Europlanet Webinars
April 14, 2018

Europlanet Webinars – Your Web-Based Link to Europe’s Planetary Researchers

Ever wanted to hear a first-hand account of what planetary researchers are actually working on and what their research is all about? How about the opportunity to ask them directly and have them answer your questions? Europlanet is offering monthly webinars with topics ranging from current Mars missions, astrobiology, analogue field expeditions to many other aspects of exploring and understanding our Solar System. These online presentations are an authentic and exciting way to experience cutting-edge science and talk to the researchers involved, sometimes directly from their laboratories and field missions.

Whom is it for and how does it work?

We welcome anyone interested in planetology, especially school classes – this is also a chance to interact with the researchers. You simply need to go to the website indicated in the announcement on social media, or this site directly.

Request your favourite topic! Questions?

If you have a topic in planetary sciences you would like to address, drop us an email and maybe we can arrange a webinar with the specialists in exactly that field! Email:

Next webinar

Tuesday, 27 November 2018, 13:00 GMT / 14:00 CET. “Working the Magic of Visual Effects on Raw Space Data” with Matt Brealey, a freelancer who is using tools and techniques from the Visual Effects Industry to process raw space data.

Previous webinars

October 2018: “BepiColombo Mission to Mercury” with Indhu Varatharajan, PhD Research Fellow at German Aerospace Center (DLR).
September 2018: “Biosphere 2” with Kevin Bonine, Biosphere 2’s Director of Education and Outreach.
June 2018: “Hayabusa2 Mission to the Asteroids” with Dr Elizabeth Tasker, JAXA
April 2018: “Exploring Mars on Earth” with Joao Lousada, Austrian Space Forum (OeWF)
March 2018: “Back to the Moon” with James Carpenter, ESA
January 2018: “Creating a hotspot for understanding Venus – the Planetary Emissivity Laboratory” with Dr Jörn Helbert, DLR
December 2017:  “Diamonds – Precious time capsules from the deep Earth” with Dr Janne Koornneef.
November 2017: “Impact cratering – the most important geological process in our Solar System” with Dr Anna Losiak
October 2017: “Chasing the devil – what do dust devils on Earth tell us about Mars?” with Dr Jan Raack, Open University.
September 2017: “Cassini-Huygens and The Lord of the Rings” with Dr Sheila Kanani, Royal Astronomical Society
July 2017: “Inspired by Cosmic Space: Sounds of the Earth’s magnetosphere in electroacoustic music” with Dr. Eleni Chatzicharistou
May 2017: “Saturn Live! Exploration of Saturn’s Icy Moons as Possible Habitats“, with Dr Athena Coustenis, Observatoire de Paris-Meudon
April 2017: “Tales of Geology and Education in Ethiopia“, with Dr Barbara Cavalazzi, University of Bologna
January 2017: “
Astrobiology – the quest for life in the universe“, with Christine Moissl-Eichinger, Medizinische Universität Graz.
October 2016: “
ExoMars – Europe’s journey to Mars” with Jonathan Merrison, Aarhus University
April/May 2016:
Transit of Mercury webinars

October 2018

Tuesday, 30th Oct 2018 at 14:00 CEST: “BepiColombo Mission to Mercury” with Indhu Varatharajan, PhD Research Fellow at German Aerospace Center (DLR).

Mercury is the innermost terrestrial planet. Its formation and evolution are important for understanding the formation of our Solar System. On 20th October 2018, ESA/JAXA’s BepiColombo mission blasted off on a seven year journey to Mercury. The spacecraft’s various instruments include a thermal/mid-infrared imaging spectrometer, the Mercury Radiometer and Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (MERTIS), that will allow new and unique insights into the evolution of one of the least explored terrestrial planets.

The NASA MESSENGER mission, which orbited Mercury between 2011 and 2014, discovered that despite forming so close to the Sun, Mercury is richer in “volatiles” (chemicals that evaporate easily) than previously expected. Theory suggests that sulphur in the interior of Mercury can be brought to the surface in the form of sulphides through volcanic activity as slag deposits in Mercury hollows and pyroclastic deposits. To verify this, researchers need to be able to accurately map the mineraology of Mercury’s surface and compare observations to a comprehensive spectral library of sulphide minerals measured under hot Mercury surface conditions — something that has not been available until recently.

