Using Virtual and Augmented Reality in Planetary Imaging and Mapping

Using Virtual and Augmented Reality in Planetary Imaging and Mapping

Being a planetary scientist is not easy. Huge amounts of data are acquired by a wide range of instruments onboard spacecrafts and rovers, and still you can’t directly explore the places you are studying and experience real sizes and distances.

Fortunately, in recent years, Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) capabilities have improved greatly, providing scientists with new ways and means to visualise their data. An example of this is provided by the work of Stéphane Le Mouélic (Laboratoire de Planétologie et Géodynamique of Nantes, France) and his colleagues presented at EPSC2020.

The aim of our study is to allow the user to fly over or walk on planetary surfaces using VR techniques,” says Stéphane. “The instruments provide high resolution imagery (up to 25 cm/pixel and 40 cm/pixel from orbit on Mars and the Moon), imaging spectroscopy (the analysis of the reflected light at different colours, which gives insights into the composition of the surface), and altimetry using either LIDAR or stereoscopic techniques. Onboard rovers and cameras observing the landscape elements from different angles also allow the 3D reconstruction of local geological features of interest using advanced photogrammetric techniques. Our job is to investigate how this orbital and in situ imagery can be merged into virtual environments.

Using a VR headset to explore an immersive scene or to manipulate a 3D rendition of a geological outcrop, scientists can have a better understanding of its configuration and evolution – a story often related to the processes of formation (sedimentary or volcanic origin for example). It also allows a better understanding of the real sizes and distances (something difficult to evaluate in desert terrain with no human artifacts to provide a reference) and, overall, it allows the exploration of inaccessible remote places.

VR models can be rendered by different means, from web-based platforms for simple visualisations to game engines for more sophisticated analysis. Geological measurement tools such as a compass, telemeter, clinometer can be reproduced in VR to quantitatively investigate geological landforms.

The project is supported through PlanMap, a Horizon 2020 European project with a consortium of partners from Italy, France, Germany and UK. PlanMap is focused on geological mapping and 3D geo-modelling in the Solar System and produces a wide variety of cartographic products for Mercury, the Moon and Mars. The Laboratory of Planetology and Geodynamics in France, who contributes to this research project, is involved in many space missions on various planetary bodies (Mercury, Mars, Titan, icy satellites…) and has been carrying out several VR projects since 2013. Together with VR2Planets, a startup focusing on VR applications for geosciences and education, they worked within PlanMap to develop geological measurements tools for the Kimberley area on Mars and provide virtual rendering for geological mapping purposes.

For more information about the work, you can have a look at Stéphane’s poster presentation, Using Virtual and Augmented Reality in Planetary Imaging and Mapping – a Case Study, during EPSC2020 (https://meetingorganizer.copernicus.org/EPSC2020/EPSC2020-589.html), or visit the official website of the project: http://Planmap.eu

The immersion offered by Virtual Reality allows visualizing and manipulating various cartographic products; it offers a new potential for “geologic field trips” on planetary surfaces. Credits: LPG/CNRS/PlanMap/VR2Planets

Adriana Postiglione, EPSC 2020 Press Officer

If Van Gogh lived on Mars

If Van Gogh lived on Mars

Brush strokes quivering with fever and emotion… Points of yellow light that barely breathe in the dark blue of ​​the sky… The line of the horizon is imperceptibly drawn… Vincent Van Gogh has just put down his brush, still looking doubtfully at his Starry Night. But, not on the Earth. He’s on Mars.

What would the painter have seen if he had been on the Red Planet? What feeling would it inspire in him? These are the questions that George Cann, a PhD candidate at University College London and co-founder of Oxia Palus, an AI art-startup, has tried to answer with his work presented at EPSC2020.

In his work, George applies a new technique in machine learning, called style transfer, to emulate what the Dutch painter might have painted had the artist visited Mars.

I think living with art that you can relate to is important, but for planetary scientists that’s tricky. Not many artists have gone into space and even fewer have gone to Mars,” says George. “Our aim is thus to try to explore a possible way, making people excited about the future and highlighting the incredible achievements of the planetary science community in exploring Mars”.

And the results are amazing, as demonstrated by the piece “A Martian eclipse, Phobos transits the Sun at sunset” representing the famous image captured by NASA Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity in a style that seems to keep the spirit of Van Gogh’s masterpieces intact.

Will these AI art techniques replace artists in the future? George doesn’t think they will anytime soon: “They’re tools that act as an extension of an artist. They’re certainly not perfect in replicating artistic style.”

