or stars that turned out too distant to be usable. I tried to fit the systems to similar stars, but there may be some differences (that probably matter less in the grand scheme of things than their placement on the arms).

So. What do we have now? We’ll actually start from the top of the arm and work down towards Sol.
Continue reading ‘[2300AD] Realistic Star Map Project: Part III – The New French Arm (v2.0)’

[2300AD] Realistic Star Map Project: Part II – Overview

So what could humanity’s expansion to the stars in 2300AD look like with a realistic star map? It could look like this…

The Realistic Arms of 2300AD

The Realistic Arms of 2300AD (click to expand)

The map above shows all of the stars within 60 lightyears of Sol, though only the stars on the French, Chinese, and American Arms are labelled (as well as those of all of the other space-faring nations and alien races). Obviously there’s a lot to digest in there – I’ll be discussing the arms individually in later posts, but in this post I’ll be providing an overview of what’s going on. As I pointed out in my previous post, this is merely my own personal (obviously non-canonical) interpretation of where the Arms would go – I’ve tried to keep as many systems in common with the original arms as I could given the more realistic stellar distribution, but this is by no means the only path the Arms could take.
Continue reading ‘[2300AD] Realistic Star Map Project: Part II – Overview’

[2300AD] Realistic Near Star Map Project: Part I – Introduction

Realistic Near Star Map with new Arms! Scroll down and play the video!

OK, 2300AD fans – you may recall that last year in my 2300AD Near Star Map post I examined how the Arms in 2300AD shaped up when compared to our current knowledge of stellar distribution and discovered that they were actually pretty wrong, with lots of missing stars and broken links.

Also over the past year I’ve been (slowly) tracking down and compiling Star Catalogues on my Stellar Mapping page so I can figure out where the stars around Sol actually are.
Continue reading ‘[2300AD] Realistic Near Star Map Project: Part I – Introduction’

System Book 2: Xibalba is now available!

Lately I’ve been busy writing a new System Book for Spica Publishing, and I am pleased to announce that System Book 2: Xibalba is now available for purchase!

Xibalba originally started off as a one-paragraph writeup for the (now probably dead) Spica Sector book – but we were looking for interesting things to release as smaller products, and we figured it’d be fun to expand upon it and release it as the next System Book. Quite a bit of science went into designing this system to be as realistic as possible (like System Book 1: Katringa before it, which I co-authored), which is named after the asteroid belt that orbits its white dwarf primary. I evolved the star itself and incorporated the effects of the star’s red giant phases on its worlds – one planet was consumed during the giant phase, another’s surface was completely melted, and all of the planetary orbits expanded outwards as the primary lost its mass during its planetary nebula phase (again, Gravity Simulator proved very useful for this!).

The ‘adventure hook’ is that there are strange hauntings and manifestations occurring in the system that have so far defied explanation, and there is plenty for any visting PCs to investigate. I wanted to bring some mystery and a sense of wonder and of the unknown to the setting, but it’s designed to be more “spooky” than “horror”. Inspirations include the movies Solaris, Event Horizon, and the Terran Trade Authority: Spacewreck book. It may be smaller (and cheaper) than System Book 1: Katringa, but there’s still plenty to explore!

Are you brave enough to Visit Xibalba?

Spica Publishing is pleased to announce that its latest product – System Book 2: Xibalba – is now available from RPGnow and DrivethruRPG. This 9-page PDF is written by Constantine Thomas, and is available for $3.99.

Spica Publishing presents System Book 2: Xibalba – a complete planetary system around a white dwarf star. This supplement is compatible with the current edition of the Traveller or any other SF RPG, and can be incorporated into an existing campaign or used as the focal point of an adventure. Inexplicable events plague the inhabitants of the system – are they really haunted by the ghosts of the dead, or is there a more rational explanation for the manifestations?

System Book 2: Xibalba includes:
– A realistic planetary system, based on current astrophysical knowledge.
– Details of the worlds in the system, including the barren worlds of Akabna, Balamna, and Chamna, the Xibalba belt, and the distant gas giant Sisna.
– A description of the small mining community on the asteroid of Nuevo Tikal.
– A brief history of the system and its major events, including the madness that destroyed the Caracol habitat.
– Ideas and suggestions for the strange ‘manifestations’ that haunt the inhabitants of the Xibalba system.
– Adventure seeds to occupy Player Characters while in the Xibalba system.
– Rules for incorporating Xibalba into Spica Publishing’s Outer Veil setting.

