The Rawang Bypass

The Rawang Bypass is a highway opened in 2017 to avoid the frequent traffic congestion in Rawang. It contains the highest roadway viaduct of Malaysia, with pillars up to 58 meter above ground level. It is possible to hike from Rawang to a viewpoint high above the viaduct. Deco Diver, a friend of mine, has written a blog about this hike with a clear description of the route to follow.

We started with breakfast in Rawang. Not easy to find a shop that was open, because of Ramadan, but after some driving around we managed to find a place where we had an acceptable mee goreng.

Looking for the trailhead we overlooked the one suggested by my friend, but found another one nearby. Apparently the location is popular with Rawang hikers, signs indicate the various trails. A nice, easy walk.

The trail passes a few shrines, an Indian Hindu shrine and next to it a Chinese Datok Kong one.

After a little more than 1 km we reached the highway, which is still at ground level here. You can cross to the other side by a drain, but we continued on a maintenance road next to the highway. Easy walking, although not very interesting.

After about about 600 meter, the viaduct starts and you can cross under the highway to the other side. Mind your head 😉 .

The view of the supporting pillars is quite spectacular, we met another group who was coming back from the viewpoint and also stopped here to take pictures.

After crossing a drain on a flimsy bridge, the climb to the viewpoint starts. There are steps and ropes to help you.

Halfway you have already a nice view of the viaduct.

The climb becomes more challenging because you have to follow the drains. and they are constructed to guide the water down, with slanting steps. Care is needed, fortunately there are ropes attached to give you support.

The steep stretch is only a few hundred meter long, you have to climb about 60 meter to reach the viewpoint. A big tree gives shade, it is a perfect place to relax and enjoy the view.

Of course we took pictures to prove that we have been there.

Aric had brought his drone.

In this drone picture you see how the highway has been cut into the rocks. Notice the yellow marker, top right. That’s the viewpoint. It is often called Bukit Matt (Matt hill), although it is not a Bukit at all.

The viaduct. The main reason to build an (expensive!) elevated viaduct was to save more forest.

After a coffee break we climbed down the same way. Going down you must be even more careful! Not suitable after rain. We saw some nice pitcher plants.

We walked back on the maintenance road until we reached the drain. Beware! Before you reach this wide drain, you will pass two very narrow ones.

There was not much water, it will be different after a downpour.

Swiftlets have built their nests inside the drain, Aric managed to take pictures of them.

Walking back to the car we noticed these markings . Physical distancing according to the SOP! A reminder that the Covid pandemic was still around. No idea if anyone would follow these rules in this natural environment.

Another Hindu shrine near were our car was parked.

The whole trip took about 3 hours. We were hungry and our friend Jennifer, who lives in the region, knew about a Hakka eatery in Rawang, where they serve Lei Cha as a specialty. We went there and it was a good choice.

They also prepare healthy juices and even Lei Cha pizza! The owner is very friendly. We will come back.

It was a nice excursion. Here is a Google Earth screenshot, where I have marked a few locations. The yellow line marks the shorter, but less interesting route.

Melbourne 2015

In February 2015 Aric and I visited our friends Pat and Roger in Melbourne. We had a wonderful time, I took almost 800 pictures, but I never wrote a report about it. It is now six years later, details about our trip have become vague. Here is a belated blog about that visit.

They are living in a nice bungalow in the Dandenong hills, not far from Melbourne.

The first day we relaxed, did some shopping for the dinner. All of us love food and Roger is a good cook. He knows that we are addicted to oysters, look at his face as he is watching how Aric is enjoying one 😉 .

The next day we went to Melbourne, to the Prahran Market, a historical market, founded in the 1860s and relocated to its present location in 1881. Lots of fresh produce and also many cafes. Roger did some shopping for the dinner.

We had coffee with cake and later lunch with mussels.

Aric had discovered on the Internet a colorful beach “village”, Brighton Beach, and in the afternoon we visited it. A perfect location for photographers.

That evening again an exquisite seafood dinner.

The next day we started a 5D4N trip to the region in Victoria north of Melbourne. We visited a goldmine in Bendigo, made a paddle steamer trip in Echuca, had lost of nice food and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company. I wrote a separate blog about this trip, Victoria Trip 2015. Here is a sketch of our itinerary.

After we returned from this trip, we visited the RSL Club of Upwey-Belgrave. Roger is a member and regular visitor of this typical Australian phenomenon. Although the background is military, it now functions primarily as a pub.

The restaurant in the RSL was leased to a chef who prepared an exquisite dinner.

After the busy trip we relaxed the next day. They have a nice garden and Roger prepared the jacuzzi, where we spent a lazy afternoon. They have now become Australians and are clearly proud of it 😉

We had dinner at home. Host and hostess busy in the kitchen and decanting the wine.

We started with oysters

Main course were lamb cutlets. Because Roger knew that lamb was not Aric’s favourite, he prepared fish especially for him!

The next day we went on our own to Melbourne, using public transport. This is the iconic Victoria station (1888)

We started with coffee and cake at Brunetti’s a well-known patisserie in Melbourne. One of their specialities is the Baba Rum and of course Aric had to try it.

Yarn Bombing , also know as Graffiti Knitting, where trees and street objects are decorated with knitted or crocheted yarn, was quite popular in Melbourne during our visit. It gave the street a friendly atmosphere.

We had a look at two churches , the St. Michael’s Uniting Church (1866)

And St Paul’s Cathedral (1891)

This is the former State Theatre, built 1929 in Moorish Revival style.

We were actually looking for another kind of graffiti. Hosier Lane is a landmark of Melbourne, famous for its Street Art.

We kept taking pictures, here is a selection.

Of course not everything is high-quality.

When you are a tourist, you can use a romantic horse-drawn carriage to explore the town, or take a river cruise. We just walked, crossing the Yarra river to the Southbank.

Our destination was the Eureka Tower, a 300 m tall skyscraper, completed in 2006. It is a residential building, but the 88th floor, the Eureka Skydeck, can be visited.

The view of Melbourne and surroundings is of course outstanding.

A very special attraction is the Edge, a glass cube which can be moved 3 m outside the building. Visitors must cover their shoes with protective clothing, because the floor of the cube is also glass. It is opaque, but becomes transparent when the cube is outside, so you can look 300 meter down. Not for the faint-hearted! You can not take cameras inside but an official photo is taken.