For more information about the work, you can have a look at George’s talk, Transfer of style from an ensemble of van Gogh paintings to Martian landscape imagery via deep convolutional neural networks, during the EPSC2020 session ODAA4 on Thursday 1st October, or download all of the featured work at: https://www.oxia-palus.com/.

On the left: “A Martian eclipse, Phobos transits the Sun at sunset”, created using style transfer starting from the famous photo of the Martian sunset captured by NASA Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity (on the right).

Adriana Postiglione, EPSC 2020 Press Officer

Raising awareness of the effects of light pollution

Raising awareness of the effects of light pollution

Among the various forms of pollution, light pollution is one of the least known but still has a major impact on our environment. The excessive presence of artificial light in the night environment affects animals and plants, influencing their growth, interactions and threating the balance of the entire ecosystem. It also prevents astronomers from observing a clear starry sky. And, of course, it represents a waste of energy.

To raise awareness of light pollution, particularly with the next generation, a team of researchers from the NUCLIO Institute (Núcleo Interativo de Astronomia, Portugal) and the EPFL Istitute (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland) has created a web simulator to demonstrate the impact of artificial light. The software, developed in the framework of the Dark Skies Rangers project, was presented by Dr Juan Carlos Farah of EPFL at the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 in Geneva last month.

We want to raise awareness of the importance of using efficient illuminating systems and preserving the night sky and so have created this resource for education and outreach.” said Dr Gomes.

The Light Pollution Simulator depicts a nocturnal countryside scene, initially with a starry sky unaffected by light pollution.


A screenshot of the Light Pollution Simulator: the default screen. Credit: Dr. Gomes

When the user clicks the center of the screen, they add a lamp post to the scene, affecting the visibility of the stars in the night sky. If multiple lamp posts are added, the effect is compounded.

A screenshot of the Light Pollution Simulator: the scene after adding three lamps. The negative impact of lights is clear.

The lamps can also be lowered or covered with a shield. Users can test how the height of the lamps and the type of shielding can make a differenct to the visibility of the starry sky. The Moon phases can also be simulated and compared to artificial lights.

As well as visual effects, the simulator shows the wider impacts on the environoment and ecosystem. If it is dark enough, the user can hear crickets chirping and owls hooting; if the scene is too illuminated then the user will hear birds singing, as if it were dawn.

A screenshot of the Light Pollution Simulator: the same scene after adding a shield to the lamps. The slight decrease of the negative impact of the lights in the night sky is noticeable.

In addition to raising awareness of the issue of light pollution for the observation of the sky and for the overall natural environment, we would also like to draw attention to the waste of energy and the use of intelligent systems of lighting,” said Dr Gomes. “For this reason, we are planning to implement several add-ons in the near future, such as a cost estimator and some mini-games.”

Try out the light pollution simulator.

‘Snow-cannon’ Enceladus shines up Saturn’s super-reflector moons

‘Snow-cannon’ Enceladus shines up Saturn’s super-reflector moons

Radar observations of Saturn’s moons, Mimas, Enceladus and Tethys, show that Enceladus is acting as a ‘snow-cannon’, coating itself and its neighbours with fresh water-ice particles to make them dazzlingly reflective. The extreme radar brightness also points to the presence of ‘boomerang’ structures beneath the surface that boost the moons’ efficiency in returning the microwave signals to the spacecraft. The results will be presented at the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 in Geneva by Dr Alice Le Gall.

Dr Le Gall and a team of researchers from France and the US have analysed 60 radar observations of Saturn’s inner moons, drawing from the full database of observations taken by the Cassini mission between 2004 and 2017. They found that previous reporting on these observations had underestimated the radar brightness by a factor of two. 

Unprotected by any atmospheres, Saturn’s inner moons are bombarded by grains of various origins which alter their surface composition and texture. Cassini radar observations can help assess these effects by giving insights into the purity of the satellites’ water ice. 

The extreme radar brightness is most likely related to the geysers that pump water from Enceladus’s internal ocean into the region in which the three moons orbit. Ultra-clean water ice particles fall back onto Enceladus itself and precipitate as snow on the other moons’ surfaces.

Dr Le Gall, of LATMOS-UVSQ, Paris, explained: “The super-bright radar signals that we observe require a snow cover that is at least a few tens of centimetres thick. However, the composition alone cannot explain the extremely bright levels recorded. Radar waves can penetrate transparent ice down to few meters and therefore have more opportunities to bounce off buried structures. The sub-surfaces of Saturn’s inner moons must contain highly efficient retro-reflectors that preferentially backscatter radar waves towards their source.”

The nature of these scattering structures remains a mystery. Observations of Enceladus have shown a variety of surface and subsurface features, including ice-blocks, pinnacles, and dense collections of fractures in the surface caused by thermal stress or impacts. However, it has not been demonstrated that these would cause the extreme radar brightness observed at the moons. 