Download it today!

“Traveller” and the Traveller logo are Trademarks owned by Far Future Enterprises, Inc. and are used with permission. The Traveller Main Rulebook is available from Mongoose Publishing.

[Science] A natural nuclear reactor on Mars? Not likely…

A nuclear explosion on Mars? Not likely...

A nuclear explosion on Mars? Not likely…

An article by SF writer Charles Stross has been doing the rounds over the past week, describing an LPSC abstract which mentions “evidence” for a possible ancient nuclear explosion on Mars, caused by a “natural nuclear reactor” going critical. A lot of folks seem to be getting a bit excited by this because (not unreasonably) they think that since it’s published it must be scientifically valid, and I feel obliged to put on my party pooper hat and point out that it probably isn’t.

So first things first – here’s the LPSC abstract.

Now, you may be surprised to know that there IS actually such a thing as a “natural nuclear reactor”. We have evidence that at least one existed on Earth – at Oklo in Ghana – and you can read all about it on its wikipedia page. Essentially, you can get circumstances occurring in nature that are similar to those that occur in a nuclear fission reactor, if you have the right combination of geology, radioactive ore bodies and groundwater acting as a moderator. (you’ll note that the Mars “reactor” got a mention on the wikipedia page – that’s likely to be disappearing soon, given the scrutiny the abstract is now receiving).

So, why should we be skeptical of this LPSC abstract?

Peer review

Peer-review is a pretty important part of scientific methodology – it’s the process by which ideas are discussed and scrutinised and criticised and accepted (or rejected) by the scientific community. For a paper to be accepted for publication it must pass the peer-review process, which means that experts in the field have looked at the science, examined the evidence, and possibly duplicated any described experiments themselves and verified that the conclusions reached are valid. If they don’t then the paper is rejected, and the authors must either do more work to demonstrate their hypothesis or just start again and try another approach (or move on to something else). However, the article being discussed here is not a paper, it’s a conference abstract.

Conference Abstracts are not the same as papers. Conference abstracts are normally short summaries of work in progress – especially for teams working on ongoing missions – or interesting hypotheses that could be considered, and they may or may not be developed into papers later on (LPSC, DPS, and AGU are three of the big planetary conferences where abstracts are presented). Some are presented at the conference as posters or talks where they can be discussed further. Some of them get shot down, some pass scrutiny – that’s how science works. I’ve submitted and presented a few LPSC abstracts myself while I was at university – some worked out, some didn’t. The important thing though is that they are not peer-reviewed at all.

At this point I would like to strenuously and enthusiastially point out that the vast majority of abstracts submitted to LPSC are perfectly good science written by scientists and students of science. However, because (as far as I’m aware) the abstracts are not checked or vetted after they’re submitted, a handful of abstracts about… well, I’ll be charitable and call them “less likely scenarios” do slip through. For example, I remember reading one abstract a few years back suggesting that the sun had accreted around a neutron star – which makes no sense in terms of stellar formation/evolution at all. It probably got a few chuckles from those who noticed it, but otherwise it passed by unnoticed at the conference itself because its authors didn’t show up to elaborate on it (granted, a lot of authors aren’t able to turn up to LPSC for many reasons – but if you have a controversial idea then it helps if you show up to defend it!).

So – the important thing to be aware of here is that this is an LPSC abstract that has not been peer-reviewed, which means that its conclusions should be viewed with quite a bit of skepticism.

What about the science though?

There are questions to be raised about the author’s credibility – it doesn’t help that he previously authored an article suggesting that the so-called “Face on Mars” was created by an ancient martian civilisation (even if there ever was any doubt about its origins – not that I think there was – we now have plenty of evidence to show that it’s a completely natural feature). But be that as it may, the proper way to proceed is to analyse the science. Unfortunately, it seems to me that the science in the paper is not very good. Here are a few issues I found:

a) he says that the “reactor” was “tamped” by the overlying rock but doesn’t provide any calculations to support this (and for all I know he forgot that Mars has lower gravity than Earth, so pressure is lower at a given depth). That’s a fairly critical part of the scenario that we just have to take his word for.

b) He also doesn’t provide a satisfactory explanation of how the radioactive ore body forms and how it’s concentrated on Mars in the first place (radioactive ores are not usually concentrated by asteroid impacts).