With our ticket we were allowed to come back again later, to have a night view, so we had to spend some time 🙂

We walked to the Shrine of Remembrance, the war memorial of Melbourne. Very impressive, especially when you realise that Australia never had a war on its own territory, but, as part of the Commonwealth, has taken part in many wars all over the world.

A view of downtown Melbourne from the memorial. The Eureka tower at the left.

We decided to have dinner at the Pure South Dining restaurant and that turned out to be a good choice. In the menu you can see what we ordered.

After dinner we went up again to the Skydeck. We arrived just after sunset and stayed until it was really dark. We came back home late, after a nice full day.

The next day was already our last day. A relaxing day at home. Pat and Roger’s daughter Sarah came for a visit with her son Nathan, we had lunch together and enjoyed the jacuzzi. Roger showed Aric his new car and we had dinner.

In the evening we walked in the fields near their house. Nice flowers, lit by the setting sun. Peaceful evening

It was a wonderful holiday.

Victoria Trip 2015

During our visit to Pat and Roger in 2015 we went with them on a 5D4N trip in the state of Victoria. First Roger took us to the Organ Pipes National Park. The “organ pipes” are basalt columns, their origin is volcanic and they are 2.5-2.8 million year old.

After lunch in the small town of Woodend we continued to Bendigo where we stayed overnight. In the 1850s gold was found here and Bendigo became a boomtown, attracting gold-diggers from everywhere. There is a goldmine that can be visited and there are numerous imposing buildings in Victorian style. A very pleasant town. This is Pall Mall, the main street. Left the War Memorial, in the middle the former Post Office and to the right, behind the trees, the Shamrock Hotel.

Many buildings are in the (Victorian) Second Empire style. From left to right the former Post Office (1883-1887), the Town Hall (1878-1902) and the Law Courts (1892-1896). Impressive architecture.

The monumental Shamrock Hotel began in 1856 but was several times rebuilt, until the final version in 1907.

Just a few more architecture pictures.

The Rosalind park was where the goldrush started in 1851. It has been a Government Camp before it became a park.

The Alexandra Fountain is located at the entrance of the park and was designed by William Vahland, the main architect of Bendigo in those days. A poppet head is a frame at the top of a mineshaft, supporting pulleys for the ropes used in hoisting . This poppet head comes from a different gold mine and is now a lookout.

The Sacred Heart Cathedral is unusually large for a small town. Construction started in 1897, in Gothic Revival style, but was completed only in 1977.

We had dinner in the Wine Bank on View, a favourite of Roger. It is a wine bar and wine merchant.

They also serve delicious food.

Starters.

We moved inside for the main course.

The next morning Aric and I visited the Central Deborah gold mine, now no longer active and a major tourist attraction. We took the 85 metres: Underground Adventure excursion, very interesting. Overalls, boots, miner’s hat with lamp. A traditional miner’s lunch was served underground.

Various aspects of a miner’s life, changing room, showering, medical assistance.

Our guide explaining where we will go and the poppet head which will lower us down.

An ore deposit, where gold can be found.

Not easy to take pictures underground.

Lunch 85 meter underground.

Before we continued our trip, we visited the Chinese Joss House Temple (1871). During the gold rush many Chinese immigrants came to Victoria to work in the mines.

Our next destination was Echuca on the banks of the Murray river, where we stayed two nights. We had pizza for dinner.

The main attraction of Echuca are the paddleboats. Echuca was founded in 1850 and became fast a major inland port. Nowadays it is a major tourist attraction.

Paddleboats brought their cargo to the Echuca wharf where it was unloaded and transported by rail to Melbourne. The wharf is now Australian Heritage.

Of course we went for a trip, with the paddle steamer Pevensey. It was built in 1911, used to transport wool and still has its original steam engine.

Impressive machinery. Must be a tough job to be a stoker!

The interior of the Pevensey.

Two more paddle steamers. It was a very interesting excursion

In the afternoon we drove around Echuca and visited the Cape Horn Vineyard. The Echuca-Moama bridge dates from 1878, to reach the vineyard we had to cross the Stewart’s bridge (don’t worry, the new one is hidden behind the old wooden structure).

Roger is a wine connoisseur, I am just pretending 😉 .

Of course a day is not complete without drinks and food!

The next day we had a short stop at Kryabam , where we visited the former Town Hall (1895), now an art gallery. Just to prove that we are interested in more than food 😉 .

We continued to Rushworth, another goldrush town. Nice buildings , but not so spectacular as in Bendigo.

I had seen on the Internet that near Rushworth there was an old gold mine with a ghost town. I asked Roger if we could visit that place. He agreed but regretted it when it turned out that the access road was bad, causing some damage to his car. Fortunately Aric could repair it 😉 .

The Balaclava mine is an open-cast mine. The tunnels have been closed for safety reasons, so there is not much to explore.

The ghost town of Whroo is not much more than the cemetery. Hard to imagine that once the town had several churches , a school, a library and a few hotels.

We stayed overnight in a motel in Nagambie and had an al fresco dinner at the Nagambie lake.

A beautiful sunset!

The last day of our trip we visited Yea, another small town, with some interesting buildings. The Shire Hall is from 1877, the Grand Caledonian Hotel was built in 1901.

Yea was founded in 1855, because of the gold rush, but now it is primarily a farming and agriculture town.

The Yea Wetlands are worth a visit,

We had lunch in an heritage building, the E.S Purcell’s General Store (1877).

On our way back to Upwey, we had a stop at Yarra Glen for a drink in the Grand Hotel (1888).

It was a very rewarding trip. Amazing how much we could do in just a few days.

Twenty year friendship

In 2000 Aric and I were living in Goodyear Court 7 in USJ and it was around September/October of that year that we met Pat and Roger, an English couple, who had also rented a condo there. At the swimming pool! We quickly became friends and we still are.

Besides meeting each other for dinners, birthdays etc, we also have made numerous trips together. About many of these trips I have written reports. Here is a chronological list . For the trips with an album, I have selected only two pictures, mostly of dinners, because we all love food. For the trips without an album, I show a few more pictures.

