Spring 2021 is a season of ‘supermoons’, with the Full Moon in April and May coinciding within 10% of the closest lunar orbital distance to Earth. These luminous supermoons, which are about 7% bigger and about 15% brighter than a typical Full Moon, provide a remarkable opportunity for engaging the public.
The supermoon on 26th May will be the closest Full Moon of the year. Facilities from the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) are joining forces to carry out a live event on EduINAF’s social channels. Amateur observers and observatories from the Europlanet Telescope Network are invited to join to make the event even more interesting and to be able to observe the moon from different European skies.
During the Italian streaming, aired on the 26th on EduINAF’s main social channels from 9.30pm to 11pm (CET), INAF astronomers will guide the audience through the live observations of the moon seen by the various observatories involved with images and insights from guests.
Join the SuperLuna Campaign!
If you want to collaborate with the Italian Hub before or during the event please click here and contact us.
Resources for observing the Moon
We have put together a list of resources to help you observe, photograph and find out more about the Moon. Read more.
We hope to hold follow up events for the public during EPSC2021 in September and during International Observe the Moon Night 2021 on 16th October.
Virtual Fireballs Workshop #1 on Fireball Databases and Machine Learning
11 June 2021 @ 1:00 pm – 12 June 2021 @ 7:00 pm UTC+2
In cooperation with Europlanet, a series of four workshops that will bring together different networks of fireballs observers as well as machine learning experts is planned over the next two years. This series aims to culminate into i) the development of a common data format and/or common entry point to the observational data of the different fireballs networks, and ii) machine learning science cases for meteor observations.
The first of these workshops will take place virtually on 11-12 June 2021 and aims towards
introducing and discussing the different fireballs networks, databases and data formats with a strong focus on its technical aspects;
discussing and exploring the possibilities of a common data format and/or a common entry point to all data;
discussing and identifying machine learning science cases for fireball observations.
The workshop will also introduce and discuss Europlanet, its Virtual Observatory for planetary sciences (VESPA; vespa.obspm.fr) and the support it can offer to the fireballs community. Through EPN-TAP services, VESPA currently provides access to more than 50 decentralised databases worldwide, and it might be one option for a common entry point to the different fireballs networks that will be explored over the course of the workshop. In addition, Europlanet also provides support for the development of machine learning science cases, and the fireballs community is invited to discuss potential use cases during the second half of the first meeting. As an outcome, this workshop intends to provide an outline for the next months and to define first tasks towards the overarching meeting goals. The second workshop of the series is intended to be organized in autumn 2021.
Activity Outline: Understand how the chemistry of the Martian soil may affect the habitability of the Red Planet. This involves taking a closer look at how temperature and salinity can affect the chemistry of Mars.
Mars Collection of Educational Resources: Support for Educators
To support educators in using the new Europlanet Mars Collection of teaching resource packs, we are releasing a series of short videos that introduce the collection as a whole and the individual resources.
The video provides support for educators using the Europlanet Mars Collection of Educational Resources. The first resource pack (1. Extremophiles) gives an introduction to life found in extreme environments, exploring the kind of stresses we may find on Mars and how life can adapt to survive these.
Europlanet Educational Resources – The Mars Collection
Europlanet 2024 RI has produced a set of school resources exploring the possibilities of life on the Red Planet. The resources have been produced to be easily translatable in order to facilitate ease of dissemination across Europe and beyond. The resources link areas of the curriculum with research into past and present conditions on Mars and how we can study these conditions via analogue sites here on Earth. The project covers a range of topics, from geoscience and volcanoes, to pH and even mineral deposition viewed through an astrobiological lens.
Italian versions of the resources with video lessons produced by EDU INAF are now available at: Terra chiama Marte.
The first set of resources in the Mars Collection gives an introduction to life found in extreme environments, exploring the kind of stresses we may find on Mars and how life can adapt to survive these.
The following playlist features EPSC2020 scientific oral video presentations involving researchers from The Open University:
Details of the presentations:
EPSC2020-474 | TP18 – Astrobiology Using supervised machine learning methods to improve the selection of analogue sites for studying habitability of the sub-surface ocean of Europa (Alvaro del Moral, Victoria Pearson, Mark Fox-Powell and Karen Olsson-Francis).
EPSC2020-676 | TP14 – Mars Surface and Interior NOAH-H, a deep-learning, terrain classification system for HiRISE: Results for Oxia Planum and Mawrth Vallis (Alexander M. Barrett, Matt Balme, Mark Woods, Spyros Karachalios, Danilo Petrocelli, Elliot Sefton-Nash and Luc Joudrier).
EPSC2020-97 | TP18 – Astrobiology Preservation and Detection of Lipid Biomarkers within Martian Sulfates (Anushree Srivastava, Karen Olsson-Francis, Victoria Pearson, Susanne Schwenzer, Michael Macey, Mario Toubes-Rodrigo, Terry McGenity and Alexandra Pontefract).
EPSC2020-978 | TP16 – European Exploration of Mars: from Mars Express to ExoMars and beyond HiRISE-scale characterization of the Oxia Planum landing site for the Exomars 2022 Mission (Elliot Sefton-Nash, Matt Balme, Cathy Quantin-Nataf, Peter Fawdon, Matthieu Volat, Ernst Hauber, Csilla Orgel, Alessandro Frigeri, Laetitia Le Deit, Ottaviano Ruesch, Solmaz Adeli, Damien Loizeau, Joel Davis, Peter Grindrod, Andrea Nass, Sander de Witte, Fred Calef, Tariq Soliman, Jorge Vago, and the ExoMars Rover Science Operations Working Group (RSOWG) Macro Mapping Team).
