MM   Fred Beckhusen explained that you helped to code some Python for Events for us. Thank you,

please explain if you could about this project and other projects that you helped Fred with.

RT   There’s not very much I can say about this. It was a few hours to test/debug a script for creating

a database of Opensim events (I think), but it was a few years ago already and, for reasons that will

become clear in the next question, I don’t really know a lot about how it worked.

MM   How has Opensim and more specifically, Outworldz DreamGrid contributed to your projects?

RT    It hasn’t because I’ve never used it. :)

MM   Perhaps you should an Opensim Observatory would be very cool.  What inspired you to become an astronomer, and how did you first get interested in the field?

RT   Mostly Star Trek and pretty pictures of nebulae. I don’t think there was ever time when I wasn’t

at least somewhat interested in it, but by high school I’d settled on astronomy and geology as my two

main interests. When it came to choosing a degree program, astronomy really did win out in no small

part because I thought Star Trek was cool ! 

More specifically, my interest in galaxies didn’t really get going properly until the last year of undergrad

studies. Until then I was probably more interested in planets. But in my final project we used simulations

to study whether galaxies could form without dark matter. This was really interesting to me as

 “ dark matter was something I was a bit skeptical about, and here was a fun way to tackle a big question. It

started to make me realize that galaxies were good subjects for me : they’re complex enough that

there’s a myriad of different approaches you can use to solve problems, but not so complex that they

need the horrendous maths that some other fields require. And observational astronomy has the

particular advantage that there’s all kinds of fun things you can do to visualize the data in different


MM   What is the most exciting discovery you've made using your Arecibo telescope platform in

Steam VR Environments

Please explain what a Steam Workshop is.

RT    Steam Workshop is the community hub for Steam users to upload content, typically mods for

games. The Steam VR Workshop has a similar functionality for VR users, and also enables them to

upload Environments created in the tools provided directly by Steam. In this case the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico, 

shown as it appeared in c.2013.

The most exciting discovery, what a question ! Well the ones I have spent the most time investigating

are eight hydrogen clouds in the Virgo galaxy cluster. These little gas clouds look like they’re rotating but

have no visible stars. One suggestion is that they might be “ dark galaxies ” : clouds of dark matter

containing gas which hasn’t yet formed any stars. The hard part is distinguishing them from gas which

has been removed from other galaxies.

The most dramatic discovery I’ve been involved with is the gas cloud we refer to as “ Keenan’s Ring

after the discoverer. This is close on the sky to the Triangulum Galaxy (M33) , one of the nearest and

most well-studied galaxies in the universe. Keenan’s Ring is huge : about the same size as M33 itself on

the sky, and several times larger than the full Moon. Yet since it’s only visible through a radio telescope,

it wasn’t known about until 2016. And I think that really shows just how much more there is to learn,

when something that large can escape detection for so long in such a well-studied part of the sky.

MM  How does the Arecibo Observatory differ from other observatories around the world?

RT   Arecibo’s sheer size gave it absolutely unrivalled sensitivity. Observations that would take hours

with other telescopes could be done in a few minutes at Arecibo. It also had a unique combination of

features : it wasn’t just used for astronomy, but also for studying Earth’s atmosphere, and as the world’s

most powerful radar facility, it was capable of imaging nearby asteroids and even the moon’s of Saturn.

While no two giant telescopes are alike, nothing else had this versatility.

MM  Can you describe the research you're currently working on, and what you hope to learn from


RT   So, Arecibo collapsed in 2020, but we’ll be using the data for years to come. Right now I’m mainly

involved with two projects from the data. One is a data set of the Leo Group , which is home to this giant

ring of hydrogen that’s unlike almost anything else we know about. Recently we found that the same

region has six little clouds of hydrogen similar to those in Virgo, and we’re trying to see if the same

process that formed the Ring could have formed the clouds.

The second is supervising a Master’s student to look at more data of the Virgo cluster. Our original

survey only covered about 10% of the cluster, so we’ve extended this to approximately double the

coverage at the same sensitivity level. This should hopefully find more dark clouds, but even if it doesn’t,

it should help us constrain their possible formation mechanism. The better the statistics we have on the

clouds (e.g. where they’re found, their masses, their velocity dispersion), the more we have to compare

with different models of how they formed and what they are.  