Over the past decade, the Planetary Spectroscopy Laboratory (PSL) at German Aerospace Center (DLR) Berlin has obtained thermal emissivity measurements of analogue materials under controlled and simulated surface conditions of Mercury from 100° to 500°C under vacuum conditions. The resulting spectral library will support measurements from MERTIS, once BepiColombo arrives at Mercury. The spectral library includes measurements from a range of minerals, including major silicates such as olivine, and labradorite, rocks like tektite, and synthetic powdered sulphides such as magnesium sulphide, iron sulphide, titanium sulphide etc.

In this talk, Indhu will explain how she and colleagues at have been using laboratory measurements and machine learning techniques at the PSL to understand the surface mineralogy of Mercury and prepare for analysis of data collected by MERTIS during BepiColombo’s mission.

June 2018

Wed, 27 Jun 2018 at 11:00 CEST: “Europlanet webinar: Biosphere 2″ with Kevin Bonine, Biosphere 2’s Director of Education and Outreach.

How do you send a spacecraft to an asteroid thousands of miles kilometres away and return to Earth with some samples? This month Dr. Elizabeth Tasker is an associate professor and science communicator at the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) joined the Europlanet Webinar series to discuss the Hayabusa2 mission.
Hayabusa2 is a space mission led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to visit an asteroid and return a sample to Earth. The spacecraft launched in 2014 but is now rapidly approaching asteroid Ryugu. Ryugu is a C-type asteroid, meaning that it formed in the early days of the Solar System and has changed very little during that time. This makes the space rock kin to meteorites that rained down on the young Earth, possibly bringing water and the first organics to our planet. Hayabusa2 will arrive at Ryugu at the end of June (!) and will analyse the asteroid remotely, take three samples and drop a lander and three small rovers to the asteroid surface. It is due to return to Earth in 2020. While led by JAXA, there is strong European involvement in the mission, with the lander (MASCOT) being designed and built by the German and French space agencies, the same team that designed the Philae lander on the Rosetta mission.

April 2018

30th April 2018, 12:00 GMT / 14:00 CEST: “Exploring Mars on Earth”, with Joao Lousada, Austrian Space Forum (OeWF)

Mars is one of the most interesting places in our Solar System when it comes to looking for life outside of our planet. In the past, Mars had very similar conditions to those of Earth, with a moderate climate and liquid water, that could have sustained life as we know it. Whether life really developed on Mars and whether it might still exist, is one of the main reasons to explore the red planet. But Mars comes with many challenges that humankind has not faced before and in order to overcome them we need to study them and learn as much as we can about them, here on Earth. The OeWF does exactly that: look for places on Earth that are similar to Mars and test different technologies and experiments that we hope to use on Mars. Joao Lousada is an analog astronaut at the OeWF and he is also the deputy field commander for the last OeWF mission: AMADEE18. He studied aerospace engineering and he is also a flight controller for the international space station, where he works together with international teams to help astronauts living and working in space. In this webinar, Joao and host, Rosa Doran, discuss the work of the OeWF and Joao’s experiences exploring Mars on Earth

March 2018

5th March 2018, 14:00 GMT / 15:00 CET: “Back to the Moon”, with James Carpenter, European Space Agency (ESA)

As Apollo and Luna programmes in the USA and the Soviet Union drew to a close, an era in Solar System exploration came to an end. The Moon remained unvisited for decades and a pervasive idea took hold: that we’d “been there, done that”; that we’d learned that there was to learn, the Moon had given us what it had to offer and that it was time to focus on other things and other destinations. In recent years, however, there has been a renaissance in lunar exploration as new missions from orbit and a fresh look at lunar samples has shown us that we have barely scratched the surface and that the scientific riches of the Moon are yet to be discovered or understood.
It has also become evident that if humans are ever to become a space-faring species, able to live and work in space and harness the full opportunities that it offers, then the Moon is the only place we can begin to learn how to do it. With this in mind, the agencies of the world and the private sector are collectively recognising that returning to the Moon is essential. In this webinar, James Carpenter explores some of the scientific themes to have emerged from the beginnings of a new era of exploration, look forward to what may be coming and discuss the opportunities and approaches that Europe is taking to be a part of what’s coming next.