Three missions are converging on Mars this week to study the Red Planet from orbit and explore its surface. With the United States, United Arab Emirates and China all sending missions to Mars, we look at how Europe’s planetary research community is contributing to Mars exploration in 2021 and at its plans for the next few years.
It’s a busy time at Mars. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) Space Agency’s first mission to Mars, Hope, performed a successful manoeuvre to enter a capture orbit on 9 February 2021. Once in its final science orbit, Hope will study dynamics in the martian atmosphere on a global scale, giving a more complete understanding of interactions between the atmospheric layers, and answering questions about how oxygen and hydrogen escape into space.
On 10 February, the Chinese Tianwen-1 (‘questioning the heavens’) mission, joined Hope in orbit around Mars. Tianwen-1 will analyse the chemical composition of rock and dust and search for pockets of ice and liquid water and organics. Following three or four months of study of the surface, and a detailed survey of the proposed landing site, Tianwen-1 will release a lander and rover. If all goes to plan, the rover will explore Utopia Planitia, a flat plain within a large impact basin in the northern hemisphere of Mars. The region is covered by extensive sedimentary materials, with features that indicate that ice or water are present.
Tianwen-1 carries 13 instruments, two of which have a small European involvement: The Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie (IRAP), France, has contributed to the calibration of the LIBS spectrometer on the Tianwen-1 rover’s Mars Surface Composition Detector. The Space Research Institute (IWF-Graz) has contributed to the calibration of the magnetometer on the main satellite.
Completing the trio, NASA’s Mars 2020 mission will arrive at Mars on 18 February. Mars 2020 mission will look for signs that there were habitable conditions on Mars in its early geological history, and seek evidence of past microbial life. The Perseverance rover and its helicopter partner, Ingenuity, will explore the terrain of Jezero Crater on Mars, which contains the remains of an ancient, partially-eroded river-delta. Jezero’s rocks date back to around the time that we think that life first arose on Earth. Perseverance will characterise its geological setting and collect a few core samples of the most promising rocks and soils. These will be set aside in a cache for collection and return to Earth by missions later this decade.
Of the seven primary scientific instruments carried by the Perseverance rover, three include significant European contributions: the weather station MEDA (provided by Spain with contributions from Finland), the remote-sensing laser micro-imaging SuperCam (provided by France/Spain) and the ground-penetrating radar RIMFAX (provided by Norway).
Although not part of the flotilla arriving at Mars this year, the ESA/Roscosmos ExoMars mission will set off in the late summer or autumn of 2022 and land in the spring of 2023. The ExoMars Rosalind Franklin Rover is equipped with a drill that will sample the subsurface in places that are most likely to have habitable conditions preserved in ancient rocks.
The first ExoMars mission, the Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO), which arrived at Mars in 2016, carries a suite of instruments to study traces of methane and other atmospheric gases. TGO will also act as a data relay for Perseverance (a service it already provides for the Curiosity and Insight missions) and, later, for the ExoMars Rosalind Franklin rover. ESA’s highly successful first mission to the Red Planet, Mars Express, which has been in orbit since 2003 and is still making important contributions to studies of the martian surface, atmosphere and ionosphere, is also playing a part in monitoring local conditions at Jezero Crater.
Europlanet 2024 RI’s TA2 laboratory facilities also support the exploration and the search for biomarkers on Mars. The Centre for Microbial Life Detection in Graz provides expertise in extracting and sequencing DNA from microbial samples collected in extreme environments on Earth, as well as quantifying bacteria, archaea and fungi, and cultivating specialist microbes (e.g. anaerobes) that survive under these conditions.
Simulations and calibration measurements carried out at the spectroscopy laboratories at DLR and Grenoble will be used to interpret the spectroscopic data obtained by the Tianwen-1 orbiter. The Aarhus Mars Wind Tunnel and Open University’s Mars Chamber also include facilities capable of simulating Martian atmospheric conditions.
Early life on Mars may have been destroyed after the loss of its atmosphere, which provided a shield against harmful ultraviolet radiation. This means that finding evidence for past life may be through indirect means, for example by identifying chemical changes to minerals or specific reactions that are only induced by life. Samples taken from terrestrial analogues and analysed in laboratories can help interpret data from in-situ missions and refine techniques. However, within the limitations of what it is possible to launch into space, it is likely to be difficult for robotic missions operating on the surface of Mars to provide conclusive evidence of whether life has ever existed there.
NASA and ESA are collaborating on a Mars Sample Return campaign involving three missions stages: a sample collection rover (Perseverance); a Mars lander carrying a small ESA-led rover to ‘fetch’ and load the samples into NASA’s ‘Mars Ascent Vehicle’ that will launch them into Mars orbit; and a Mars orbiter to capture the sample container (led by NASA) and fly it the rest of the way to Earth (led by ESA).
The samples collected by Perseverance will contain martian rocks, soil, dust and atmosphere and are expected to be about 15 g of material each and be roughly the size of a stick of chalk. Bringing carefully selected rocks from Mars back to Earth for detailed study will enable much more complex and complete studies using state-of-the-art lab equipment. This will give a better quantitative understanding of whether the returned samples formed in environments where life could have existed and whether they may contain biosignatures
Europlanet 2024 RI Joint Research Activities (JRAs) involving the Natural History Museum, the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, ETH Zurich and the Open University are supporting the development of techniques for non-destructive or minimally invasive characterisation and analysis of precious returned samples.
Europlanet 2024 RI is also offering virtual services to support observations and analysis.