2001

The first trip took place in June 2001, to Kuala Selangor. Here is a report in the diary that I kept in those days.

In those days I was still working part-time in Amsterdam and Pat & Roger were still living in Basildon, UK, so we could meet in Malaysia only irregularly. But we met a few times in Europe!

2003

They visited me in Amsterdam in June 2003, and a few weeks later I visited them in Basildon with my friend Inez. About this second visit I created an album , here are a few photos.

2004

The next year I celebrated my 60th birthday in Taiping with them and a few other friends. This is the album My 60th Birthday 17-4-2004 and here are a few photos

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In September I visited them again in Basildon Trip to England.

2005

In November 2005 I took them to Ulu Langat, to visit the Gabai waterfall. Crossing the hills from Ampang you have a nice view of the KL skyline. There were some leeches, from the way Pat is walking you can see that she was a bit scared of them. The waterfall was a deserved reward.

2006

March 2006, the traditional Raptor Watch in Tanjung Tuan. A trip with my birding friends, Khong, Stephen and George, the Gang of Four.

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A few days later another waterfall trip, this time to the Sendat waterfall near Ulu Yam.

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Still in the same month, I joined Pat and Roger for a 5D4N a trip to Macau. During our stay we made a daytrip to Hong Kong. Here is the report Macau & Hong Kong

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In June they visited me in Amsterdam. We made a daytrip to Delft and visited the famous flower auction in Aalsmeer. Roger tried to eat herring in the traditional way and we had dinner at home.

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In December Aric and I invited them for a trip to Serendah where we stayed in a beautiful glass house with its own swimming pool. . The album Sepeking Serendah has more photos.

2007

Pat and Roger were planning to move to Australia and in preparation for their emigration stayed in a rented house near Melbourne, where I visited them in February. I took hundreds of photos but never created an album about this trip. I forgot the details, we visited Melbourne, Ballarat, the Dandenong hills and of course we went to see the kangaroos.

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In November I joined them on a trip to Chiang Mai. We visited many temples, went to an elephant sanctuary and made a daytrip to beautiful waterfalls. Here is a detailed report: Chiang Mai

2008

In January we organised a farewell trip for Pat and Roger , as they were emigrating to Australia. Of course they will visit Malaysia regularly. We had lunch in Taiping with George, and stayed overnight in Sg Petani. On our way back we visited Kellie’s Castle Here is the report Trip with P & R

2009

When they came back to Malaysia in February 2009 to visit friends, we took them to Fraser’s Hill where we stayed overnight in the posh Olde Smokehouse. More photos in this album: Trip with P & R

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Later that year they invited us to Melbourne, where they had now moved to their own house. We had a wonderful time, visited the Twelve Apostles, saw kangaroos koalas, friendly birds, etc. Detailed report here: Melbourne

2012

In 2012 Pat and Roger visited Malaysia again with two Australian friends. We organised an outing for them, visited a waterfall and a Buddhist sanctuary and of course had breakfast and lunch. Here is the report: A nice outing

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A few weeks later we made a daytrip to Pulau Ketam, Crab Island, which they had never visited before. We took the ferry to the village, walked around and had lunch. Here is the report: Pulau Ketam

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A daughter of Pat and Roger is living in Ireland with her family, and it so happened that I was in Holland while they were in Ireland, a nice opportunity to visit them. The weather was pretty awful, but the hospitality was heartwarming. Here is the report: Ireland, December 2012

2013

Our next meeting was again in Malaysia. In June we made a daytrip to the Jenjarom temple, and Jugra hill. This is the report: Trip with Pat and Roger 25-6-2013

2015

In February we visited Pat and Roger in Melbourne, a 12 day trip in which I took more than 800 photos Melbourne. In my Journal 21-3-2015 I wrote ” I am still struggling to write a trip report” I never wrote it. Here are at least a few pictures.

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In August they came back to Malaysia. We made a short trip to the Chamang waterfall.

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Two weeks later we finally went on trip that we had discussed for several years, a trip to China which they had never visited. Aric had made an itinerary with many highlights, Xi’an (terracotta army), Suzhou (Venice of the East),  Zhouzhuang (water village) and Shanghai. These four reports contain all the details and numerous photos. It was a memorable trip!

2017

In August a daytrip to Jenjarom, Morib and Tanjung Sepat. Aric used his drone to take a picture of us.

2019

In 2019 they visited Malaysia again. We made a 2D1N trip to Ipoh, where we stayed in the beautiful Ipoh Bali hotel. During a temple visit a fierce monkey grabbed Roger’s glasses! Have a look at the report Pat and Roger’s visit to find out how this problem was solved!

In 2020 the pandemic started and we got locked up in our respective countries. We are looking forward to meet them again.

Bukit Lanjan

In October 2005 we moved from USJ to Damansara Perdana, where we had bought a condo in Perdana View with a beautiful view of the forested slopes of the 335 high Bukit Lanjan.

In those days I walked often in Bukit Kiara, but I also explored Bukit Lanjan a few times. Here is one of my first hikes, January 2007. The GE imagery is from 2007. I have marked a few locations. MK Land had permission to develop the hill on condition that they would provide housing for the Temuan Orang Asli who were living on the hill. Bottom left you see the Desa Temuan, nice bungalows. The Armanee condo’s were under construction and a beginning had been made with the development of Rafflesia. On the top of the hill Mustapha Kamal had built his own residence.

Although the Temuan had moved to the new village, they still had huts and (durian) plantations on the hill, so the trails were well maintained.

A lot of development was going on, but our view of the hill was still unspoilt. Top left you can see the two Telecom towers.

Here is another hike, September 2009. It was durian season, we met a few friendly orang asli families and had durians.

We climbed up to the top, lost the trail, but managed to reach the Telecom towers, from where we had a nice view of the KL skyline.

Our hike ended in a funny way. We decided to walk back, following the tar road. That road has been declared private after the MK residence was built, with a guard house at the beginning. The guards at the house were shocked to see people approaching from the top of the hill. We explained that we had been jungle hiking. A guard on a motorbike escorted us down until the gate. From there we walked a trail back home

I walked a few more times in Bukit Lanjan in the period 2007-2010, in this GE screenshot I have collected my hikes. Notice de development of Rafflesia

In November 2010 we were shocked to discover that the forested hill slope was being logged. MK Land had sold part of the hill to another developer, Mammoth Empire.