MM  How do you collaborate with other astronomers and institutions to further your research?

RT   I work at the Astronomical Institute of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague . This is a small

group of researchers and most of us collaborate with each other to at least some extent in group

meetings, journal clubs and seminars and so on. We each have our own projects to work on but usually

discuss them together. We also have connections with the local Charles University. Separately, we all

have our own contacts, for example I have collaborators from Arecibo and Cardiff who I’ll reach out to

when I need a more specialist discussion.

MM   What advancements in technology have made your work as an astronomer easier or more


RT   For me personally the data I mainly use hasn’t changed since I started. However, the huge

uptake in Python users has made a lot of the analysis a great deal faster. When I started I was still using

Fortran (urrgh !), later I learned IDL, but then in the last ten years or do Python has exploded. Nowadays

most of the basic analysis and plotting techniques I need can be quite easily obtained online, so there’s

more time spent looking at data and less time writing dodgy code that gets forgotten about five minutes


That said, upcoming facilities are likely to change things significantly. I’m involved with the ALMA observatory  

which is transforming our understanding of the molecular gas content inside and outside of

galaxies. Though it won’t do the same breadth of research as Arecibo, for studying atomic hydrogen the

Chinese FAST telescope is looking increasingly like a powerful successor to Arecibo. And various other

radio telescopes coming online this decade should allow us to detect gas at much greater distances than

ever before.

MM  How does the Arecibo telescope platform in Steam VR Environments contribute to our

understanding of the universe and our place in it?

RT   There are too many for a complete list. One that stands out to me is that it was used to

measure the rotation speed of Mercury back in 1965. Today this figure is in every astronomy textbook

out there, it’s absolutely basic knowledge that we take for granted. Another was the discovery of the

first exoplanets in 1990, which are still among the smallest known exoplanets. Finally, the discovery of

the first binary pulsar in 1974 was an important test of general relativity, and our best indication of the

existence of gravitational waves until they were directly detected in 2015 with the LIGO interferometer .

MM   How do you approach the challenge of analyzing vast amounts of data collected by the

Arecibo telescope ?

RT   Slowly ! :) The data sets I use are three dimensional maps of various parts of the sky. The ALFA

instrument we use is essentially equivalent to a camera with just 7 pixels, so we make maps by scanning

it across the sky to very slowly build up a larger image. Some of these data sets could take years to reach


Where ALFA is less like a camera and more like an ordinary radio receiver is that as well as 7 pixels, it

also recorded data from about 4000 “channels”. Just like the channel on a normal radio set, each of

these corresponds to a small frequency interval. So the final data product that we end up with is not just

one map of the sky, but 4,096 different maps all of the same area and each at a slightly different

frequency. This is important because the exact frequency the gas is emitting at can tell us about how

fast it’s rotating as well as its distance.

Visualizing these 3D data cubes is a major side-project of mine. I’ve spent a good deal of time writing

Python scripts for Blender to show the data in all its glory. Most astronomy software only shows you one

channel at a time, but by showing them as a true 3D volume, it can be a lot easier and faster to

understand. In particular, I spent a lot of time during the pandemic lockdowns recoding this into a more

modern format. The advantage is that this has made it a lot easier to quickly differentiate between

interesting sources in the data and the noise. Instead of taking months to trawl through a big data set

and catalogue all the possible galaxies there, we can now do it in a few days.

MM   How do you use data collected by the Arecibo Observatory to make new discoveries?

RT   Again slowly ! Finding the possible galaxies is just the start. Once we’ve got their positions, we

check with other data sets (usually optical images) to see if anything is present. We search existing

catalogues to see if this has been detected before or not, and if it has, if our new measurements differ in

any way. Sometimes you can get lucky and find a source which is new and clearly interesting in some

way in its own right, e.g. a previously undetected gas cloud without any optical counterpart. But the bulk

of the process is comparative, seeing how our sample compares with others. Once you combine the

radio data with information from optical studies, you can get literally dozens of parameters about your

source, giving a plethora of things to explore in the data. It helps when you already know something

specific about your target region, so that anything unexpected stands out all the sooner. But it still takes

a lot of work to tease out interesting information hidden in the data.

MM   What do you think is the most important unanswered question in astronomy, and how do you

hope to contribute to finding the answer?