A successful landing depends heavily on site selection and characterisation, tasks that are strongly tied to geologic mapping. Europlanet 2024 RI’s new geological mapping service, GMAP, fosters and supports mapping of the geology of all suitable Solar System bodies. In the case of the Moon and Mars this will include specific geologic and geomorphic mapping of past, proposed and future landing sites.
The virtual observatory for Solar System data, VESPA, hosts several data services from past Mars missions, including Mars-Express (OMEGA, HRSC, SPICAM), CRISM data from Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, a Martian craters database, simulated atmospheric profiles (derived from the Mars Climate Database), Hubble Space Telescope observations, significant data about the magnetosphere, as well as access to the Planetary Science Archive (PSA).
The Planetary Virtual Observatory and Laboratory (PVOL) data service includes nearly 4000 observations of Mars contributed by amateur astronomers, which are used for research purposes by several professional and amateur teams.
Finally, Europlanet is developing educational resources that draw on missions and the latest research in laboratories and field sites to bring Mars into classrooms across Europe. Those students inspired by the missions in 2021 may one day have the opportunity to handle and analyse the samples collected and brought back from Mars by future missions.
First successful observations at the Europlanet Telescope Network
One month after the first projects to observe at the Europlanet Telescope Network were granted in December, the first successful observations took place in January at the Moletai Observatoria in Lithuania.
The project “Reducing the selection effects in asteroid spins, shapes, and thermal parameters” is a long-term project aiming at determining physical parameters like spin, 3D shape, size, and thermal inertia of numerous asteroids that have been omitted by most of the previous studies. Their slow rotation and small amplitudes of brightness variations make them difficult targets for photometric observations, thus creating an observing selection effect.
Through coordinated observations from multiple sites, the project is gradually decreasing bias. This results in detailed spin and shape models based on high-quality photometric datasets of these asteroids observed at various viewing geometries.
Additionally, the models are being scaled in size down to 5% precision by thermophysical modelling with infrared data obtained from space, and fitting the shape models to stellar occultations by asteroids (Marciniak et al. 2018, and 2019: Astronomy Astrophys. 610, A7; and 625, A139). The new photometric observations, as shown in the image, gathered recently at Moletai Observatory, complemented with data from other sites, will result in fully covered lightcurves for five asteroids with rotation periods up to 38 hours, and should soon lead to the determination of spin and shape models of these challenging targets.
While this project already successfully observed its targets, further observations at the Europlanet Telescope Network are soon to come. Additionally, the second Science Advisory Board meeting was already taking place at the end of January to evaluate three more projects that want to exploit the small telescopes network. While the decision on the funding of these proposals will be announced soon, we are in the meantime inviting interested observers to apply with their project to the NA2 Call for Observations at the Europlanet Telescope Network.
Training in Storytelling and Theatre as a Tool for Science Outreach
The Europlanet Society’s Committee Funding Scheme provides awards of €1000-5000 to supports projects that further the aims of the Europlanet Society and actively involve its members. In 2020, the Society supported an application by the Benelux Hub for a project called ‘Planetary Atmospheres Accessible to All’ that would enable researchers to collaborate with performers and storytellers in producing unique augmented lectures that use performing arts techniques to engage public audiences.
This online workshop, aimed at 10 selected BIRA / IASB / Europlanet researchers, has provided the practical tools to become storytellers of science with a special emphasis on addressing a general audience and/or students.
The workshop was divided into three half-day sessions (11, 14, 18 December 2020, 09:00 → 13:00 ).
The first half-day focused on defining and prioritizing the key themes which help to communicate Aeronomy to target audiences, by connecting them to societal issues. A process of collective intelligence and design thinking has been used to facilitate the emergence of key themes that can be integrated in the Augmented Lectures, if they will be produced.
Based on the outcomes, the second session has provided training in the creation of a science outreach story and its delivery (storytelling). We focused on and applied the fundamental ingredients of stories (starting from a simplified Hero’s Journey). Each participant has had the chance to prepare one short story on his/her topic of interest.
During the third half-day session, these stories have been presented to invited artists, and possible collaborations have been explored between art-science pairs to cocreate Augmented Lectures to further enhance the project.
The online workshop by Dr Andrea Brunello and Dr Pierre Echard of Jet Propulsion Theatre (JPT) was supported by the Europlanet Society Benelux Hub.
Organisers: Dr Andrea Brunello (JPT), Dr Ann Carine Vandaele (BIRA-IASB), Dr Arianna Piccialli (BIRA-IASB), Karolien Lefever (Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy), Dr Pierre Echard (JPT)
Europlanet Global Collaboration and Integration Development Strategic Plan Published
Europlanet 2024 RI’s Global Collaboration and Integration Development activities aim to inspire and encourage planetary science and space technology advancement across borders and throughout the spectrum of academia, industry and civil society.
In making its distributed planetary research infrastructure available to more scientists and industrial partners worldwide, Europlanet 2024 RI will facilitate a more integrated and interconnected global planetary science community and stimulate the creation of opportunities with a wide impact on the environment, culture, socio-economic development and prosperity.
By midway though the project, Europlanet 2024 RI’s TA programme will be spread across three continents beyond Europe: Africa (Botswana and Ethiopia), Asia (China and South Korea) and America (Argentina).
In providing access to non-EU facilities and analogue sites and bringing together emerging countries and established spacefaring nations, Europlanet 2024 RI will provide an efficient platform for exchange and collaboration that will strengthen the position of the European planetary science community on the international landscape. The collaborations with Asia developed during the course of Europlanet 2024 RI will provide the basis for a sustainable TA programme in Europe and around the world.
Now, Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure has published a Strategic Plan for Global Collaboration and Integration Development.