We could watch the subsequent development from our balcony.

I don’t understand how a developer could get permission to build on such steep slopes. At one time even a minor landslide occurred where they had been drilling.

This is the present situation of what is called the Empire Residences, as seen from our balcony. A small part of the project has been completed, the rest has come to a standstill for several years already. The Low Yat forum has 46 pages about the Empire Residences, mostly negative. It’s a failed project, IMHO.

In the period 2010-2020 I still have been walking occasionally in Bukit Lanjan, but it became less interesting, because the Temuan no longer maintained their gardens and trails. Here and there fencing appeared, blocking access. Here is a collection of my walks in that period.

More than one year ago the COVID-19 pandemic started, causing a lockdown in Malaysia and limiting me in my freedom to walk and hike. I wrote a blog about it: Lockdown! .

Parks were closed, but I still could walk from my condo, following the tar road. During one of my walks I noticed a trail to the right, with a red-white marker ribbon. I followed it for some distance, it looked like a regular trail.

When I came back to the road, I met another hiker, Encik Wan, who told me that recently several trails had been developed by a group of active hikers, living in Damansara Perdana. They had erected a signboard about the Bukit Lanjan Community trails near my condo. A nice surprise, I became a member of their chat group.

On 16 January Wan took me to my first Bukit Lanjan trail, just starting from my front door, so to speak 😉 . A nice hike, views of the surroundings, some steep parts, where ropes were provided.

More hikes followed. Unfortunately it became clear very soon that MK Land was unhappy with this community initiative. They started to block trail heads , removed marker ribbons and supporting ropes.

I do not understand their attitude, no harm is done and the trails add value to Damansara Perdana and MK Land’s residential projects.

Most trails are still accessible and during the past three months I have been able to explore many of them. Compared with Bukit Kiara, the trails are more rough, after rain they can be slippery. Ropes are helpful.

Bukit Lanjan is still a green enclave, but surrounded by concrete jungle and highways.

This is my favourite tree on the hill. One friend calls it Jan’s tree because I like to take pictures of the tree with my friends,

The trig marks the highest pint of Bukit Lanjan at an elevation of 335 m above sea-level. Access is not easy. On one of my hikes I met friendly people who were surveying. I hope it is not a sign for more development of the hill.

For me hiking is not just for exercise. Enjoying nature is even more important.

And not to forget: relaxing during a hike with coffee and cake ;-)!

Here is a Google Earth screenshot of the trails I have been hiking in Bukit Lanjan the last few months. I really hope they will remain accessible in the future.

Batang Kali waterfall

Since the beginning of the lockdown in Malaysia (March 2020), I have visited only two waterfalls, Templer Park and Lata Iskandar. When you know about my fascination with Malaysian waterfalls, you will understand how excited I was when my friend Edwin suggested a trip to waterfalls in the Batang Kali-Ulu Yam region. Interstate travel was still prohibited, but these waterfalls are in the state of Selangor.

There were two options, either the Kedondong fall or waterfalls in the Batang Kali river, recently explored by him. As I had visited the Kedondong fall already, I was interested in the Batang Kali waterfalls. Interested but also a bit anxious. I am getting older and have lost my self-confidence in the jungle. I discussed my concern with Edwin and we decided to limit ourself to an “easy” waterfall in the Batang Kali River. Teoh, one of my waterfall “godsons” was eager to join as well.

Edwin picked me up from my condo at 7:30 am and took me for breakfast to the 333 Kopitiam in Ulu Yam Baharu, where Teoh was already waiting for us. We had bitter gourd pork noodles and yam pork noodles, especially the second one was delicious and a reason to come back.

We parked our cars at the Kedondong Recreation Park, for safety, although it meant that we first had to walk along the road about 800 m to the trailhead. We started hiking around 10 am

From the trailhead we hiked down to a tributary of the Batang Kali river, which we had to cross.

Crossing was easy. For the first time in two(!) years I was wearing my kampung Adidas.

There was a clear trail with beautiful bamboo groves. Locals probably come here to harvest bamboo, even a temporary shed was built.

Here and there bamboo had fallen across the trail, but still easy to pass.

It was a real pleasure to be back in the jungle. Only a few leeches.

We had to cross the Batang Kali river once. Easy.

After about 30 minutes we reached the waterfall. Not a tall one, but a lot of water and a huge pool.

Of course we took a refreshing bath.

Edwin is an experienced swimmer and managed to swim behind the water curtain. I took a video, you can hardly see his face behind the water, until he dives through it :-).

Here I am relaxing near the fall. A happy man. I am always a bit worried about bees and wasps as I am allergic to their stings, but there were hardly any in this pristine location.

After frolicking around, we took the same trail back to the main road. Two ways of crossing the river, using the fallen tree (Edwin) or just getting wet feet (Teoh and I).

Around 1 pm we were back at our cars, getting hungry. Teoh had to go back to work (!), Edwin suggested that we could visit an orchid farm in Ulu Yam, where they also had a nice café. This World of Phalaenopsis was a pleasant surprise. Large collection of orchids, friendly atmosphere

Well maintained place with not only orchids.

Although it was a weekday, there were many visitors both in the farm and in the café. I had a waffle with strawberries and ice cream for lunch. A place to visit again.

I wanted to buy an orchid to bring home, the red one I carry in the left picture. A friendly sales guy advised me to choose the one with larger flowers, they would last longer. Three orchids for RM 30 only.

A very rewarding outing. Thanks to Edwin for taking the initiative and to Teoh for his company. Real fellowship, good for boosting my self-confidence.

Here is a Google Earth of the Batang Kali region. The red part is along the road, the green one the trail. I have also marked the locations of the 333 Kopitiam and the orchid farm.

Perseverance

Are you staying up tonight?, a friend asked me a few weeks ago. No, why? , I replied. He knows about my interest in space travel and expected that I was aware of the landing of a spacecraft on Mars that night. But I was not 😉

I checked the timing, the Perseverance would land at 4:55 am in the morning of 19 February (Malaysian time). In this blog I will explain why I decided to enjoy my sleep and check the next morning if the landing had been successful 😉

In 2018 I wrote a blog Landing on Mars, in which I described the various Mars missions, concentrating on the Curiosity Mission of 2012. The procedure to land the Curiosity was new, using a so-called sky-crane for the last phase.