c) He doesn’t provide any evidence for this supposed explosion beyond “it looks like the radioactive stuff was concentrated around a depression” which could have been caused by a number of other means (e.g. it could have been an depression caused by an ancient asteroid impact). Occam’s Razor seems sorely lacking.

d) I didn’t see a source mentioned for the maps of K and Th distribution presented in the abstract.

e) We know of precisely one natural nuclear reactor on Earth, which implies that they’re somewhat unlikely to form… and it didn’t blow up. And yet there was supposedly one on Mars that did? Seems like a lot of unlikely coincidences would have to line up to make that happen on the next planet over from us.

f) And he spends a lot of time telling us his interpretation of the data, and not a lot of time just objectively describing the data and saying what other options could explain it.

g) if this happened so long ago, why would there be evidence left on the surface after a billion years of deposition and erosion (and redeposition) by the winds that scour the surface of Mars? Surely that would have redistributed the material (if not hidden it)?

And this is before I even get to the nuclear physics side of it… I’ll leave that for others more knowledgeable about the subject. Either way, while some discussion and dissection of the evidence is happening now on various internet fora (now that it’s got some attention), so far the verdict is that the evidence to support the hypothesis is lacking.

So in the end I’d say that the “evidence for a nuclear reactor on Mars” – particularly one that exploded and blasted radioactive material across the planet – seems to be rather unconvincing! It’s an interesting idea to examine and dissect (that’s pretty much why it’s there, after all), but this does show that we need to always critically assess what we see on the internet so that we don’t mistake unreviewed conference abstracts for peer-reviewed science!

Addendum: And funnily enough, this LPSC abstract even gets a mention in this rather excellent video (around the 2:47 mark) explaining how the popular media often doesn’t really understand the science it reports.

[Boardgames] High Frontier – first session report!

HFcover
High Frontier is a realistic “science-adventure boardgame” where you play the role of space agencies who research technologies, launch them on rockets into the solar system to exploit the resources out there, and build extraterrestrial factories that in turn can build new fancier technologies. These give you victory points, and once you’ve built a certain number of factories, the game ends and you count up the VPs. It’s a little intimidating at first, but between a good walkthrough and the High Frontier yahoo group I managed to figure it out enough to give it a shot. The game itself does have a lot of science in it (the map does look a bit terrifying, but it’s actually very realistic in terms of energy requirements), but once you look at the actual gameplay it’s actually not that hard to understand what’s going on.

If you don’t know about the High Frontier board game then its BoardGameGeek page has lots of info. It’s available from most board game stores or directly from Sierra Madre Games – there’s one expansion out already that covers the outer solar system (the rules for the expansion are already in the base game), and there’s a new High Frontier: Colonization expansion coming out soon that extends the map further into the outer Kuiper belt and adds new rules for colonies (you can preorder that from SMG too).

So here’s a little session report that I wrote of our first attempt at playing it over the weekend. We do plan to play again so hopefully I’ll be able to take some pictures of the action next time, and I’ll write up a proper review of the game after a few more playthroughs. Meanwhile, enjoy the action :).

—-

I finally managed to play High Frontier for the first time last night after spending all week poring over the rules… AND IT WAS AWESOME! :).

I played with two gaming buddies – I picked ESA, one picked NASA, and the third picked China. We played using only the basic rules and we started off with just the basic map, but we brought in the expanded map (out to Saturn) later on for more targets. We had a spot of bother straight away because the first thruster that was picked was a 1-0 solar sail and we were trying to figure out how it worked, but we solved that and got going.

NASA was first into LEO and decided to head off to asteroid Phaeton on its solar sail and with an ISRU 4 robonaut just so we could get a rocket going somewhere to see how that all worked. They took a few turns to get there, landed, and (unsurprisingly) failed the prospect roll. Then they decomissioned the rocket, started up a new one at LEO and headed off to the main belt.

China was in the air next with the other robonaut/solar sail combo, headed off to asteroid Khufu and actually managed to prospect there successfully to get a claim! But they didn’t have a refinery with them so they decommissioned and sent up another rocket there with a robonaut/refinery combo so they could set up a factory later.