More exotic structures, such as blade-like features called penitentes or bowl-shaped depressions in the snow known as sun cups, would provide the required reflective efficiency. However, it’s not clear that there is enough solar energy to sublimate the ice and form such structures.

Dr Le Gall and colleagues have now developed a series of models to test whether specific shapes are acting as effective retro-reflectors or whether random scattering events caused by fractures in the surface are combining to enhance the reflection of the signal back towards the spacecraft.

“So far, we don’t have a definitive answer,” said Dr Le Gall. “However, understanding these radar measurements better will give us a clearer picture of the evolution of these moons and their interaction with Saturn’s unique ring environment. This work could also be useful for future missions to land on the moons.”

Further information

Saturn’s inner moons: why are they so radar-bright? Alice Le Gall, Richard West, Léa Bonnefoy, Valérie Ciarletti, Syphax Rahmouni, and Yann Hervé. EPSC-DPS 2019

https://meetingorganizer.copernicus.org/EPSC-DPS2019/EPSC-DPS2019-454-2.pdf

Images

Mosaic of the surface of Enceladus captured by Cassini on 9th October 2008 from an altitude of 25 kilometres. Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Saturn’s moon, Mimas showing dark regions below bright crater walls and streaks on some of the walls. NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Mosaic view of Saturn’s moon Tethys showing Odysseus crater. NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Boulder-strewn surface of Enceladus in context of a wide-angle camera image. Both images were acquired at an altitude of approximately 208 kilometers by the Cassini mission. NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
Blade-like features called penitentes, here observed on the surface of Pluto, would provide the required reflective efficiency for the radar brightness seen at Mimas, Tethys and Enceladus. However, it’s not clear that there is enough solar energy to sublimate the ice and form such structures. Credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI

Science Contact

Alice Le Gall
LATMOS- UVSQ (Université Paris-Saclay)
Paris
France
alice.legall@latmos.ipsl.fr 

Media contact

Anita Heward
EPSC Press Officer
+44 7756 034243
epsc-dps-press@europlanet-society.org

Livia Giacomini
EPSC Press Officer
epsc-dps-press@europlanet-society.org

Adriana Postiglione
EPSC Press Officer
epsc-dps-press@europlanet-society.org 

Shantanu Naidu
DPS Press Officer
dpspress@aas.org 

Notes for Editors

EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019

The 2019 Joint Meeting (www.epsc-dps2019.eu) of the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) of the Europlanet Society and the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) will take place at the Centre International de Conférences de Genève (CICG), Geneva, Switzerland, from Sunday 15 to Friday 20 September 2019. More than 1950 abstracts have been submitted and over 1500 planetary scientists from Europe, the US and around the world are expected to attend the meeting, making it one of the largest gatherings of planetary scientists held in Europe to date.

The EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 will be the third time that EPSC and the DPS Annual Meeting have been held together.

Follow: @europlanetmedia #EPSCDPS2019

Europlanet

The Europlanet Society, launched in September 2018, is an organization for individual and corporate members to promote the advancement of planetary science and related fields in Europe. The Society provides Europe’s planetary science community with a platform to exchange ideas and personnel, share research tools, data and facilities, define key science goals for the future, and engage stakeholders, policy makers and European citizens with planetary science. The Europlanet Society is the parent organisation of the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC).

Europlanet Society website: www.europlanet-society.org

EPSC-DPSC 2019 Joint Meeting 2019 website: www.epsc-dps2019.eu

DPS

The Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS), founded in 1968, is the largest special-interest Division of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). Members of the DPS study the bodies of our own solar system, from planets and moons to comets and asteroids, and all other solar-system objects and processes. With the discovery that planets exist around other stars, the DPS has expanded its scope to include the study of extrasolar planetary systems as well.

The AAS, established in 1899, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. The membership (approx. 7,500) also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising contemporary astronomy. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe, which it achieves through publishing, meeting organization, education and outreach, and training and professional development.


Is huge volcano on Jupiter’s moon Io about to erupt this month?

Is huge volcano on Jupiter’s moon Io about to erupt this month?

Volcanic eruptions are difficult to predict, but observations have shown the largest and most powerful volcano on Io, a large moon of Jupiter, has been erupting on a relatively regular schedule.

The volcano Loki is expected to erupt in mid-September, 2019, according to a poster by Planetary Science Institute Senior Scientist Julie Rathbun presented today at the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 in Geneva.