Here is a diagram of what is called the Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL) process. The spacecraft enters the (thin) Martian atmosphere with a velocity of ~ 20.000 km/h. About 7 minutes later it must land on the surface with a velocity of less than 1 m/s. As signals between Earth and Mars take about 11 minutes, EDL can not be controlled from Earth, the whole process must have been programmed in the computers on board. Mission Control can only wait and see. That’s why these 7 minutes have been called the seven minutes of terror.

In my 2018 blog I describe the three phases in more detail, here is an very informative animation.

In 2012 everything went well, the Curiosity is actually still operational at the moment, much longer than originally planned.

The Perseverance that landed last week, has followed the same EDL procedure. Of course it must have been a relief for Mission Control that it was again a smooth process, but to keep calling it seven minutes of terror is exaggerated. That’s why I decided to enjoy a good night’s sleep. Here is the EDL process for the Perseverance. As you see it is basically the same as for Curiosity.

The two rovers also look the same. To the left Curiosity, the official name of the mission is Mars Science Laboratory (MSL). The Perseverance, to the right, is part of the Mission 2020 project.

Of course there are differences. The wheels have been redesigned, the robotic arm is heavier and the rover carries more cameras, 23 in total. Notice the “hazcams” at the front and the back of the rover, to avoid obstacles. Sherloc, Watson and Pixl are science cameras, I will tell a bit more about them later.

Some of the cameras have not a real science function, but have been added mainly to please the general public 🙂 . The back shell has a camera looking up to see how the parachute deploys. The camera of the sky-crane is looking down and can follow how the rover is being lowered to the ground. And the rover has a camera looking upwards to see the sky-crane. And a camera looking downward to the ground. That one is important, the spacecraft has a digital map of the surface and uses the camera images with a lot of AI to steer to the right location.

Keep in mind that all these images can only be transmitted back to Earth, after the spacecraft has landed. During the EDL, Mission Control only receives telemetry signals (altitude, speed etc). NASA has published a spectacular video where those messages are combined with the camera images. This is a YouTube video your really should watch (several times!). No wonder that this video has already been viewed more than 14 million times.

This map of Mars gives the location of the NASA missions. Insight and Curiosity are still operational. For a list of all Mars missions, click here.

Perseverance has landed in the Jezero crater. In this picture, taken by the Mars Express orbiter, I have marked the landing location with a cross.

This amazing photo has been taken by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, one day after the landing. During the EDL the heat shield, the parachute and the sky-crane (descent stage) have to be jettisoned away from the rover. When you enlarge the picture above, you can just see the two small craters.

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Perseverance’s mission

Now that Perseverance has landed successfully on the Red Planet, what is it going to do? The missions of Curiosity and Perseverance are basically the same, to determine whether Mars ever was, or is, habitable to microbial life.

When Mars was a young planet, billions of years ago, water was abundant, there were lakes and rivers, similar to young Earth. On Earth life started about 3,5 billion years ago in the form of microbes. Fossil remains of these microbial colonies are called stromatolites. Here is an example, found in Australia, ~ 3.4 billion year old.

Could primitive microbial life have started on Mars in a similar way? Curiosity landed in the Gale crater, created about 3.7 billion year ago by a gigantic meteor impact. The crater became a lake, rivers deposited sediments. Curiosity collected surface material with its robotic arm, pulverised and heated it, before using a variety of analysing tools. Many organic molecules were found, for example thiophenes. which, on Earth at least, are primarily a result of biological processes.

Mars Mission with the Perseverance will continue this research with advanced technology.

Here is an artist impression how the Jezero crater may have looked like, when it was filled with water. Notice the river, top left, flowing into the lake. That river deposited a lot of sediments in the lake and it is near these sediments that Perseverance has landed.

A detailed map of the landing region, with the various geological structures in different colors. The “valley” of the former river and the delta are clearly visible The location of the rover again marked with a cross. The scientists have already made a proposal how the rover will explore the region (yellow line). The mission will take at least one Mars year (687 Earth days). If you want more information why the Jezero crater was chosen, click here.

The robotic arm has three scientific instruments, the PIXL, SHERLOC and WATSON. PIXL stands for Planetary Instrument for X-ray Lithochemistry . SHERLOC is an acronym for Scanning Habitable Environments with Raman & Luminescence for Organics & Chemicals and WATSON represents a Wide Angle Topographic Sensor for Operations and eNgineering . Engineering sense of humor.

PIXL is the main instrument. It points a very narrow X-ray beam at a piece of rock and detects the reflected light (fluorescence ), which is characteristic for the chemical elements in the rock. By analysing this reflected light, PIXL hopes to find biosignatures. Here is an artist impression of PIXL in action.

SHERLOC searches for organics and minerals that have been altered by watery environments and may be signs of past microbial life . Its helper Watson will take close-up images of rock grains and surface textures.

Suppose that Perseverance finds promising locations during its traveling. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if scientists on Earth could study the material at these locations in greater detail?

Well, that is exactly the most ambitious part of the Mars 2020 project, to bring back rock and regolith back to Earth. When you are a follower of my blog, you may remember that Hayabusa2 has brought back material from the asteroid Ryugu, and of course moon rocks have been brought back. But never yet material from a planet.

The robotic arm of Perseverance contains a drill, which can collect core samples. Here it is ready to start drilling.

The core sample (comparable in size with a piece of chalk) is put in a sample tube and taken over to the body of the rover where a few measurements are made. Then it is hermetically sealed to avoid any contamination, and temporally stored in a cache container. The container has space for 43 tubes. Here is an example of a sample tube.

Watch the video to follow the complicated process. Three robotics arms are used!.

How to get these sealed tubes back to Earth? NASA and ESA (the European equivalent will work together in what at first sight looks almost like science fiction. Actually it is still partly fiction at the moment! Here is the plan.

In July 2026 (!) a spacecraft will be launched, consisting of a lander and a rover. In August 2028 it will land near the Perseverance.

Here the spacecraft has landed on the surface of Mars, the rover still has to be deployed.