RT   Because galaxies are rotating much more quickly than we expect, we think the bulk of their

mass is dominated by this unseen component we label “dark matter”. We’ve known about this since the

1970s (arguably earlier), and no other explanation seems to work. Countless papers have been written

on the topic but we still have no clue as to what its real nature might be. Is it some new type of hitherto

unsuspected particle ? Some weird combination of known particles ? Some flaw in our theory of gravity? 

Or some other feature of the universe we don’t understand at all ? We just don’t know, despite

decades of research.

Closely related to this is the “missing satellite” problem, which refers to the number of many small

satellite galaxies we should expect to find around larger parent galaxies. Theoretical models, which are

dominated by dark matter, say “lots”, but observations say “not many”. When I first started my PhD I

was naïve enough to think that would be totally a problem I could figure out ! Since then I’ve realised

the scope of the problem is huge. But maybe some of the optically dark clouds we’ve found with Arecibo

can at least contribute, by showing us how different systems rotate in different conditions, to tell us if

we can have dark matter galaxies without stars.

MM   What is your favorite astronomical object to study, and why?

RT   Definitely the Virgo Cluster , if I can count a whole cluster of galaxies as an object. It’s where I

first started my observations. It’s the nearest rich cluster of galaxies to use and everywhere you look in

Virgo there’s something interesting going on.

MM   How does the Arecibo Observatory contribute to the field of astrobiology and the search for

extraterrestrial life?

RT Several different ways. Most famous are the attempts to direct detect or even contact aliens ! In

1974 the telescope transmitted the famous “ Arecibo Message ” in the direction of the globular cluster

M13. In more recent years it was home to the SERENDIP project, which used data collected during

normal science observations to also search for potential alien transmissions. This was a clever way to

allow both SETI and science projects to happily co-exist alongside each other.

Both of these projects are, however, fantastically unlikely to succeed : any aliens capable of receiving

and understanding the Arecibo Message would likely be so advanced as to have already detected us,

while the chances that any alien civilisation is broadcasting on radio frequencies with enough intensity

for us to detect them is also remote at best. A more promising but less glamorous route was to study

astrochemistry, with Arecibo capable of detecting the signatures of organic molecules even in other

galaxies. This doesn’t indicate life directly, but it can at least tell us something about how common the

conditions are that allow chemistry similar to our own.

MM   How do you balance the scientific and technological aspects of your work with the human

elements, such as communication and collaboration?

RT   There isn’t really a need for balance here. Everyone in the field is to a large extent in the same

boat, so our communication and collaboration inherently requires similar scientific and technical

knowledge. If the work requires a technical approach (for example to quantify something) then that’s

what you do. If it needs something else, say a different sort of interpretation, then you have a


That said, it’s easy for meetings to dominate day-to-day activities, and we probably have as many

problems balancing this as in any other job. Do I need for everyone to just shut up and let me get on

with things right now, or would it be better to have a brainstorming session ? There’s no easy answer.

MM   What role does citizen science play in your work, and how do you involve the public in your


RT   Not enough, probably. The projects I work on are with very small teams indeed and everyone

has to manage their own projects as well. To be blunt, nobody has the resources to spare for developing

a citizen science aspect. Instead, we try and keep the public at least informed about our research with

open days, public talks, participation in science events, social media channels etc.

MM  How do you stay up-to-date with the latest advancements and discoveries in astronomy, and

how do you incorporate this information into your work?

RT  In part through talking with colleagues and watching the news, but mainly through arXiv. This is a

pre-print server where the latest papers are posted daily. Pretty much any paper worth reading (and an

awful lot which aren’t) appears here. For myself, I find that blogging my own short summary of anything

that catches my attention is a good way to fix a paper in memory so that I can reference it in my own

paper later, if need be.

MM  What advice do you have for aspiring astronomers, and how can they get involved in the field?

RT  That’s a big question ! I guess the most important part is obvious : study physics. The great thing

about observational astronomy is that it’s probably the least maths-heavy part of physics, but you do

need to speak the language, and if you want to go in for the more theoretical side of things this is even

more important. You need at least a basic understanding of statistics – most astronomy is based around

whole populations of objects. We can’t usually watch our subjects change much over time so we have to

infer what might be going on by looking at as many objects as possible. And also, be aware that the

forefront of research is a messier but far more interesting place than the popular science articles often

make out !