“Loki is the largest and most powerful volcano on Io, so bright in the infrared that we can detect it using telescopes on the Earth,” Rathbun said. Based on more than 20 years of observations, Loki undergoes periodic brightenings when it erupts on a relatively regular schedule. In 2002, Rathbun published a paper showing that the schedule had been approximately every 540 days during the 1990s. It currently appears to be approximately every 475 days. 

“If this behavior remains the same, Loki should erupt in September 2019, around the same time as the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019. We correctly predicted that the last eruption would occur in May of 2018,” said Rathbun.

“Volcanoes are so difficult to predict because they are so complicated.  Many things influence volcanic eruptions, including the rate of magma supply, the composition of the magma – particularly the presence of bubbles in the magma, the type of rock the volcano sits in, the fracture state of the rock, and many other issues,” Rathbun said. 

“We think that Loki could be predictable because it is so large. Because of its size, basic physics are likely to dominate when it erupts, so the small complications that affect smaller volcanoes are likely to not affect Loki as much,” Rathbun said. “However, you have to be careful because Loki is named after a trickster god and the volcano has not been known to behave itself.  In the early 2000s, once the 540 day pattern was detected, Loki’s behavior changed and did not exhibit periodic behavior again until about 2013.”

Rathbun’s research was funded by NASA New Frontiers Data Analysis and Solar System Observation programs and a National Science Foundation grant.

“Io’s Loki volcano: An explanation of its tricky behaviour and prediction for the next eruption. Julie A. Rathbun, Christian Tate, Paul Corlies, Alexander Hayes, and John R. Spencer, EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019, 17 September 2019.

https://meetingorganizer.copernicus.org/EPSC-DPS2019/EPSC-DPS2019-769-1.pdf

 “Loki, Io: A periodic volcano”, J. Rathbun, Geophysical Research Letters 29(10), May 2002.

Images

This picture from Voyager 1 shows the volcano Loki on Jupiter’s moon Io. When this picture was taken, the main eruptive activity came from the lower left of the dark linear feature (perhaps a rift) in the center. Below is the “lava lake,” a U-shaped dark area about 200 kilometers across.
https://www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Loki.png

Science contact

Julie Rathbun
Planetary Science Institute
rathbun@psi.edu

Media contact

Anita Heward
EPSC Press Officer
+44 7756 034243
epsc-dps-press@europlanet-society.org

Livia Giacomini
EPSC Press Officer
epsc-dps-press@europlanet-society.org

Adriana Postiglione
EPSC Press Officer
epsc-dps-press@europlanet-society.org 

Alan Fischer
Planetary Science Institute
fischer@psi.edu

Notes for Editors

EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019

The 2019 Joint Meeting (www.epsc-dps2019.eu) of the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) of the Europlanet Society and the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) will take place at the Centre International de Conférences de Genève (CICG), Geneva, Switzerland, from Sunday 15 to Friday 20 September 2019. More than 1950 abstracts have been submitted and over 1500 planetary scientists from Europe, the US and around the world are expected to attend the meeting, making it one of the largest gatherings of planetary scientists held in Europe to date.

The EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 will be the third time that EPSC and the DPS Annual Meeting have been held together.

Follow: @europlanetmedia #EPSCDPS2019

Europlanet

The Europlanet Society, launched in September 2018, is an organization for individual and corporate members to promote the advancement of planetary science and related fields in Europe. The Society provides Europe’s planetary science community with a platform to exchange ideas and personnel, share research tools, data and facilities, define key science goals for the future, and engage stakeholders, policy makers and European citizens with planetary science. The Europlanet Society is the parent organisation of the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC).

Europlanet Society website: www.europlanet-society.org

EPSC-DPSC 2019 Joint Meeting 2019 website: www.epsc-dps2019.eu

DPS

The Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS), founded in 1968, is the largest special-interest Division of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). Members of the DPS study the bodies of our own solar system, from planets and moons to comets and asteroids, and all other solar-system objects and processes. With the discovery that planets exist around other stars, the DPS has expanded its scope to include the study of extrasolar planetary systems as well.

The AAS, established in 1899, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. The membership (approx. 7,500) also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising contemporary astronomy. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe, which it achieves through publishing, meeting organization, education and outreach, and training and professional development.

Age-old debate on Saturn’s rings reignited

Age-old debate on Saturn’s rings reignited

A team of researchers has reignited the debate about the age of Saturn’s rings with a study that dates the rings as most likely to have formed early in the Solar System. 

In a paper published today in Nature Astronomy and presented at the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 in Geneva, the authors suggest that processes that preferentially eject dusty and organic material out of Saturn’s rings could make the rings look much younger than they actually are.