The only function of the rover is to fetch the sample tubes and bring them back to the lander. In this artist impression it is suggested that the sample tubes are scattered around, but that doesn’t make sense to me. Probably Perseverance will have created a few depots, or even kept all tubes in its own storage. The various descriptions I have found on the Internet, are not clear about this. The whole Return Mission is very much work in progress.

Here the tubes are handed over by the “fetch rover” to the lander, where they are put in the Sample Return Container.

The Sample Return Container might look like this. It will be designed so that the temperature of the samples will be less than 30 degrees Celsius.

The container will be loaded in a rocket, the Mars Ascent Vehicle, which will be launched in spring 2029.

The rocket will bring the container in a low Mars orbit and release it there..

In the meantime In October 2026 the Earth Return Orbiter has been launched, it will arrive at Mars in 2027 and lower its orbit gradually to reach the desired altitude in July 2028. There it will wait to pick up the container.

After the Earth Return Orbiter has caught the container, it will “pack” it in the Sample Return Capsule (SRC) and then go back to Earth, where it will arrive in 2031, ten years from now. It is this SRC that will will be released and finally land on Earth.

Here is a simulation of the procedure.

The primary mission of Mars2020 is to determine if Mars was habitable in the past. But there are also secondary missions. On board of the Perseverance there is one experiment, called MOXIE, that will produce oxygen from the carbon dioxide in the Martian atmosphere. Just a proof of concept experiment, important for future human missions to Mars.

Quite spectacular is that Perseverance is bringing a small helicopter, the Ingenuity. The Mars atmosphere is thin, but the helicopter should be able to fly. A bit similar to a drone, flying a few meter high, and maximum 50 m away. At the moment it is still hanging under Perseverance, planning is to test it after a few months. Here is an animation

At the moment Perseverance is testing al its components. It has made its first test drive, only a few meters. Here is a picture, you can clearly see the tyre tracks.

If there is more news about the Mars2020 mission, I will update this blog or write a new one.

Let me end this blog with an animation created in 1988 (!) , describing a Sample Return Mission to Mars. Fascinating to watch.

Martha Argerich

In 2013 I wrote a blog entitled I have fallen in love, with a lady, about Maria João Pires , a Portuguese pianist. Here is a blog about another pianist, Martha Argerich , seen by many as the greatest pianist of our time. Have I fallen in love with another lady? No, but I got intrigued by her, while I was working on my blog Toccatas. The last few weeks I have listened to numerous YouTube recordings of her concerts and also watched interviews and documentaries about her. In this blog I will concentrate on her musical achievements, but I will intersperse it with some information about her personal life. A very informative article about her was published in 2016 in the Washington Post. Another source of useful information is a blog, The Enigmatic & Extraordinary World of Martha Argerich.

Martha Argerich will be 80 this year and is still going strong. Here she is playing at the Lausitz Festival in Germany, a few months ago. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic there is no audience, no applause, she is just alone in the huge hall. Kind of weird. Click on the caption to watch the recording.

The oldest recordings date back to 1957, when she won two prestigious awards within three weeks, the first prize in the Ferruccio Busoni International Competition in Bolzano and the first prize in the Geneva International Music Competition. She was sixteen year old!

After this success, Deutsche Grammophon wanted to make a gramophone recording with her. Reluctantly she agreed. In 1962 she went to New York, hoping but failing to meet her idol Vladimir Horovitz.

She became depressed, thought about leaving music, got pregnant by a friend and went back to Europe where in 1964 her oldest daughter Lyda was born. It was pianist and pedagogue Stefan Askenase who convinced her to go back to music. In 1965 she won convincingly the first prize at the VII International Chopin Piano Competition in Warsaw.

That was the real start of her international career. Here are two recordings from 1969. Ravel’s piano concerto in G, in Rome and Grieg’s piano concerto in A minor, in Buenos Aires.

In the same year 1969 she married the Swiss conductor Charles Dutoit and in 1970 she had a second child with him, Annie. In 1972 they were interviewed by the Swiss RTS. A candid spontaneous happening, notice how she is almost continuously smoking, even while playing!

Their marriage didn’t last, they divorced in 1973, but remain close friends. And they give concerts together like here in 1975 in Genève where she plays Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1.

The same year her third daughter Stéphanie was born from a relationship with pianist Stephen Kovacevitch. They still perform together, but from that period I could find only one recording, a piece for two pianos composed by Debussy.

In 1980 the X International Chopin Piano Competition was held in Warsaw with her is now a member of the jury (after winning the first prize herself in 1965). One of the contestants was Ivo Pogorelich. He was eliminated in the third round, Martha Argerich considered him a genius and was so upset that she resigned from the jury in protest. The left video is a documentary about this “scandal”.

A Japanese fan has created a website Martha Argerich Recordings . It is an amazing, huge collection and interesting to see who her favourite composers are, and if any popular piano concertos are missing from her repertoire. For example, here is a recording of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no 3, but the even more popular no 2 is missing. By the way, the no 3 concerto has the reputation of being one of the most technically challenging piano concertos.

Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G is clearly one of her favourites, she has played it more than fifty times. Here is a recording with Dutoit as conductor. Nice to see how he hugs her after the concert 🙂

She has played the first Beethoven Concertos, but never recorded no 4 and 5. Watch this amusing discussion between Pires and Argerich.

Here is a recording of Beethoven’s Piano concerto no 2. As an encore she plays Scarlatti’s sonata 141 (Toccata). Watch at 29:25 one of her trademarks: she sits down and immediately starts playing.

Only a few of the many Mozart concertos have been recorded by her . KV 466 is my favourite and if you want to know how my fascination with Maria João Pires started, have a look at this video: Maria Joao Pires expecting to play another concerto.

Chopin wrote two piano concertos, she has played both, the first one in E minor more often. Here are two recordings, with three decades in between them. Notice how she has become an “eminence grise”. In 2010 she was again a jury member of the XVI International Chopin Piano Competition. No scandal this time although many were unhappy that Daniil Trifonov only got a third prize.

The piano concerto no 3 of Prokofiev is another favourite of her, here is a recording from December 2020. Her first recording, according to the Japanese site, was in 1959, 60 years earlier. Because of the Covid pandemic there is no audience, the members of the orchestra are sitting far apart, the string section is wearing face masks. After the concert the orchestra applauds and Martha thanks the concertmaster with an elbow salute.