I would also give a note of caution. I love my day job, but the career path isn’t always the easiest. It’s

typical to do two, three, four postdocs all in different locations before finding permanent employment.

Some people thrive on this as an opportunity to travel the world. Others, myself included, prefer to

know where they’re going to be and not have to constantly scramble together job applications every 18

months. From that perspective my advice is definitely don’t be put off from going for that university

course, that PhD, because the physics background will stand you in good stead for many different

careers. Just be aware that making a permanent career out of this can be tough.

MM   What challenges do you face as an astronomer, and how do you overcome them?

RT   In terms of science, the challenge is the fun part. There’s this popular image of science as

hypothesis testing, which I’ve learned is far from the whole story. A lot of astronomy is more purely

explorational. Sure, you can formulate a hypothesis before you look at your data, and maybe sometimes

it will even help you answer your original question. But nine times out of ten, in my experience, it won’t.

Oh, it’ll absolutely tell you something very interesting, but it won’t have anything much to do with what

you were expecting.

A certain bloody-mindedness is also helpful. Applying for grants or telescope time can be a gruelling

process and the competition is high, so be prepared for several rejections before success. It’s a good

idea to look at other people’s successful proposals but also remember that even the best science is

occasionally rejected through sheer bad luck.

 MM   How do you think astronomy will change in the next decade, and what new discoveries do you

hope to make?

RT   If you’d asked me the same question a few years ago I’d have said, “not that much, only more of

the same to be honest”. But over the next decade, from the point of view of my own research (mainly

the effects of gas on galaxy evolution) I think the changes are going to be pretty significant. New

telescopes are going to allow us to detect gas in the much earlier universe, so we’re finally going to be

able to see how the gas content of galaxies has changed over billions of years of the history of the

universe. That’s something people have been anticipating for decades. At the same time, this greater

sensitivity will let us map the gas in much more detail in nearby galaxies, helping us to understand the

connection with star formation more clearly.

The discovery I really hope someone will make is something completely unexpected. Something that

nobody predicted that really challenges our most fundamental models of how the universe works. That

would be really exciting.

MM   What role do you see private observatories like the Arecibo Observatory playing in the future

of astronomy research?

RT   Arecibo’s unfortunate demise means its role is largely at an end, except for the enormous data

archive built up over several decades which will keep us all busy indefinitely. But it was a public

facility, not a private one. Personally I would like to see public institutions like this funded more

reliably. Everyone’s grateful for the funding the Breakthrough project provides to the Green Bank Observatory , but it shouldn’t be necessary. Astronomy shouldn’t be funded on the whim of private

interests primarily concerned with discovering aliens. Governments need to recognize the

importance of this pure research because only governments are well-placed to fund this for its own

sake, rather than the remote chance of detecting intelligent aliens. All that said, anything extra that

the private sector can contribute (like the  Faulkes Telescope Project ) is definitely welcome.

"These little gas clouds look like they’re rotating but have no visible stars."  Dr. Rhys Taylor


Cherry Manga

I am not sure what your first reaction was to seeing the works of Cherry Manga. 

For me, seeing an artist push the norms, to go beyond the limits and push it a little to create the element of “strange” thought provoking art captivated me. 

Cherry’s  art reminds me of Nanomi Cowdroy who creates pen and ink art works that combine her Japanese and European heritage with a modern sensibility. Nanomi is an illustrator but she captures the same “strangeness” which stimulates all those damaged neurons in my brain. Nanami Cowdroy

I find Cherry Manga’s work fascinating and wanted to ask her a few questions, to highlight her work.  Art that lies in the deep recesses of your mind.  And when viewed, it seems to all make perfect sense.






MM -  Is opensim or virtual reality  a source of inspiration, a place for expression, and if both, what are you seeing or feeling that makes you want to express yourself?

CM - Drawing, painting, sculpting clay, were hobbies I used to practice a lot before THE tool arrived in my life. With my first computer, an entire new world appeared, it became immediately the media I felt in love with, I started with the default programs such as Paint and movie maker to experiment new ways to create.

Then, in 2007, I logged in Second Life and wow.....immersion in art, build in 3D, it was a blast, I knew it was the beginning of a long story.