Cassini’s dive through the rings during the mission’s Grand Finale in 2017 provided data that was interpreted as evidence that Saturn’s rings formed just a few tens of millions of years ago, around the time that dinosaurs walked the Earth. Gravity measurements taken during the dive gave a more accurate estimate of the mass of the rings, which are made up of more than 95% water ice and less than 5% rocks, organic materials and metals. The mass estimate was then used to work out how long the pristine ice of the rings would need to be exposed to dust and micrometeorites to reach the level of other ‘pollutants’ that we see today. 

For many, this resolved the mystery of the age of the rings. However, Aurelien Crida, lead author of the new study, believes that the debate is not yet settled.

“We can’t directly measure the age of Saturn’s rings like the rings on a tree-stump, so we have to deduce their age from other properties like mass and chemical composition. Recent studies have made assumptions that the dust flow is constant, the mass of the rings is constant, and that the rings retain all the pollution material that they receive. However, there is still a lot of uncertainty about all these points and, when taken with other results from the Cassini mission, we believe that there is a strong case that the rings are much, much older,” said Dr Crida, of the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur, CNRS.

Crida and colleagues argue that the mass measured during the Cassini mission finale is in extraordinarily good agreement with models of the dynamical evolution of massive rings dating back to the primordial Solar System. 

The rings are made of particles and blocks ranging in size from metres down to micrometres. Viscous interactions between the blocks cause the rings to spread out and carry material away like a conveyor-belt. This leads to mass loss from the innermost edge, where particles fall into the planet, and from the outer edge, where material crosses the outer boundary into a region where moonlets and satellites start to form. 

More massive rings spread more rapidly and lose mass faster. The models show that whatever the initial mass of the rings, there is a tendency for the rings to converge on a mass measured by Cassini after around 4 billion years, matching the timescale of the formation of the Solar System.

“From our present understanding of the viscosity of the rings, the mass measured during the Cassini Grand Finale would be the natural product of several billion years of evolution, which is appealing. Admittedly, nothing forbids the rings from having been formed very recently with this precise mass and having barely evolved since. However, that would be quite a coincidence,” said Dr Crida.

Co-author Hsiang-Wen Hsu was part of a team that announced results in October 2018 from Cassini’s Cosmic Dust Analyzer, which showed 600 kilogrammes of silicate grains fall on Saturn from the rings every second. Other studies using data from the Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer have shown the presence of organic molecules in Saturn’s upper atmosphere that are thought to derive from the rings. 

Dr Hsu, of the Laboratory for Space and Atmospheric Physics at Boulder, Colorado, said: “These results suggest that the rings are ‘cleaning’ themselves of pollutants. The nature of this potential ring-cleaning process is still mysterious. However, our study shows that the exposure age is not necessarily linked to the formation age, thus the rings may appear artificially young.” 

Images

The Saturn’s rings.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/pia14943-full.jpg
An image of Saturn taken by Cassini.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/pia12567-1600.jpg

Further information

Are Saturn’s rings actually young? Aurélien Crida, Sébastien Charnoz, Hsiang-Wen Hsu, and Luke Dones, EPSC-DPS 2019. 

meetingorganizer.copernicus.org/EPSC-DPS2019/EPSC-DPS2019-783-1.pdf

Are Saturn’s rings actually young? Crida, Charnoz, Hsu, Dones, Nature Astronomy, 876, 2019.

www.nature.com/articles/s41550-019-0876-y

Science Contacts

Aurélien Crida
Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur 
Nice, France
Email: crida@oca.eu

Media contact

Marc Fulconis
Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur
Nice, France
marc.fulconis@oca.eu

Anita Heward
EPSC Press Officer
+44 7756 034243
epsc-dps-press@europlanet-society.org

Livia Giacomini
EPSC Press Officer
epsc-dps-press@europlanet-society.org

Adriana Postiglione
EPSC Press Officer
epsc-dps-press@europlanet-society.org 

Notes for Editors

EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019

The 2019 Joint Meeting (www.epsc-dps2019.eu) of the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) of the Europlanet Society and the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) will take place at the Centre International de Conférences de Genève (CICG), Geneva, Switzerland, from Sunday 15 to Friday 20 September 2019. More than 1950 abstracts have been submitted and over 1500 planetary scientists from Europe, the US and around the world are expected to attend the meeting, making it one of the largest gatherings of planetary scientists held in Europe to date.

The EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 will be the third time that EPSC and the DPS Annual Meeting have been held together.

Follow: @europlanetmedia #EPSCDPS2019

Europlanet

The Europlanet Society, launched in September 2018, is an organization for individual and corporate members to promote the advancement of planetary science and related fields in Europe. The Society provides Europe’s planetary science community with a platform to exchange ideas and personnel, share research tools, data and facilities, define key science goals for the future, and engage stakeholders, policy makers and European citizens with planetary science. The Europlanet Society is the parent organisation of the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC).

