Asteroid Photometry – Europlanet Virtual Summer School

Asteroid Photometry – Europlanet Virtual Summer School

16-27 August 2021

Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure is pleased to announce the virtual summer school Asteroid Photometry that will take place virtually hosted by Vilnius University (Lithuania) and A. Mickiewicz University, (Poland): 16-27 August 2021.

The aim of the course is to give participants a thorough, multidisciplinary introduction into the ground-based and space observations of asteroids. Participants will be given remote hands-on experience in CCD photometry of asteroids using the wide field Maksutov type telescope of the Molėtai Astronomical Observatory and in analysing the observational data. The hands-on sessions will be accompanied by lectures of leading astronomers. The participants will also be trained in writing and submitting observing proposals to different facilities of the Europlanet Telescope Network, mentorship possibilities between professional astronomers and amateurs will be introduced. 

The course is open to doctoral candidates, master’s students, early career scientists, and amateur astronomers. Activities of professional astronomers and amateur astronomers will be merged in order to achieve more understanding between groups. The level of the school is orientated to PhD students and early career scientists, however amateur astronomers will be provided with the additional scientific support during lectures and observations. 

Participants that show acceptable results on their assignments will get a diploma with 2.5 ECTS credits, which may be used as part of their degree studies at their home universities.

The school is financed by the European Commission HORIZON 2020 project Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure.

The deadline for application is 15 June 2021 23:59:00 UTC.

Notifications of acceptance by 30 June 2021 23:59:00 UTC.

For more information and registration on the website

Inspiring Stories – The Brilliant Club

Inspiring Stories – The Brilliant Club

In this EPEC Inspiring Outreach Story, Melissa Mirino, a PhD student at the Open University, describes engaging school students with her thesis.

My strong enthusiasm for space exploration started from a very young age, after attending planetarium shows and astronauts’ events. Since I have been largely inspired by outreach events myself, I have developed a personal interest in inspiring the younger generation to consider a career in science. I have taken up many teaching and outreach opportunities to develop activities for students of different ages and to share my passion for space with the public.

One of the most important and inspiring experiences I have taken part in so far relates to my work as a PhD tutor with The Brilliant Club. This award-winning charity that works with schools and universities across UK.  The aim of the organisation is to inspire students from under-represented backgrounds to progress to highly-selective universities. 

As a Brilliant Club Tutor, I have been creating and delivering tutorials related to modern topics in STEM, from  climate change to planetary science.

Thanks to the support of my mentors, I had the opportunity to create a custom Handbook, where I could create lessons and activities based on my personal experience (Figure 1). The Handbook is structured in sections to introduce pupils to the many aspects of the space exploration, creating  interactive and different types of activities (see images) to cover and stimulate multiple intelligence types (logical, verbal, visual, etc.). 

During my seven tutorials, students explored the various stages of space missions from the primary concept to the data collection phase. They debated the best target for a space mission, selected landing sites, interpreted data from real active missions (Figure 3-4-5), described the martian surface using 3D images (Figure 6), and much more. 

For the final assignment, NASA Mission Calling, I asked students to propose a mission to NASA, selecting a target and identifying a main research question, as well as the instruments they would need to carry out their investigation. This exercise allowed them to express their imagination, and have fun exploring and learning about the Solar System. They also gained experience of following rules of structure and references, and an important mind-set that they can apply to future challenges.

Reading their essays was inspiring and a lot of fun! You can read some excerpt from their essays below. 

Working as PhD tutor made me realise how great and smart those kids are, but how the lack of support and self-esteem could influence their performances  or could demotivate them in pursuing a career in STEM or academia. Space and human missions can be very engaging for young people and I hope that my contribution will have had a positive impact. I really hope that those kids will find their personal space, wherever it means for them.

The Brilliant Club was an amazing experience and I would recommend young professionals in UK to consider getting involved. More information can be found at:

Excerpts from a few of the students’ essays, where they explained why their missions would benefit the human race:

[…] This mission is particularly important for the advancement of future human knowledge because if we were to find signs of extra-terrestrial life, we could use this to work out the conditions needed for it to survive. We can then move on to bigger things, like creating an environment on earth that matches these conditions and possibly grow new forms of life. […]The knowledge we acquire from possibly finding and sustaining life on Mars can improve our agriculture as we would need to develop new techniques to grow crops, using less water which is very limited on Mars. 