The most inspiring was to learn to use new tools, they gave me opportunities to express ideas I wouldn't be able to visualize without the technique itself, and then creating a little world where one can immerse was a totally new feeling to apprehend art. Opensim was a very important step, I met tech guys, they pushed me to learn further, we had incredible collaborations, it's a perfect place to grow, artistically and also humanely.

Being immersed in art provides strong feelings one can compare to meditation, when I use the oculus headset and I paint in TiltBrush, seeing the drawing reacting to the music I listen, it's like being in a place that only exists in the mind, a dream, a travel, that offers me joy and peace.

MM -  How do you select what to share, and what not to share?

CM -  If I could, I would just share everything, creations, but also knowledge, I don't, because of the lack of time, and also (and I hate it) to pay fees on SL for example, I have to sell some.

MM -  What music do you listen to express your art when you create?

CM -  It's wide...When not very focused on the sounds itself, I like to listen to webradios, such as

SomaFM's Fluid, or my own playlists...But some projects were driven by the music for example, 

La Collection and Childhood were created with Cocorosie's albums, Strange Garden with Sainkho Namtchylak and Heilung... and of course the collaborations with musicians such as MorlitaM for different projects, Christine Webster for the Fest'Avis and most recently with JadeYu Fhang who made the musical background of State of Mind.

MM - When mesh arrived how did that enhance your creations?  Do you prefer working with Mesh vs prims?

CM - Mesh was like any new tool, a joy to discover and explore. I don't make a big difference between prims and mesh, they are both a great way to create, they don't have the same specifications and of course, mesh is useful for organic, round lines, that are

sharper with prims. I'm just waiting for the « mind tool », you think of a shape, it appears !:)

Endometriosis detail

MM -  Do you create the clothing seen on the characters?  I love the skirts you have created. My favorite is the Swan avatar. Please explain how you create the beautiful skirts.

The legs too, like the swan or bird avatar, how were those created?

CM -  Before knowing how to make sculpt and mesh, I used a lot of full perm prefab to include in the creations, the skirt and the Swan's legs were made with this kind of sculpty, the bird was one of the first self-made mesh. Now I do all myself, using opensource resources, such as MB-Lab.

Metamorphosis avatar

MM - Please tell us about the different events where we have seen your art, what has been your favorite exhibit?

CM -  It's impossible to prioritize, each had its emotion, they all are part of a space-time.

Fest'Avi was the biggest adventure, several years of existence, an intense collaboration, it was the most challenging project.

MM -  When you visualize the idea, how then do you proceed to create the character?

CM -  I think of the emotion I want to tell about, searching the good shapes, textures, effects, and I try to be as close as possible, being quite bad with Blender, I find my way avoiding heavy technique by hijacking the tools. Sometimes it's really fast to reach the goal, sometimes it takes many tries and uploads inworld:)

MM -  What have been your favorite reactions to your art?

CM -  The ones that don't flatter the ego, but push me to move on, and trust myself to continue.

MM -  What has been your favorite character to create?

CM - Probably Line of Light avatar, I still wear it, the moving line has something hypnotizing, I use it very often in current works.

MM -  Please describe a RL event that inspired you.

CM -  Every event is part of the story, life is the inspiration in its whole, every joy, pain, everything.

 MM -  What themes do you pursue?

CM -  Human kind, the human condition and Nature are the base of my work. It's mostly my own stories I am building, sometimes it's hard to find out for the viewer, hidden in surreal or abstract, but sometimes it's very obvious and raw. Creating is an outlet, an antidote to neurosis.

MM -  If you could have any super power what would that be and why?

CM -  Teleportation ! You all know why :)

MM -  Please describe what you would love to see in the art world and why?

CM -  The furthest from real constraints. We have the chance to experiment the 3rd dimension, I'd like to see more works freed from gravity, less 2D buildings, the more it's strange, better it is. Some creators are shy to show their depth, and they tend to show only their inner light, but it's the perfect place to push limitations and explore our own complexity.

MM -  Favorite or most inspirational place?

CM -  There are many, but if I have to choose, any installation by Claudia222 Jewell.

MM -  Who is your favorite artist?

CM -  I don't have one, the interest in one artist or another varies over time, the works resonate at the right time. The artistic current that never ceases to move me is surrealism .

Please visit the works of Cherry Manga located at Franco Grid

All photographs in this article were submitted by Cherry Manga.