January 2018

30th January 2018, 14:00 GMT / 15:00 CET: “Creating a hotspot for understanding Venus – the Planetary Emissivity Laboratory” with Dr Jörn Helbert.

Although Venus is a similar size to Earth and sometimes called its twin planet, it’s a very different place. Venus is surrounded by a thick atmosphere of mainly carbon dioxide and clouds of sulphuric acid that make it very difficult to study the planet’s surface. Until recently, it was thought that a lander was needed to analyse the chemical composition of rocks on the ground. But with surface temperatures averaging 462 degrees Celsius – twice as hot as most household ovens – and pressures equivalent to nearly a kilometre’s depth in Earth’s oceans, landing on Venus is a huge challenge. No spacecraft has touched down on the surface since the Soviet Union’s Vega probes in 1985.

In recent years, planetary scientists have taken advantage of “spectral windows” in Venus’s atmosphere that are transparent to certain wavelengths of infrared light. Observations using Venus Express’s Venus Monitoring Camera (VMC) and Visible and Infrared Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS) instruments have revealed chemical variations that can be related to geological features on the surface of Venus.
Because different chemical compounds emit radiation at specific electromagnetic wavelengths, every mineral has a unique “spectral fingerprint” of emission lines. This means that, to interpret their observations and work out which rocks are present, planetary scientists need reference catalogues showing these fingerprints acquired under conditions matching those on the surfaces being studied.

For more than 40 years, planetary scientists have been attempting to create these libraries. Now, Dr Jörn Helbert and colleagues have come up with an effective solution. The Planetary Spectroscopy Laboratory (PSL) at the Deutschen Zentrums für Luft- und Raumfahrt (DLR) is a facility able to carry out routine analysis of Venus analogue materials over the whole range of Venus surface temperatures and at the key wavelengths for the transparent spectral windows in Venus’s atmosphere.

In this webinar Dr Helbert explains the challenges and solutions for simulating Venus and what measurements using the PSL facility will enable scientists to find out about the surface of Earth’s extraordinary twin planet.

December 2017

13th December 2017, 14:00 GMT / 15:00 CET: “Diamonds – Precious time capsules from the deep Earth” with Dr Janne Koornneef.

Diamonds are gemstones made of pure carbon. On Earth, they can form only under the high pressure and temperature conditions deep within the Earth’s mantle. The diamonds that we find on (or near) the surface have been transported from great depths at enormous speeds by explosive magmas. Since their first discovery, geologists have been fascinated by how, why, and when diamonds form. However, answering these questions is difficult because a diamond’s pure carbon composition makes dating diamond itself almost impossible.

Dr Janne Koornneef and colleagues at the Vrije Universteit in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, have recently developed techniques that make it possible to date diamonds by studying mineral ‘inclusions’ trapped within the diamond structure. These techniques allow researchers — for the first time — to determine precisely when and by what process diamonds form. The results have led to great surprises, including that some diamonds can form at a much younger geological age than previously expected.

In this webinar, Dr Koorneef explains what we currently know about diamond formation and the mysteries that geologists still hope to solve about these iconic and beautiful gemstones.

November 2017

28 November 2017, 14:00 GMT / 15:00 CET: “Impact cratering – the most important geological process in our Solar System” with Dr Anna Losiak

Impact cratering is currently the most important geological process in our Solar System and (most probably) on most of exoplanets. It is modifying planetary surfaces by creating gigantic scars on its surface, and it can also induce planetary-scale changes such as formation of our own Moon or changing the direction of Venus rotation. It is known to influence the life on Earth, most famously by killing dinosaurs, but also by fostering life thanks to delivering water and organic material to our planet. Despite the importance of this geological process, we know relatively little about it. It is partially due to the fact that it is a relatively young field in geology – the first crater was accepted as being formed by an asteroid hitting the Earth only in 1960’s. Moreover, because of Earth’s very active surface geology removing signs of such extra-terrestrial encounters, we currently know about only 190 impact structures on Earth – ranging from 13 m in diameter and only 10-year-old Carancas crater in Peru, up to 300 km in diameter and 2,1 Gy old Vredefort crater in the Republic of South Africa. What can we learn by studying impact craters on Earth? And how can we avoid the fate of dinosaurs?