ESA (that’s me!) took its sweet time building its rocket (everything in ESA is built by committee, you know). However, we were ambitious from the start and went for a full three-stage (robonaut-refinery-thruster) rocket setup for our first launch – we weren’t having any of this namby-pamby hippy solar sail crap! 🙂 We built a MAN’S rocket – a Ponderomotive VASIMR! But that meant we had a rocket that was about twice as heavy as the others to launch (mass 9 vs mass 4 and 5) so we had to spend more time building up fuel. Eventually ESA got into LEO though, to much cheering from mission control :), and decided its mission target was asteroid Minerva in the Gefion family.

Unfortunately by this time the pesky Americans had managed to launch their new rocket from LEO with a better thruster, and had beaten ESA to the asteroid belt, where they started their nefarious goal of blackening the asteroid belt by zapping as many of them as possible from orbit! There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth at ESA as we watched Minerva and the other small rocks of the Gefion family being mercilessly blackened by NASA’s rayguns – particularly as the ESA rocket was already enroute just past the Sun-Earth L2 Lagrange. NASA at least managed to prospect Ceres successfully but only because they couldn’t really fail that!

So Plan B was hastily assembled at ESA mission control, and we decided to try our luck at asteroid Hertha in the Nysa family, where our ISRU 2 raygun would be useful too. [I was going for size 3 worlds because I could land/take off from them without needing lander fuel – I had thrust 3, -1 for wet mass, +1 for beamed power, and I could use the afterburner to get another +1 for a total of 4 thrust. Also, size 3 is a 50:50 chance of actually getting a claim, which is better than 1 in 6 or 1 in 3].

Naturally, the universe continued to mock ESA as we also managed to completely blacken the Nysa family once we got there :(. But at least we could refuel on Hertha, and Plan C was formulated after all the players agreed to use the Expanded Map to find more targets (otherwise I was kinda screwed, since there aren’t any other size 3 hydrated bodies on the basic map). With new vistas of space open to us, ESA decided to head off to asteroid Lutetia to see if we could stake a claim there.

Meanwhile, the Chinese had managed to get their factory set up at Khufu, and managed to develop the Zubrin thruster there (uh-oh…), and promptly decided to use that to conquer the solar system by sending it back to Earth and loading up another robot/refinery package on it to build another factory elsewhere. Since the Zubrin drive basically allows them to go anywhere in one turn (15 thrust – 1/3 fuel/burn), they promptly set up shop on Jupiter’s outermost Galilean satellite Callisto.

While this was happening, NASA had been happily turning the Koronis cluster in the asteroid belt into a blackened wasteland, and had moved on to the Vesta cluster where they finally managed to get claims on Vesta, Unitas and Eichsfeldia. They built a factory on Eichsfeldia, refuelled there, launched again to plunder more asteroids, and promptly turned themselves into a new crater on asteroid Ida [they failed the ‘rapid rotation” crash hazard roll], thus ending their asteroid-killing spree. Fortunately their new factory was nearby so they sent up a freighter with a new instance of their black (robonaut?) card to pick that up with an earthbound rocket later (they didn’t really get a chance to do much after that).

ESA’s mission to Lutetia was also a disaster (the dice really hated me!), but at least we managed to refuel on its now scorched, blackened surface. ESA obviously had the utmost trust in their equipment by having so many backup plans, but at this point we were getting a bit desperate. That said, I guess it was testimony to our spacecraft that it had survived for so long and visited so many targets (there really should be some kind of VP reward for doing that with a single ship…). So, while the Chinese were busy zipping around the solar system and setting up their new base in Asgard’s ice spires on Callisto, we made a last-ditch effort to stake a claim on asteroid Hygiea.

Hygiea’s ‘siblings’ Badenia and Friederike turned out to be a bust, but FINALLY ESA got lucky on Hygiea itself and managed to stake a claim and build a factory there (we landed on fumes!)! Cue much raucous celebration at ESA Mission Control!!

ESA didn’t have much of a plan after that, but we noticed that we could actually get to Ganymede and at least claim that. Armed with our newly-minted Nanobot robonaut (black, ISRU 1, buggy) the refuelled ESA rocket managed to land on Memphis Facula and claim both Ganymede locations (no factory though since I didn’t have a refinery)! [this was particularly cool moment for me, since I’d spent a good chunk of my PhD studying Ganymede, so it was only fair that I claim it! :)]. ESA and China now both had claims in the Galileans and were eyeing eachother warily over the gap – fortunately the Chinese didn’t try to jump ESA’s Ganymede claims though.