The long-term goals at the root of the Strategy are to create the conditions for new scientific partnerships between EU and non-EU countries. Enhancing planetary science links between EU and non-EU countries will underpin growth in the scientific community and the free circulation of ideas. However, economic, political and social commitments within global partnerships will only succeed through sustainable development, equality in the allocation of available resources and the building of trust on both sides.
The strategy has five goals and sets out objectives and outcomes for each:
Europlanet 2024 RI is one year old this week. Despite the pandemic, there has been a great deal of activity and progress over the past twelve months. The project is on track in its work to support the planetary community and provide state-of-the-art access to services and facilities for research in planetary science and related fields.
A core part of the work of a research infrastructure is to provide free, cross-border access for researchers to planetary analogue field sites, simulation and analysis facilities. Two calls for applications for Transnational Access (TA) were issued in Year 1 of the project and, despite Covid-19 restrictions, the first visits have started to take place.
The suite of field sites and laboratories offered by Europlanet 2024 RI now numbers over 40 and has been expanded in Call 2 to include 11 laboratories in South Korea. Call 3 will include further facilities in China and Korea, plus field sites in the Argentinian Andes.
Six of the TA facilities are being upgraded as part of the Europlanet 2024 RI project and the first of these projects has been completed.
In early 2020, an existing ultra-high vacuum chamber (provided by Queen’s University Belfast) was shipped to Debrecen in Hungary and installed at the beamline of Atomki’s 2MV Tandetron accelerator. The chamber has been upgraded with ultraviolet/visible and mass spectroscopy extensions that will optimise it for studying the effects of ion irradiation on a variety of different ice surface analogues. These upgrades will support research to improve our understanding of the physical and chemical processes in the Solar System. The augmented facility was operational in time to be included in the first TA call in May 2020, and the first two visits have already taken place. Find out more about the upgrades to the facility.
SPIDER (Sun-Planet Interactions Digital Environment on Request) is providing access to six services for modelling planetary environments and solar wind interactions through a run on request infrastructure and associated databases. The SPIDER Virtual Access (VA) activity extends the twelve planetary space weather services developed through the previous Europlanet 2020 RI project (2015-2019).
In the first year of Europlanet 2024 RI, the first two SPIDER services have been prototyped and made operational:
A Mercury exosphere run on request service
A planetary plasma instrument background counts database and service.
SPIDER services have also been utilised during the Bepicolombo Venus flyby in October 2020 and will be used again for the first Mercury flyby in 2021.
Simulations of Mercury’s magnetosphere using the operational SPIDER service have been performed, analysed and accepted for peer-reviewed publication in the journal Planetary and Space Science (Cross-comparison of global simulation models applied to Mercury’s dayside magnetosphere, Aizawa et al, 27 January 2021). The SPIDER project and results were presented in a session on planetary space weather at the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2020.
VESPA (Virtual European Solar and Planetary Access) is a network of interoperable data services covering all fields of Solar System Sciences. It is a mature project, developed within previous Europlanet projects and already connects 55 services.
During Year 1 of the Europlanet 2024 RI project, planned workshops to integrate new data services into VESPA have been put on hold due to the pandemic. However, additional services have been published from legacy Horizon 2020 programmes, including Small Bodies Near and Far (SBNAF), and large infrastructures, such as eCallisto, a network of space weather radio observatories.
The Planetary Virtual Observatory and Laboratory (PVOL) service for amateur images has grown by 15% this year and now exceeds 50,000 entries.
The impact of VESPA has been significantly extended through collaborations with data infrastructures and international consortia. Representing VESPA, Europlanet Society has joined the International Planetary Data Alliance (IPDA) alongside national and international space agencies. The VESPA access protocol, EPN-TAP, is in a final validation stage by the IPDA and the International Virtual Observatory Alliance (IVOA).
During the first year of the project, VESPA has set up various communication tools and started the study of new infrastructure elements.
Key milestones include:
The run-on-demand platform, OPUS, developed through the H2020 ESCAPE programme, has now been installed for VESPA. ESA is currently testing applications for the JUICE mission with Callisto flyby sequences.
Test data services are being installed on the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC) through the VESPA-Cloud pilot activity, with support from eduTEAMS/GÉANT and EGI to identify a standard installation procedure on the cloud.
New versions of existing display and analysis tools have been released with extended support for VESPA data services and EPN-TAP.
The SSHADE spectroscopy infrastructure has been enlarged to support multi-angular data and band lists.
GMAP (Geologic MApping of Planetary bodies) integrates partners and outputs from two projects previously funded by the EU through Horizon 2020 (UPWARDS and PLANMAP) to deliver tools and services for geological mapping of any Solar System body. The infrastructure created through GMAP will support future European missions in developing orbital acquisition strategies, rover deployment and traverses, and human exploration programmes.
In Year 1 of the Europlanet 2024 RI project, information and data access components for GMAP service provision have been set up, for both internal and external user communities, and new collaborations have been established around the world.
GMAP Development (Joint Research Activities)
The first step in building a community of GMAP VA mappers has been through a Planetary Mapping Winter School, co-organised by GMAP and PLANMAP. This Winter School was over-subscribed, and the registration was closed two weeks early after 200 participants signed up from around the world. The Winter School took place from 1-5 February 2021, with 130 participating in the live hands-on programme and a further 70 following activities via the OpenPlanetary portal. The programme has included lectures and practical experience in creating planetary geological maps, with instructors including high-profile experts from the planetary mapping community across Europe. Promotion of the event was supported through the Europlanet Society and the Europlanet Early Career (EPEC) network. It is anticipated that many of the participants will form part of the community of planetary geological mappers that will support the development of GMAP.