In 2012 Stephanie Argerich, Martha’s youngest daughter, created a fascinating movie about Martha Argerich and her relationship with her daughters. More than 1.5 hour, really worth watching.



In 2016 Martha Argerich went to New York, reluctantly, to receive a Kennedy Centre Honors award.

Her three daughters were also there. From left to right Anne Dutoit, Lyda Chen, Martha and Stephanie Argerich

And finally here are Maria João Peres and Martha Argerich together, playing the beginning of Grieg’s first Peer Gynt suite.

With all the respect I have for Martha Argerich, Maria João Pires is still my favourite 😉 .

Toccatas

A few days ago I came across a YouTube video where Yuja Wang plays the Toccata in D minor Opus 11 of Prokofiev. A spectacular and virtuoso performance, played by her as an encore after a piano concerto with the orchestra. New for me.

Wiktionary gives this definition of a toccata: A piece of music (usually for a keyboard instrument) designed to emphasise the dexterity of the performer.

On YouTube you can find many recordings of this Toccata. Here are a few: Alexander Malofeev, Tiffany Poon, Martha Argerich , Haochen Zhang, Yeol Eum Son. I like the last one very much, not superfast, but very expressive. As you may know, Alexander Malofeev is a favourite of mine, I wrote a separate blog about him. In this 2019 recording he is 17 year old, can you believe that he already recorded this piece when he was 12 year old 😉 ? Quite amazing, watch here.

Here is the score of the Prokofiev Toccata:

The Wikipedia article Toccata gives more information about the history of toccatas. The form originated in Italy in the 16th century. In the Baroque it became quite popular, here is a well-know toccata by (Domenico) Scarlatti, played by Martha Argerich.

After the Baroque toccatas became less frequent. Schumann wrote a Toccata that is considered to be one of the technically most difficult works in the piano repertoire. Could that be the reason that so many recordings exist? Here is a YouTube search for Schumann’s Toccata, I lost count. Which one to choose for this blog? I decided for George Cziffra, an “old” recording (1960s?), because of his superior ease of playing.

In the 20th century Ravel wrote a toccata as part of his Tombeau de Couperin. It is a favourite encore ( Mariangela Vacatello, Rachel Cheung) . For this blog I chose a recording by 12 year old Ryota Yamazaki . If you want to compare recordings by different pianists (including Ravel himself), then this is a suitable YouTube : 12 Great Pianists in Comparison .

And here is a Toccata written by another French composer, Claude Debussy, as part 3 of his Pour le Piano. I have selected this YouTube because I find it fascinating to watch the ten fingers of the (unknown) pianist moving almost independently 🙂 .

All these toccatas were written for piano (or harpsichord), but there is another keyboard instrument, the organ. The 19th century French composer Widor wrote a number of symphonies for organ and the Toccata from the 5th symphony (1879) has made him famous. Here is a recording by the Dutch organist Gert van Hoef , 19 year old. Notice that not only ten fingers but also two feet are needed to play this toccata 😉 .

When you ask lovers of classical music if they know a Toccata, they will probably mention Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor, BWV 565. After you have heard the opening bars of this famous work for organ, you will never forget it. Click on the score to listen to the first three bars.

Looking for a suitable YouTube video, I came back again to Gert van Hoef. Not only does he play very well, but it is also interesting to see how he has helpers to change the organ stops, when necessary. Team work. The Toccata takes the first three minutes, at 3:22 the Fugue starts.

Wikipedia writes about “the most famous organ work in existence”, that in its rise to fame it was helped by various arrangements, including bombastic piano settings (Busoni) , versions for full symphonic orchestra (Stokowski) etc.

Not surprisingly there are a few recordings where the Toccata and Fugue are played on accordion. After all you could say that an accordion is a kind of miniature pipe organ. Here is a recording by Sergei Teleshev.

I don’t like the Stokowski transcription for orchestra, but this recording by the United States Marine Band (!) is beautiful and hardly a transcription. You could say that the organ pipes have been replaced by wind instruments 😉

Dust Grabbers

Two years ago I have written a post, Hayabusa2 , about a Japanese spacecraft and a few months later an update, Solar System Explorers, in which I mentioned the American spacecraft Osiris-Rex.

The two spacecraft have in common that they have a similar mission: travel to an asteroid, collect some surface material from it and bring that back to Earth. That’s why I have given this post the frivolous title of Dust Grabbers.

When I wrote the two posts, both spacecraft had arrived at their respective destinations, but had not yet collected asteroid material. Now they have, so it is time for an update.

First about Hayabusa2. Here are asteroid Ryugu and the Hayabusa2 spacecraft.

After reaching Ryugu, Hayabusa2 had already successfully dropped two Minerva rovers and the Mascot lander on the surface of the asteroid (see my first report). The surface of the asteroid was much rougher than expected, here is a picture taken by one of the Minerva’s.

For the touchdown, Hayabusa2 needed a flat surface, without boulders or big rocks and it was difficult to find a suitable location. In my first report I have described the touchdown, here is a very informative animation of the process. Two screenshots, left just before the touchdown, right just after. Notice how flat the asteroid surface is in the animation.

The touchdown was originally planned for October 2018 but postponed, to give the scientists time to redesign the touchdown procedure and check if navigation could be made accurate enough to land in a very small region.

On 6 February JAXA (the Japanese equivalent of NASA) published an extensive pdf-file for the press, Asteroid explorer, Hayabusa2,reporter briefing with a detailed description of the redesigned touchdown. A location had been selected and a target marker (TM) had been dropped near the chosen location. A TM is a small (10 cm) ball of reflecting material, you can see it in the animation screenshots above, left in the foreground.

The actual touchdown finally took place on 22 February 2019. One day earlier Hayabusa2 had already descended slowly from its home position (HP) at 20 km altitude to an altitude of 45 m. Here is a time diagram of the touchdown phase. Notice that between 7:07 and 7:50 JST time, there is no communication between the spacecraft and mission control.

Also keep in mind that the touchdown is an autonomous process, because it takes 15 minutes for a signal from Earth to reach the spacecraft. All steps have been programmed by the scientists and engineers.