Having accomplished ESA’s main mission – and being quite tired by this point since it was now the wee hours of the morning – I wasn’t actually sure what to do next so I ended up turning my rocket into an outpost on Ganymede and attempted to start a new rocket at LEO to find a new target. China had meanwhile turned its greedy eyes on NASA’s Vesta claim, claim jumped it and built a factory on it for good measure. I’d just managed to boost my rocket into orbit and was considering a trip to Mars, but the Chinese managed to get Space Tourism (Space Venture) and then paid the 5 WT to end the game since they had three ET factories (Khufu, Callisto, and Vesta).

So the Chinese won by miles (I think they ended up with 24 VP, and ESA and NASA both had 9 VP), but despite the length of the game and our initial trouble we all agreed that it’d be fun to try it again now that we had some idea what we were doing, so I consider that mission accomplished! 🙂

I think we did everything correctly, but being our first game I’m sure we probably slipped up in a few places (and we’re still not sure what the general strategy should be). But I’ll ask questions on the HF Yahoo Group and hopefully get those sorted out by the next time we play! (and next time, I’ll take photos 😉 ).

[2300AD] Near Star Map Astrosynthesis DB file

This week I received an email request for the Astrosynthesis DB file that I used to make my realistic 2300AD near star/arms map, and after digging it up I figured I may as well post it for everyone to use. It uses a special version of the realistic stellar databases that I’ve presented elsewhere on this site – it has the 2300AD-specific names for the stars and systems, so it shouldn’t be used for scientific purposes (I think it just uses the RECONS + DENSE + Hipparcos databases). As usual, please don’t redistribute this yourself – just link back to this page if you want to spread the word!

Instructions: Click the image below to download the 2300AD_DB.zip file, unzip it into a local folder, open Astrosynthesis 3.0, and open the unzipped 2300AD.AstroDB file from there. Hopefully it’s some use! 🙂

2300AD Astrosynthesis 3.0 database file



Copyright stuff: The 2300 AD game in all forms is owned by Far Future Enterprises. Copyright 1986 – 2012 Far Future Enterprises. 2300 AD is a registered trademark of Far Future Enterprises. Far Future permits web sites and fanzines for this game, provided it contains this notice, that Far Future is notified, and subject to a withdrawal of permission on 90 days notice. The contents of this site are for personal, non-commercial use only. Any use of Far Future Enterprises’s copyrighted material or trademarks anywhere on this web site and its files should not be viewed as a challenge to those copyrights or trademarks. In addition, any program/articles/file on this site cannot be republished or distributed without the consent of the author who contributed it.

Curiosity Sol 2 & 3 Image Roundup!

Curiosity is still doing very well on the surface of Mars, and some full resolution images have arrived back here on Earth over the past couple of days!

First there’s this overview of Curiosity and all its associated landing paraphernalia, taken by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HIRISE camera in orbit around the red planet – the heatshield, skycrane, parachute and backshell are all accounted for, as is Curiosity itself (labelled as “MSL” – Mars Science Laboratory). The dark patch around Curiosity itself was caused by the backblast if the skycrane’s rocket motors as it was being lowered to the ground – brighter dust was blown away, leaving darker material behind. To get a sense of scale, the skycrane is located at a distance of 650 metres from Curiosity. There are no plans to go and visit any of the wreckage, however.

Curiosity landing site (image credits: NASA/JPL/MSSS)

Curiosity’s Cameras

Before I go on, I should explain the cameras that Curiosity uses to take pictures – there are 17 of them in total, so it can be difficult to keep track of them all! The sensor mast (Curiosity’s Wall-E like “head”) containing the cameras was successfully raised on Sol 2 and seems to be working fine.

The cameras on Curiosity’s sensor mast
(image credits: NASA/JPL/Constantine Thomas (labels))

The CHEMCAM (not used yet) is the round opening at the top. This shoots a laser at distant rocks (!) – CHEMCAM’s spectrometers and telescope can then determine the composition of the rock by analysing the puff of material blown off by the laser (which is pretty darn clever, really).

The NAVCAMs are the two little cylindrical things on the left and right of the “head”, below the CHEMCAM. There are two on each side, but only one left/right pair is used at a time – the other is a backup. This allows Curiosity to take stereo images, which can be used to make 3D anaglyph images.