Europlanet Society website: www.europlanet-society.org

EPSC-DPSC 2019 Joint Meeting 2019 website: www.epsc-dps2019.eu

DPS

The Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS), founded in 1968, is the largest special-interest Division of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). Members of the DPS study the bodies of our own solar system, from planets and moons to comets and asteroids, and all other solar-system objects and processes. With the discovery that planets exist around other stars, the DPS has expanded its scope to include the study of extrasolar planetary systems as well.

The AAS, established in 1899, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. The membership (approx. 7,500) also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising contemporary astronomy. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe, which it achieves through publishing, meeting organization, education and outreach, and training and professional development.

3D models of Mars to aid Rosalind Franklin rover in her quest for ancient life

3D models of Mars to aid Rosalind Franklin rover in her quest for ancient life

Scientists at TU Dortmund University have generated high-accuracy 3D models of terrain within the landing ellipse of the ESA/Roscosmos ExoMars rover, Rosalind Franklin. The Digital Terrain Models (DTMs) have a resolution of about 25 cm per pixel and will help scientists to understand the geography and geological characteristics of the region and to plan the path of the rover around the site.

To increase the accuracy of the models, the team has developed an innovative technique that integrates atmospheric data into the digitally-generated scenes. The models will be presented by Kay Wohlfarth at the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 in Geneva on Monday 16 September.

The DTMs are based on high-resolution imagery of Mars from the HiRISE instrument on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. HiRISE imagery has been widely applied to the classic stereo method of combining two images taken from slightly different angles to create a 3D picture of the landscape. However, conventional stereo techniques have limitations when applied to the featureless, homogeneous regions that characterise many dusty and sandy planetary surfaces, including the rover’s landing site. 

Oxia Planum, the landing site chosen by ESA’s ExoMars Landing Site Selection Working Group for Rosalind Franklin, is comparatively flat to minimise the risk of a hard landing and to ensure accessibility for the rover to carry out its mission. The region contains clay minerals and structures from ancient river beds that may bear hints of past traces of life.

To enhance the DTM, the team from TU Dortmund University has applied a technique called ‘Shape from Shading’ in which the intensity of reflected light in the image is translated into information on surface slopes. This slope data is integrated into the stereo imagery, giving an improved estimate of the 3D surface and achieving the best resolution possible in the reconstructed landscape. 

Kay Wohlfarth explained: “With the technique, even small-scale details such as dune ripples inside craters and rough bedrock can be reproduced.”

Marcel Hess, first author of the study, said: “We have taken special care over the interaction between light and the martian surface. Areas that are tilted towards the Sun appear brighter and areas that are facing away appear darker. Our approach uses a joint reflectance and atmospheric model that incorporates reflection by the surface as well as atmospheric effects that diffuse and scatter light.” 

The Rosalind Franklin ExoMars rover will carry a suite of scientific instruments to analyse rocks and the surface environment at Oxia Planum. To look beneath the surface, it carries a drill that will retrieve samples and deliver them to an onboard laboratory designed to detect biosignatures, as well as instruments to probe the subsurface water content. The mission will launch in the summer of 2020 on a Russian Proton-M launcher and arrive at Mars in March 2021.

ESA ExoMars pages: www.esa.int/exomars

Images

Rendered view of a small region revealing small details. Credit: Credit: TU Dortmund/NASAJPL-Caltech
www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/ROI1.png
Rendered view of a small region revealing small details.
Credit: TU Dortmund/NASAJPL-Caltech
https://www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/ROI2.png

Video

A video of the Digital Elevation Model of the landing site can be found at: https://youtu.be/L0HgyyqbsPg

Scientific Contact

Marcel Hess
Image Analysis Group 
TU Dortmund University
Germany
marcel.hess@tu-dortmund.de

Kay Wohlfarth
Image Analysis Group
TU Dortmund University
Germany
kay.wohlfarth@tu-dortmund.de

Christian Wöhler
Image Analysis Group 
TU Dortmund
Germany
christian.woehler@tu-dortmund.de

Ottaviano Ruesch 
European Space Agency 
Noordwijk 
The Netherlands 
ottaviano.ruesch@esa.int 

Media Contact

Anita Heward
EPSC Press Officer
+44 7756 034243
anita.heward@europlanet-eu.org
epsc-dps-press@europlanet-society.org

Livia Giacomini 
EPSC Press Officer
epsc-dps-press@europlanet-society.org 

Adriana Postiglione 
EPSC Press Officer
epsc-dps-press@europlanet-society.org

Shantanu Naidu
DPS Press Officer
dpspress@aas.org 

During the meeting, the EPSC-DPS Press Office can be contacted on +41 22 791 9617.