Try to imagine the tension in Mission Control during this “blackout” period. And the explosion of joy when the first signals from the spacecraft showed that it was still alive.

At first this is the only thing they know, that Hayabusa2 is still alive. Only later images and data were coming in. A small video camera was mounted next to the collecting horn and recorded the touchdown. Have a look at the video Here are two screenshots, before and after touchdown. I have indicated the position of the target marker, it is the white stip inside the blue circles. Also notice the surprising amount of rubble whirled up after the touchdown, mostly caused by the thrusters firing.

Originally a second touchdown was planned at a different location, but this was cancelled because of the rugged surface of Ryugu. Instead the scientists concentrated on the most ambitious part of the program. The first touchdown had collected some surface material of the asteroid. Technically called regolith . This material has the same age as the asteroid itself, but has been exposed during millions of years to solar wind and radiation.

Of course it would be very interesting to collect some asteroid material from BELOW the surface. Here is the ingenuous plan developed by the Japanese scientists:

  • shoot a projectile to Ryugu to create an artificial crater.
  • touchdown later in the crater to collect some newly exposed material.

And that’s what they did! I have described the working of the so-called SCI (Small Carry-on Impactor) in my first post. Basically it is a copper projectile (2 kg) that hits the surface of Ryugu with a speed of 2 km/s, creating a crater of several meters diameter. Here is a diagram of the operation. Lots of details, I will point out a few. The operation took place on 5 April 2019.

Hayabusa2 descends from HP to an altitude of 500 m and releases the SCI with a downward speed of 20 cm/s. Here you see a time-lapse of the deployment. It takes about 40 minutes for the SCI to reach the surface and detonate. The detonation will cause a lot of debris, so Hayabusa2 must take shelter and does that by moving horizontally away and then down into the “shadow” of Ryugu.

Before disappearing below Ryugu’s horizon Hayabusa2 deployed a camera (DCAM3) to take pictures of the explosion. Here are some images. Not that spectacular for a layman, but apparently the scientists were able to draw conclusions from the vague plumes of debris that are visible.

Because of Ryugu’s weak gravitation it takes days before the debris of the explosion settles down. Notice times and distances in the diagram, Hayabusa2 moves away horizontally for about 100 km before “climbing up” again and finally reaches HP more than 10(!) days after the deployment of the SCI.

After the successful creation of an artifical crater, Hayabusa2 descended a few times above the crater to explore the new situation. Was it feasible to touchdown in or near the crater to collect material, exposed by the explosion, without jeopardizing the success of the first touchdown? On 8 July Jaxa published a very readable report discussing the pros and cons of a second touchdown: To go or not to go . It was decided to go and have a touchdown in the region C01-Cb, not really inside the crater but on the rim. Here are two images to show the touchdown area. The left image shows the artifical crater at the bottom right, the right image gives details about the size of rocks near the touchdown.

The procedure for the second touchdown was basically the same as for the first one. During one of the descends a target marker was released and on 11 July 2019 the touchdown took place. A sample was collected successfully.

Mission accomplished, time to go home. How to deliver the two samples to Earth? Have another look at the Hayabuss2. I have indicated the Sampler Horn and the SRC, the Sample Return Capsule. In this tiny (40 cm diameter) capsule the two samples have been stored (right diagram) and it is this capsule that will be released when Hayabusa2 arrives back at Earth.

After leaving Ryugu on 13 November 2019,Hayabusa2 l will reach Earth on 6 December 2020, using its ion engines for navigation.

Here is a diagram of the SRC return. The capsule will enter the Earth atmosphere with a speed of 12 km/s, the heat shields will protect the sample container. At 10 km altitude a parachute will be deployed.

The planned landing location is the Woomera desert in Australia, about 450 km north-west of Adelaide. Expected landing 6 December between 2:47-2:57 JST. It will take time to find the capsule, hopefully within one day. Here is a photo of the Woomera desert.

JAXA is maintaining a monumental website about Hayabusa2, updated with the latest news: JAXA Hayabusa2 Project.

After this long report about Hayabusa2, I will be much shorter about the Osiris Rex mission. Here is asteroid Bennu, smaller (~500 meter) than Ryugu (~ 900 meter). Both asteroids are spinning fast (~ 4 and ~ 8 hours respectively) and that might partly explain their similar shape of a “spinning top”. Although the material of these asteroids is about 4.5 billion years old, both were probably formed after a catastrophic collision of parent asteroids, millions of years ago.

The Osiris Rex spacecraft has a similar design as the Hayabusa2, with a SRC csapsule for the collected asteroid material. But there is one big difference, instead of a sampler horn, the Osiris Rex has a robotic arm, which can be unfolded and grab regolith while the spacecraft is hovering above the surface.

This has its advantages. The Hayabusa2 has to touch the surface (through its horn) and therefore has to worry about rocks nearby. The robotic arm is longer (about 3 meter) and more flexible. Another advantage is the way of collecting regolith. The Hayabusa2 fires a tiny bullet inside the horn and catches the regolith that is swirling upwards. That will not be much, the team is hoping for 1 gram (!) of material. Only after the capsule is opened the mass of the samples can be measured.

The TAGSAM robotic arm of Osiris Rex works very differently. As soon as the sampler touches the surface, nitrogen gas is blown through the arm and regolith will be collected, almost like a vacuum cleaner. Here is a nice animation of the process.

The TAGSAM procedure took place on 20 October 2020 and was very successful, it is estimated that about 60 gram was collected. (For physicists: how can they know that now already? By using a clever trick, rotating the spacecraft and unfolded robotic arm before and after collection, a difference in the moment of inertia will be observed)

The spacecraft will leave Bennu next year and will return to Earth on 24 September 2023, deploying the SRC capsule to land in the Utah desert.

These has been close cooperation between JAXA and NASA. They will share a percentage of the collected material with each other.

TRIVIA:

Brian May, the lead guitarist of Queen, is also an astrophysicist and quite interested in the Hayabusa2 project. During a Queen tour in Japan in January 2020, he met a few project people: Meeting Brian May.

Because of the Covid19 pandemic, the Japanese Sample Collection Team had to arrive early in Australia (with special permission) and first go into 14 days compulsory quarantine . Here a team member is standing at the heliport where the search for the capsule will start.