The MASTCAMs are the two trumpet-like things mounted below the CHEMCAM. The one with the wider opening directly below CHEMCAM is the wide angle camera, and the one on its right is the telephoto camera. These won’t be able to take stereo images because they aren’t the same kind of camera, but they’ll be taking the bulk of the high resolution images of the landscape.

There are also the front and rear HAZCAMs (there are actually eight of these, mounted on all four corners of the rover), which take low resolution images of what’s immediately in front of and behind the rover in order to avoid obstacles – we’ve already seen pictures from those that were taken shortly after Curiosity landed. MARDI is the MARs Descent Imager, which is on the bottom of Curiosity and was used to take the Descent video. Last I heard on one of the press conferences, the team were hoping to get some further use out of this camera by taking pictures of the ground directly under the rover, since some light can still get through underneath the rover. And then there’s MAHLI (MArs Hand Lens Imager), which is the hand-lens imager mounted on a robotic arm that will be used to take closeup shots of the rocks that Curiosity examines (and can also apparently be used to image more distant objects too).

If you want a more complete roundup of what these instruments (and others) do, wikipedia explains all!

OK. Now you know what’s taking all the pictures, let’s go back to the images!

Next up is the first view from the NAVCAMs. While these can be used to take 3D stereo images if they are taken in pairs (you’ll need red-blue glasses to view them – apparently comic shops may be a good place to find these!), they can of course also be viewed as individual images too – this is the first high resolution scene returned from Curiosity through the left NAVCAM, and the scenery looks pretty astounding. I love the hazy mountains of the crater rim in the distance, and the detail in all the rocks and pebbles in the foreground!:

The view from Curiosity (left NAVCAM) – Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The NAVCAMs managed to get a good look around the whole rover, and the images were stitched together to make this amazing 360° view of the rover’s surroundings. Mount Sharp (the central peak of Gale crater) is at the bottom/left of the image (the rover’s pointing in its general direction), the crater rim is visible to the right, and I think the sun’s washing out the horizon at the top of the image. I love how you can actually see the rover here (I would have expected some distortion because of the 360° view, but it looks nicely rover-shaped!) – also note the bits of gravel on the top surface of Curiosity, which were kicked up by the skycrane’s rockets as it was landing!

360 degree view around Curiosity – Image credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/James Sorenson

Finally, the MASTCAM was fired up and returned this very nice colour panorama looking towards Mount Sharp. The dark streaks at the base of the mountain are sand dunes – from what I gathered from the press conferences, Curiosity is going to be heading towards them (skirting the left side in this view) once it starts moving in a couple of weeks. There are several very cool things to note here – first, this panorama is actually made up of 130 thumbnail images with a resolution of 144×144 pixels – these aren’t even full resolution images (which are 1200×1200 pixels), so the full resolution panorama will be absolutely enormous and ridiculously detailed! We’ll have to wait a few days for that to come back down though, since updating the rover’s software is a higher priority in the coming days. Second, the grey circular patches on the left and right are where the skycrane’s rockets blew away some of the dust during the landing, which means that bedrock might be exposed there! Third, that line of holes in the treads of the wheels apparently spell out “JPL” in morse code… so Curiosity will be leaving JPL’s name in its tracks in the martian dust as it travels!

Curiosity MASTCAM colour panorama (Image Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

As always, if you want more info, check out Emily Lakdawalla’s Planetary Society blog!

More images from Curiosity!

There was another press conference at 4pm PDT this afternoon where the MSL team showed off some more awesome images!

This one is from the front HAZCAM, and by good fortune it looks like Curiosity is pointing towards Mt. Sharp, the mountain at the centre of Gale crater that it’s going to be climbing throughout the mission! The dark line in the foreground is actually a field of sand dunes between the rover and the mountain!

Front HAZCAM view, showing Curiosity’s shadow, and Mount Sharp looming in the distance. (Image credits: JPL/NASA/UA)

Another VERY cool thing they released was a low resolution video showing the descent of Curiosity, taken from the MARDI camera (MARs Dscent Imager) – they took 220 frames and stitched them together to make the video. They’ll be sending back higher resolution images over the next few weeks, so this is going to look even more spectacular soon. But meanwhile, feast your eyes on this:

MARDI video of Curiosity’s descent (that’s the heat shield dropping away in the first few frames!) (image credits: NASA/JPL/MSSS)

Again, Emily Lakdawalla has more details so I’ll point you to her article for those rather than repeat it all here :).