October 2017

31 October 2017, 15:00 CET (14:00 CET): “Chasing the devil – what do dust devils on Earth tell us about Mars?” with Dr Jan Raack, Open University. Dr Raack discusses field campaigns to China and Morocco to investigate dust devils, small whirlwinds common on Earth as well as on Mars. During the webinar, he presents some of the latest scientific results he and his colleague have gained about dust devils’ erosional capacity, their internal structure, and their meteorological properties — and what this tells us about Mars. In addition, he explains what it’s like to take part in a field campaign and how he has made some of the unusual instruments he uses to study dust devils on Earth.

September 2017

13 September 2017, 16:00 CEST (14:00 UTC): Cassini-Huygens and The Lord of the Rings with Dr Sheila Kanani, Royal Astronomical Society. The flagship robotic orbiter, Cassini, and lander, Huygens, have provided us with a wealth of information about Saturn, its moons and its rings. By the time it ‘crashes’ into Saturn in September 2017, Cassini will have been in space for almost 20 years. Join Sheila in celebrating the incredible spacecraft’s amazing mission and some of the breath taking discoveries it made, including a hexagonal storm that rages at Saturn’s north pole and an icy moon that could harbour life.

July 2017

22nd July 2017, 17:00 EEST (16:00 CEST/14:00 UTC): Inspired by Cosmic Space: Sounds of the Earth’s magnetosphere in electroacoustic music. Public lecture by Dr. Eleni Chatzicharistou at the Moletai Astronomical Observatory.

May 2017

30th May, 11:00 CEST (09:00 UTC): Saturn Live! Exploration of Saturn’s Icy Moons as Possible Habitats, with Dr Athena Coustenis, Observatoire de Paris-Meudon and hosted by Rosa Doran of NUCLIO. Athena discusses the exploration of Saturn’s icy moons as possible habitats and European involvement in the Cassini mission.

April 2017

25 April, 15:00 CEST (13:00 UTC): Tales of Geology and Education in Ethiopia, with Dr Barbara Cavalazzi from the Department of Biological, Geological and EnvironmentalSciences at the University of Bologna and hosted by Rosa Doran of NUCLIO. Barbara discusses the unique geological aspect of Ethiopia and the country’s education system, as well as  the outreach programmes that she has developed in Ethiopia.

The special webinar is a part of ‘Global Astronomy Month’ 2017 and organised by NUCLIO with a focus on science teachers and educators.

January 2017

11 January 2017, 14:00 CET: Astrobiology – the quest for life in the universe. With Christine Moissl-Eichinger, Medizinische Universität Graz. Mutating microbes on the space station? Is there life hundreds of meters below the surface of our planet? Christine Moissl-Eichinger is studying the genome of microbial life forms under extreme conditions: what makes them survive under harsh conditions deadly to any human and why could that be relevant to the search for life in our Solar System?

October 2016

20 October 2016: ExoMars – Europe’s journey to Mars, with Jonathan Merrison/Aarhus Univsreiyt, Denmark – recreating Mars in the laboratory in preparation for the ExoMars mission.

Transit of Mercury webinars

16 May 2016: Europlanet Mercury Transit Hangout: Part 3, with David Rothery (Open University), Remco Timmermans (ISU)

19 April 2016: Europlanet Mercury Transit Hangout: Part 2, with David Rothery (Open University), Valentina Galluzzi (INAF), Johannes Benkhoff (ESA) and Jane MacArthur (University of Leicester)

14 April 2016: Europlanet Mercury Transit Live Hangout: Part 1, with Oana Sandu (European Southern Observatory), Remco Timmermans (International Space University), Gabriele Cremonese (INAF-OAPD)  and David Rothery (Open University)