The Winter School has also put in place an overall architecture and dedicated web-domain for future training schools, which will serve as core events to publicise GMAP activities during the years to come. The school will also be a source of recorded material for the future promotion of GMAP activities.
GMAP development activities have also resulted in Chinese partners successfully obtaining funding through the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST). The funding of 3,160,000 RMB (~400,000 Euros) has been awarded to the ‘Key Technologies and Demonstration of Standardised Planetary Geologic Mapping’ project led by Prof Zhizhong Kang of the China University of Geosciences, Beijing (CUGB), which runs from 1st December 2020 until 30th November 2023.
Machine Learning Solutions for Data Analysis and Exploitation in Planetary Sciences
The Machine Learning activity in Europlanet 2024 RI aims to foster wider use of machine learning technologies in planetary research, and to develop open-source machine learning tools for specific science cases.
At the end of the first year of Europlanet 2024 RI, the Machine Learning activity is progressing work on four science cases. These include:
The automatic identification and classification of interplanetary coronal mass ejections in in-situ solar wind data, with the aim of improving early detection and ultimately forecasting.
The automatic identification of magnetopause/bow shock crossings on Mercury through MESSENGER data, with the aim of improving our understanding of Mercury’s magnetosphere and its dynamics.
The development of a generalised machine learning pipeline for the localisation and characterisation of specific geomorphological features (mounds) that are present on the surface of Mars (science case in collaboration with GMAP).
The application of a deep learning object detection algorithm to detect pit craters on the surface of Mars from images obtained by the HiRISE instrument onboard the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (science case in collaboration with GMAP).
The first three science cases above will be completed in February and March 2021.
A Europlanet Machine Learning Portal has been launched and serves as a public access point for the services. A public GitHub has also been set up, where codes and scripts are available for the scientific community. The first results of the science cases were presented at EPSC2020 as well as at the European Space Weather Week.
Networking Activities (NA)
Community Support, Dissemination and Engagement with Stakeholders (NA1)
The Community Support, Dissemination and Engagement with Stakeholders Networking Activity aims to foster co-operation and to extend the user base of Europlanet 2024 RI’s facilities and services. Activities are focused around specific audiences (industry, under-represented states, early careers, the media, policy-makers and educators) and goals (widening participation, global collaboration, expert exchange and outreach).
Highlights from networking activities in Year 1 of Europlanet 2024 RI include:
Holding EPSC2020 as a successful virtual meeting with 1168 participants from 67 countries (the largest stand-alone EPSC to date).
A high-level Industry and Policy session at EPSC2020 that included participation by three Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), a representative of the Commission, and representatives of academia and industry.
A training workshop on how to write a successful proposal for the Europlanet 2024 RI Transnational Access (TA) programme
The delivery of the Global Collaboration and Integration Development Strategy 2020-2024.
The launch of a pilot TA programme for European and Korean researchers to have reciprocal access each other’s facilities.
The launch of the Europlanet Early Careers Training and Education Portal and a pilot Mentoring Programme involving 10 pairs of mentors and mentees.
The launch of an internship programme for early career researchers to develop social media and communications skills.
The award of funding to four high-quality outreach projects, following the highest number of applications to date for the Europlanet Outreach Funding Scheme.
Provision of virtual training to outreach and education providers
Completion of seven educational resources related to Mars and Europlanet 2024 RI planetary field analogue sites.
Distribution of 11 Planets in a Room (PIAR) spherical projector kits to outreach providers around Europe.
The establishment of a not-for-profit German enterprise company with charitable objectives, FTP-Europlanet gUG, as a first step in ensuring long-term sustainability of Europlanet education and outreach activities.
Coordination of Ground-based Observations (NA2)
The Coordination of Ground-based ObservationsNetworking Activity (NA2) is a network of small telescope facilities and supporting the integration of amateur astronomers into planetary sciences.
The Europlanet Telescope Network, launched in June 2020, currently links 16 facilities located around the globe that range from 0.25 – 2m in diameter. At present, 14 out of 16 of the observatories can provide remote observations, enabling the network to operate despite Covid-19 travel restrictions.
To date, seven applications have been received, with four projects being awarded funding and three projects under consideration. The first observations started in January 2021. All four successfully-funded projects to date are led by female scientists from an under-represented state and cover the following topics:
Reducing the selection effects in asteroid spins, shapes, and thermal parameters (application for seven nights at Moletai Astronomical Observatory, Lithuania). Project led by A Marciniak, Poland.
Characterisation of V-type asteroids outside the dynamical Vesta family (application for eight nights at Chuguev Observatory, Ukraine). Project led by D Oszkiewicz, Poland.
Precise asteroid volumes from Gaia and ground-based observations I (application for six nights at Tartu Observatory, Estonia). Project led by M Polinska, Poland.
Precise asteroid volumes from Gaia and ground-based observations II (application for five nights at Observatorio del Teide, Spain). Project led by M Polinska, Poland.
NA2 is also harnessing the amateur community through observational campaigns on planetary topics. In Year 1 of Europlanet 2024 RI, six observational alerts were issued through PVOL database, and these were followed by over 200 active observers. The observations related to two of the alerts (March 31: Storm Activity on Saturn’s North Polar Region and May 31: Jupiter Storm in the South Temperate Belt) have contributed to two research papers that are being submitted for publication by researchers at UPV/EHU.
With over 50 beneficiaries, Europlanet 2024 RI is one of the most complex distributed research infrastructures funded by the European Commission to date. Over 60 members of the Europlanet 2024 RI Consortium gathered in Windsor on 27th and 28th February for the formal launch of the project, just before full lockdowns were implemented in most countries around the world.