Further Information

Europlanet 

The Europlanet Society, launched in September 2018, is an organization for individual and corporate members to promote the advancement of planetary science and related fields in Europe. The Society provides Europe’s planetary science community with a platform to exchange ideas and personnel, share research tools, data and facilities, define key science goals for the future, and engage stakeholders, policy makers and European citizens with planetary science. The Europlanet Society is the parent organisation of the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC).

Europlanet Society website: www.europlanet-society.org

EPSC-DPSC 2019 Joint Meeting 2019 website: www.epsc-dps2019.eu

DPS

The Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS), founded in 1968, is the largest special-interest Division of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). Members of the DPS study the bodies of our own solar system, from planets and moons to comets and asteroids, and all other solar-system objects and processes. With the discovery that planets exist around other stars, the DPS has expanded its scope to include the study of extrasolar planetary systems as well.

The AAS, established in 1899, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. The membership (approx. 7,500) also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising contemporary astronomy. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe, which it achieves through publishing, meeting organization, education and outreach, and training and professional development.

2019 Farinella Prize Awarded to Scott Sheppard and Chad Trujillo

2019 Farinella Prize Awarded to Scott Sheppard and Chad Trujillo

Prof Scott S. Sheppard, an American astronomer working at The Carnegie Institution for Science of Washington, and Prof Chad Trujillo, an American scientist working at Northern Arizona University, have been awarded jointly the 2019 Paolo Farinella Prize for their outstanding collaborative work for the observational characterisation of the Kuiper belt and the Neptune-trojan population. The award ceremony was hosted today at the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland. The ceremony included two lectures by the winners on “Completing the Inventory of the Solar System”.

The annual prize was established in 2010 to honour the memory of the Italian scientist Paolo Farinella (1953-2000) and, each year, it acknowledges an outstanding researcher not older than 47 years (the age of Farinella when he passed away) who has achieved important results in one of Farinella’s fields of work. Each year the Prize focuses on a different research area and in 2019, the ninth edition was devoted to the trans-Neptunian objects, including, among other objects, the Kuiper belt the edge of the Solar System.

Prof Sheppard and Prof Trujillo have discovered a significant number of detached and distant trans-Neptunian objects, unveiling the structure of the distant Kuiper belt and pointing out, for the first time, the directionally-dependent distribution of their orbits. Their work has opened up new hypotheses on the formation and evolution of the Solar System, including that there might be a very distant undiscovered giant planet in our Solar System.

Prof Sheppard received his BA in Physics at Oberlin College, Ohio and his PhD in astronomy at the University of Hawaii. He is currently a Faculty Member at the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington.

Prof Trujillo received his BA in Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and his PhD in astronomy at the University of Hawaii. He currently holds the position of Assistant Professor at the Department of Physics & Astronomy at Northern Arizona University.

Before receiving the Prize, Prof Sheppard commented: “I’m very honored to be awarded the Paolo Farinella Prize in planetary research.  Paolo was an inspiration and it is great his memory lives on with this prize.”     

Prof Trujillo added: “I know that our research is well-known, but there are so many excellent scientists studying the outer Solar System that I was astonished and humbled that the committee chose us to receive this prestigious award.”

About the Paolo Farinella Prize

The Paolo Farinella Prize (http://www.europlanet-eu.org/paolo-farinella-prize) was established to honour the memory and the outstanding figure of Paolo Farinella (1953-2000), an extraordinary scientist and person, in recognition of significant contributions given in the fields of interest of Farinella, which span from planetary sciences to space geodesy, fundamental physics, science popularization, and security in space, weapons control and disarmament. The winner of the prize is selected each year on the basis of his/her overall research results in a chosen field, among candidates with international and interdisciplinary collaborations, not older than 47 years, the age of Farinella when he passed away, at the date of 25 March 2000. The prize was first proposed during the “International Workshop on Paolo Farinella the scientist and the man,” held in Pisa in 2010, supported by the University of Pisa, ISTI/CNR and by IAPS-INAF (Rome). The first “Paolo Farinella Prize” was awarded in 2011 to William Bottke, for his contribution to the field of “physics and dynamics of small solar system bodies.” In 2012 the Prize went to John Chambers, for his contribution to the field of “formation and early evolution of the solar system.” In 2013, to Patrick Michel, for his work in the field of “collisional processes in the solar system,”. In 2014, to David Vokrouhlicky for his contributions to “our understanding of the dynamics and physics of solar system, including how pressure from solar radiation affects the orbits of both asteroids and artificial satellites”, in 2015 to Nicolas Biver for his studies of “the molecular and isotopic composition of cometary volatiles by means of submillimeter and millimeter ground and space observations,” and in 2016 to Dr. Kleomenis Tsiganis for “his studies of the applications of celestial mechanics to the dynamics of planetary systems, including the development of the Nice model”. In 2017, to Simone Marchi, for his contributions to “understanding the complex problems related to the impact history and physical evolution of the inner Solar System, including the Moon”. Finally, in 2018, to Francis Nimmo, for his contributions in our “understanding of the internal structure and evolution of icy bodies in the Solar System and the resulting influence on their surface processes”.