Over Year 1 of the project, the Management Team has administered the project and provided management and financial oversight, ensuring that progress is on track for project deliverables, milestones and budgets. The Europlanet 2024 RI structures and committees (including the Steering Committee, the Project Management Committee and the Project Advisory Board) have been set up and supported in their roles, and reporting procedures and record management systems have been devised and implemented in accordance with the project Grant Agreement and European Union standards.
The Management Team has communicated news and updates to project beneficiaries and the wider community, and has implemented actions, including the distribution of the grant amongst the beneficiaries. Outcomes of a successful Council meeting, held virtually in October, culminated in the submission of a Grant Amendment to the European Commission to adapt to changes in project objectives in light of the pandemic, as well as adding new beneficiaries and expanding the suite of TA facilities.
Upgrades to the Atomki-ICA Funded through Europlanet 2024 RI
As well as offering Transnational Access (TA) to laboratory facilities and field sites, the Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure (RI) project is funding the upgrade of six facilities to provide new capabilities for planetary research.
The accelerator beam line at Atomki Tandetron facility has been developed for depositing close-to-uniform density ion beams onto the target surface, covering the whole infrared-visible area. The beamline now contains the necessary position and size defining elements, scanning electrodes and electronics and a set of Faraday cups.
The Atomki-ICA facility has been equipped with a new quad sample holder, which makes it possible to deposit identical ice-layers non-directionally in one step, and irradiate them with different ion-beams, varying e.g. the energies, current densities, or even the ion species in one cooling/heating cycle. A new temperature sensor has also been added to the control system.
The chamber has been equipped with a 2-2000 eV Kimball electron gun, for off-line electron irradiation measurements.
The chamber has been equipped with a quadrupole mass spectrometer (QMS-200), for monitoring the background gases, the deposition process, and the sputtered species during irradiation.
All procedures and functions (deposition, ion irradiation, electron irradiation, temperature-programmed desorption) have been tested and proved to be reliable. A substrate preparation method has been developed for avoiding sparks in high current-density measurements.
In 2021, some further technical developments will be undertaken and the full upgrade of Atomki-ICA is expected to be completed by February 2022. A second, complimentary, low-energy ion facility based on an electron cyclotron resonance (ECR) source will be opened to Europlanet 2024 RI TA users in 2022.
EPSC2020-190 | MITM9-Tools, Databases and Data Analytics for Solar and Planetary Sciences at the Big Data Era Virtual European Solar & Planetary Access (VESPA): Progress and prospects (Stéphane Erard, Baptiste Cecconi, Pierre Le Sidaner, Angelo Pio Rossi, Carlos Brandt, Hanna Rothkaehl, Lucasz Tomasik, Stavro Ivanovski, Marco Molinaro, Bernard Schmitt, Vincent Génot, Nicolas André, Ann Carine Vandaele, Loic Trompet, Manuel Scherf, Ricardo Hueso, Anni Määttänen, Ehouarn Millour, Frédéric Schmidt, and Ingo Waldmann and the VESPA team).
EPSC2020-1060 | ODAA3-Professional-Amateur collaborations Amateur Ground-based Support of the first BepiColombo flyby of Venus (Itziar Garate-Lopez, Ricardo Hueso, Yeon Joo Lee, Valeria Mangano, Kandis Lea Jessup, Javier Peralta, Agustin Sanchez-Lavega, Joe Zender, Johannes Benkhoff, Go Murakami, and Manuel Scherf).
EPSC2020-313 | ODAA3-Professional-Amateur collaborations The Europlanet Telescope Network: A global collaboration in support of planetary sciences (Manuel Scherf, Colin Snodgrass, Ricardo Hueso, Grazina Tautvaisiene, Edyta Podlewska-Gaca, Francois Colas, Agustín Sanchez-Lavega, Itziar Garate-Lopez, Grzegorz Dudziński, Przemyslaw Bartczak, and Günter Kargl).
The second playlist features EPSC2020 oral presentations on planetary research topics at UPV/EHU:
EPSC2020-354 | OPS2/MITM7-Ice Giant System Science and Exploration Monitoring Neptune’s atmosphere with small and large telescopes: results for 2019 (Ricardo Hueso, Imke de Pater, Erandi Chavez, Amy Simon, Larry Sromovsky, Agustín Sánchez-Lavega, Mike Wong, Patrick Fry, Marc Delcroix, Vik Dhillon, Jorge Hernández-Bernal, Peio Iñurrigarro, Stuart Littlefair, Tom Marsh, Iñaki Ordoñez-Etxeberria, Santiago Pérez-Hoyos, Erin Redwing, Jose Félix Rojas, and Joshua Tollefson).
China-EU Project Launched to Support Planetary Geological Mapping
A new project to support planetary geological mapping has received funding within framework of the China-EU co-funding mechanism (CFM) on research and innovation cooperation. ‘Key Technologies and Demonstration of Standardised Planetary Geologic Mapping’ is led by Prof Zhizhong Kang of the China University of Geosciences, Beijing (CUGB). The funding of 3,160,000 RMB (~400,000 Euros) for the National Key Research and Development Project runs from 1st December 2020 until 30th November 2023.
The project aims to develop key technologies to standardise planetary geological mapping and implement the methods in geological mapping for current and upcoming Chinese and European lunar and planetary missions, e.g. Chang’E-5-8, TianWen-1 and BepiColumbo. It will focus on multiple thematic map feature extraction and standardisation of geological mapping technologies.
The project team involves several partners from the Europlanet 2024 RI consortium, including CUGB (Project PI), Wuhan University, Peking University, Shandong University, National Space Science Center of China Academy of Science, University of Padova, Jacobs University Bremen and Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität.
Topographic mapping based on cognitive enhancement (Wuhan University)
Reconstruction method of planetary subsurface structure based on radar data and optical images (Peking University)
Quantitative inversion of elements and minerals on planetary surfaces (Shandong University)
Ground verification of quantitative remote sensing inversion on planetary surfaces (National Space Science Center, China Academy of Science)
Standardisation of planetary geological mapping (China University of Geosciences, Beijing)
Planetary geologic mapping and modelling winter school
The PLANMAP team, in collaboration with Europlanet 2024 RI’s GMAP initiative, announces the first PLANMAP winter school on planetary geologic mapping and 3D geological modelling, that will be held virtually 1-5 February 2021. The PLANMAP winter school will provide an overview of the technical and scientific skills needed by the next generation of planetary mappers.
The last 20 years of science exploration changed dramatically the technical and scientific skills required to perform planetary geological mapping, so that the required knowledge are continuously evolving. The Planetary geologic mapping and modelling winter school will address the most recent outcomes on the production of planetary cartography, providing the students with the basics needed for map creation, their use for scientific investigation, landing sites characterization, rover mobility and resource exploration.
REGISTRATION ARE CLOSED
Due to the large interest in the winter school registration closed early. More calls will be opened in the future.
Review of Europlanet Virtual Industry-Policy session at EPSC 2020
This guest post by the Europlanet Industry and Policy teams summarises the Industry-Policy session that took place during EPSC2020.
A virtual Industry-Policy session was organised on 29 September 2020 as part of the Europlanet Science Congress 2020 (EPSC 2020), the largest planetary science meeting in Europe.
The session focused on:
Painting the landscape of planetary research in Europe – future missions and the role of Agencies
Industry – research collaboration for innovation: the benefits for society and growth
Funding opportunities; challenging decisions in the context of Horizon Europe in times of crisis
The essential role of space as a strategic asset for Europe
Raising awareness of the successes of European Space Programmes, in particular when it comes to inspirational science e.g. planetary sciences, and their potential for innovation
This was a high level event featuring among the main speakers MEPs, EC officials, agency representatives, SMEs and other stakeholders.
The essential role of planetary exploration and the need to maintain generous funding for space programmes was particularly highlighted by the first speaker, MEP and Vice-President of the European Parliament Dimitris Papadimoulis. In the grim landscape of significant budgetary cuts announced by the EU leaders in July 2020 on the overall budget for science and technology, including space, it is important to highlight that: “planetary and space exploration is a human endeavor that encompasses scientific, technological and economic challenges and bears long-term benefits for society. It stimulates innovation, boosts technological development, motivates young people towards highly qualified careers and may lead to unique benefits for the planet”.
Space and planetary science, besides their own merit also teach us about our own planet and how we can live here in a more sustainable fashion.
“When it comes to green and digital transition, I think the space opportunities here are key for achieving it,” said Ville Niinistö, Finish MEP and former Minister of Environment, pointing out that space technology is about exploration but also about sustainability which creates benefits. MEP Niinistö challenged planetary research officials to give public decision makers more tools in order to make better decisions and reach viable solutions.
The need to establish a unique European space strategy was raised by Niklas Nienaß, German MEP, who stressed that: “we need to take the step forward from the science fiction side that we seem to be living in at the moment to the actual science that we actually have”. It is essential for society and politicians to realise how important European space faring programs are how much strategic value is embedded in space, to achieve more funding and establish a unique European Space Strategy. And for this to happen, we need more scientists to lobby politicians, as well as raise the profile of successful EU/ESA missions so that ESA (not just NASA) receives broader society recognition. MEP Nienaß also raised the important issue of science education proposing the establishment of a European Space Academy to introduce young people in all fields concerning space faring.
The EU space policy and funding current and future strategy was outlined by Michal Spiechowicz,of the Space Policy Department of European Commission’s DG DEFIS, who put an emphasis on the need to foster better integration with space assets, in the context of the twin transition that Europe faces. “The EU space programs support both the digital and green callenges: Copernicus to monitor and map Earth, land, seas, and atmosphere, and Galileo, to help us navigate and position. They are in fact, nothing else than global-scale, autonomous European digital infrastructures.” The third EU priority being resilience, Mr Spiechowicz mentioned that, if we work on an ambitious project of secure connectivity by satellites, within five to seven years we could have an alternative European infrastructure that would drastically enhance Europe’s resilience. He also mentioned several upcoming funding opportunities for the space industry in the post-covid context. EU members states could embed data services in their national reform, recovery and resilience programmes, this would enable them to apply for funds under EU Regional and Structural funds.
Fabio Favata from ESA highlighted Europe’s vast capabilities in science and industry. He noted ESA does regular industry days and showcases for member states, and builds up a portfolio of industrial capabilities. As an example, In Hungary, Tamas Bárczy from Admatis Ltd. who has been involved in three ESA missions, presented an association of 45 SMEs in the space sector called HUNSPACE. Fabio Favata also commented that academics shouldn’t feel reserved about speaking with industries and to initiate collaborations; there are great synergies in the skillsets repective to each domain.