Images

Prof. Scott Sheppard, giving the Farinella Prize Lecture 2019.
Credit: S. Sheppard/Europlanet/ G. Mantovani
https://www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Sheppard-1.jpg
Prof. Chad Trujillo, giving the Farinella Prize Lecture 2019.
Credit: C. Trujillo /Europlanet/ G. Mantovani
www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Trujillo.jpg
Prof. Scott Sheppard, winner of the Farinella Prize 2019. Credit: S. Sheppard
www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Sheppard.jpg
Prof. Chad Trujillo, winner of the Farinella Prize 2019. Credit: C. Trujillo
www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Trujillo.jpeg

Science Contacts

Prof. Scott Sheppard
Department of Terrestrial Magnetism
The Carnegie Institution for Science
5241 Broad Branch Rd. NW
Washington, DC 20015
ssheppard@carnegiescience.edu

Prof Chad Trujillo
Department of Astronomy and Planetary Science
Northern Arizona University
AZ 86011, S San Francisco St,
Flagstaff, Arizona
chad.trujillo@nau.edu

Media Contacts

Anita Heward
EPSC Press Officer
+44 7756 034243
anita.heward@europlanet-eu.org
epsc-dps-press@europlanet-society.org

Livia Giacomini 
EPSC Press Officer
epsc-dps-press@europlanet-society.org 

Adriana Postiglione 
EPSC Press Officer
epsc-dps-press@europlanet-society.org

Shantanu Naidu
DPS Press Officer
dpspress@aas.org 

During the meeting, the EPSC-DPS Press Office can be contacted on +41 22 791 9617.

Further Information

Europlanet 

The Europlanet Society, launched in September 2018, is an organization for individual and corporate members to promote the advancement of planetary science and related fields in Europe. The Society provides Europe’s planetary science community with a platform to exchange ideas and personnel, share research tools, data and facilities, define key science goals for the future, and engage stakeholders, policy makers and European citizens with planetary science. The Europlanet Society is the parent organisation of the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC).

Europlanet Society website: www.europlanet-society.org

EPSC-DPSC 2019 Joint Meeting 2019 website: www.epsc-dps2019.eu

DPS

The Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS), founded in 1968, is the largest special-interest Division of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). Members of the DPS study the bodies of our own solar system, from planets and moons to comets and asteroids, and all other solar-system objects and processes. With the discovery that planets exist around other stars, the DPS has expanded its scope to include the study of extrasolar planetary systems as well.

The AAS, established in 1899, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. The membership (approx. 7,500) also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising contemporary astronomy. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe, which it achieves through publishing, meeting organization, education and outreach, and training and professional development.

North polar dunes on Mars

North polar dunes on Mars

Dunes come in various characteristic shapes on Mars just as on Earth, providing clues about the prevailing wind direction. Monitoring them over time also gives us a natural laboratory to study how dunes evolve, and how sediments in general are transported around the planet.

During winter in the polar regions, a thin layer of carbon dioxide ice covers the surface and then sublimates – turns directly from ice into vapour – with the first light of spring. In the dune fields, this springtime defrosting occurs from the bottom up, trapping gas between the ice and the sand. As the ice cracks, this gas is released violently and carries sand with it, forming the dark patches and streaks observed in this CaSSIS image.

The image also captures ‘barchan’ dunes – the crescent or U-shaped dunes seen in the right of the image – as they join and merge into barchanoid ridges. The curved tips of the barchan dunes point downwind and suggest a dominant wind originating from the east-northeast. The transition from barchan to barchanoid dunes tells us that secondary winds also play a role in shaping the dune field.

Discover more about the image on the ESA website: www.esa.int/spaceinimages/Images/2019/09/North_polar_dunes_on_Mars

Image

The dunes captured by CaSSIS on Mars.
The image was taken on 25 May 2019. and is centred at 74.46ºN/348.3ºE – North is up.
Credits:  ESA/Roscosmos/CaSSIS, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/m01264_Pole_N.png