The virtual session featured several examples of successful Industry-Academia collaborations. Jörn Helbert, theDepartment Head of Planetary Laboratories of the German Aerospace Center (DLR), highlighted quite a few: A Berlin facility to do measurements at very high temperatures, funded by the Europlanet 2020 RI project, is an extremely valuable asset for planetary scientists to measure the hot surface of Mercury and the even hotter surface of Venus, look at volcanic surfaces on Jupiter’s moon, Io, etc. And inversely, an example of a direct spin-off from astrobiology research: a team of scientists who are studying the effects of humidity on microbes, so basically how would potential life survive on Mars, are now also working with two small SMEs, developing a trace humidity generator that will be used for industrial applications. He highlighted the two-way nature of this collaboration, with commercial customers using a university facility that contains SME-built equipment.
In a similar manner, Giovanni Martucci (ALTEC) highlighted the value of collaborations between planetary science missions and industry, with the example of ALTEC providing operational support to ESA missions, with a co-located team at the ExoMars ROCC facility.
Finally, Jeronimo Bernard-Salas, from one of our partner companies ACRI-ST, showed that collaborations with academic networks can lead to direct funding, with the success of the H2020 EXPLORE program selection, containing multiple Europlanet member organisations. This programme is based on collaborations with the planetary science community on exploitation of space science data including through the use of machine learning. Jeronimo also highlighted the potential for industry collaborations to valorise academic research, and open the door for new funding opportunities.
A debate has followed the main deliberations, focusing on how Europe’s Planetary Exploration programme can drive innovation and competitiveness in European Research, Industry and SMEs, impact the society and inspire the next generation of Europe’s STEM workforce. The debate was moderated by Nigel Mason and it was possible for viewers to submit questions via the Q&A facility on Zoom. The questions, addressed mostly to the MEPs another policy speakers, concerned a range of subjects such as: best practices for scientists to lobby politicians and the underlying issue of lobbying time conflicting with research priorities, University Master programmes on space as an opportunity for collaboration with industry, or the organisation of large-scale space education opportunities with EU support.
The virtual event was very well attended by ~100 participants. The recording of the full session can be found here.
Pan-Africa Planetary and Space Science Network launches mobility scheme for planetary researchers
The Pan-Africa Planetary and Space Science Network has been awarded a grant of 1.4 million Euros by the European Commission through the Education, Audiovisual and Culture Executive Agency (EACEA) under the Intra-Africa Academic Mobility Scheme.
The project is led by Dr. Fulvio Franchi, a geologist and planetary scientist at the Botswana International University of Science and Technology (BIUST), who is also the lead for Europlanet 2024 RI’s Transnational Access facility at the Makgadikgadi Salt Pans.
The Pan-Africa Planetary and Space Science Network aims to create a continent-wide mobility scheme for students, academic and support staff with an interest in planetary and space science disciplines.
A team of experts from BIUST will lead a consortium consisting of Higher Education Institutes from Ethiopia (Addis Ababa University), Nigeria (University of Nigeria Nsukka), South Africa (University of the Witwatersrand), Zambia (Copperbelt University), and a technical partner from Italy (University of Bologna).
The consortium includes relevant planetary and space science stakeholders in the partnering countries such as the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO), the Ethiopian Space Science and Technology Institute (ESSTI), the National Remote Sensing Centre (NRSC) Zambia, and the National Space Research and Development Agency (NASRDA) Nigeria.
The over-arching objective of the Pan-Africa Planetary and Space Science Network is to support the education of young scientists and prepare them for leading roles in the science and technology market that is expected to develop across Africa over the next decade — from large projects such as the Square Kilometer Array, to positions in universities as lecturers or technical staff .
The project lead, Dr. Franchi explains: “This mobility project wishes to develop the next generation of African scientists, leaders, and entrepreneurs by improving their access to high quality STEM education, with particular emphasis on planetary and space science”.
The Pan-Africa Planetary and Space Science Networkconsortium will act as an incubator for new collaborations among African institutions. It will also create, for the first time in Africa, an integrated higher education programme for Planetary and Space Sciences at Master of Science (MSc) and Doctoral (PhD) level.
The importance of planetary and space science in the development of the continent has been also recognised by the African Union (AU), which has recently adopted the “African Space Policy and Strategy”. This marked the inaugural concrete step to realise an African Space Programme, urging Member States, Regional Economic Communities and Partners to raise awareness on the central role of space science and technology for Africa’s socio-economic development.
Many African countries have identified planetary and space science as a stepping stone for the modernisation of their economy and for practical uses, monitoring of land-use cover change, climate change, drought, hydrology, and natural disasters.
The introduction of planetary and space science in the African tertiary education system will boost modernisation of the programmes, introduction new scientific problems and cutting-edge technologies designed for space and planetary exploration within African Higher Education Institutes and Industries. Planetary and Space Science will excite the imagination of the public and stimulate the interest of the youth in STEM locally, regionally at a global level.
The European Researchers’ Night, funded under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie actions, is a Europe-wide public event that brings researchers closer to the general public. The Night showcases the diversity of science and its impact on citizens’ daily lives, stimulating interest in research careers – particularly among young people.
Many of Europlanet 2024 RI’s partners are taking part. Find out what they are doing:
Austrian Academy of Sciences
The aim of the European Researchers’ Night is to get young people excited about science and research. The IWF-Graz also supports this concern and will be using the opportunity of Researchers’ Night to share with videos, chats and a science flash to arouse visitors’ curiosity for some of its wide-ranging research topics.
Prof Barbara Cavalazzi will be giving three webinars this evening on “Space in Africa and the search for life in our Solar System”, featuring the Europlanet 2024 RI Planetary Field Analogue site, the Dankil Depression:
Spazio in Africa (18:00-18:20)
Astrobiologia chiama Africa (19:00-19:20)
Danakil Depression – a Multisensory Experience (20:00-20:20)