[…] This mission is important because it will help us determine if there is other life in our solar system, even if it is primitive bacteria.  If we do discover life in the subterranean oceans of Europa, this mission could teach us about how bacteria evolved over the millennia by comparing them to bacteria here on Earth. This mission may also inform us about whether it is possible for life to exist so far away from the Sun. […] We also might be able to learn more about cryogenic storage and how to preserve things in ice, as may have happened on this celestial body. All of this it will enhance our knowledge about other celestial bodies bigger than Europa, including another moon orbiting Jupiter called Ganymede which also has a subterranean ocean. It will also enable us to prepare for colder environments deep in space where solar panels are not as effective at producing power. This would help us plan for and prepare deep space missions. For example, if the water and ice is clean, we could rely on using planets and moons like this to resupply water and oxygen rather than having to transport large quantities from Earth, helping us conduct deep space manned missions. 

In conclusion, my proposal is to send a satellite with a lander to test for biosignatures in the ice. My target is Enceladus due to it fitting all the requirements for life as the temperature stable liquid water has inside it the energy source of hydrothermal vents, Enceladus has an atmosphere and it is less radioactive than possible moons of the Jovian system. By finding biosignatures in the sub-surface ocean of Enceladus we could further human knowledge about the conditions needed for life to form, it could prove to us the existence of extraterrestrial life and it could provide key information about how life on earth originated and adapted.

[…] I think that this mission […] could improve the future greatly because then NASA can be sure that they can populate Mars and then attempt to do it. This has the possibility to change where people live forever. If there were bacteria living on Mars, it would be incredible. If life were to be found, then NASA could study how that life form survives in such harsh conditions. To help with NASA’s future, this would be a huge potential way of making an enormous amount of discoveries, potentially leading to minerals being discovered, since everyone knows how scientists and the world of science are desperate to make such discoveries.

[…] The first reason I believe this research will be beneficial to humans and scientists is because Europa has liquid water, which is rarely, if not never, found on other planets besides Earth. This means that Europa has at least one of three main components needed for humans to thrive and survive. Europa also hosts key elements needed for humans to survive – oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen – which suggests we could somewhat find and get oxygen and water. Compared to other planets with thick atmospheres, high temperatures or gas planets, they don’t contain liquid water, although they may contain deltas or frozen lakes. This gives Europa an advantage over these planets, as they have something which planets do not have, except for Earth. Since Europa also has flowing water, scientists could study as a terrestrial analogue and try to find an area similar to the flowing river or lake underneath the surface of the moon Europa.

[…] This mission is crucial in human advancement as it will definitely deepen our understanding of Mars. […] This will help us to understand our solar system more in depth but that is for the future first we have to get to Mars. This would greatly improve the quality of our lives. Let us say we do find extra- terrestrial life this tells us life can exist outside of Earth which if one day we need to move we have a location to go. It would be a way to assure the survival of humanity in the case something bad occurs in the future to our planet who know climate change might make us have to leave our beloved Earth.

Do you like this story and want more? Browse our archive of EPEC Inspiring Stories and get inspired!

EPEC Profiles – Julie Nováková

EPEC Profiles – Julie Nováková

In this series from the EPEC Communication Working Group, we meet members of the Europlanet Early Career (EPEC) community and find out more about their experiences and aspirations.

Julie Nováková is an evolutionary biologist with an interest in astrobiology and planetary science, educator and award-winning Czech author and editor of science fiction. She co-teaches an astrobiology class at her alma mater, the Faculty of Science, Charles University, and co-organises an astrobiology seminar there.

Julie has been doing science outreach for more than a decade now, and writing science fiction for even longer. She has merged these activities as the leader of the ‘Science Fiction as A Tool of Astrobiology Outreach & Education’ project team at the European Astrobiology Institute (EAI) and co-leader of EAI’s outreach working group.

As her first major project at the EAI, she created an outreach anthology of acclaimed authors’ science fiction stories with astrobiological topics, each accompanied by a themed nonfiction piece written by herself. The book, titled ‘Strangest of All’, is freely available in several e-book formats at her own website and EAI’s site, and it also includes tips for use in classroom. More books, exhibitions, talks and interviews are being prepared by her and her team.

Image credit: Julie Nováková’s archive

She received the Professor Jaroslav Heyrovský Award (Charles University’s Rector’s Award for students of natural sciences) in 2017, and has amassed multiple awards as a writer, editor and translator. Science and storytelling are her two greatest passions, and she intends to further pursue both and integrate them in innovative outreach projects in the vein of STEAM.

The goal? First evoke the sense of wonder and curiosity… and then take it from there. Always make people ask more questions rather than just memorise answers. Always show the amazing, often tumultuous and sometimes erroneous journey to a scientific conclusion. Firstly, it’s a story to tell. Secondly, understanding the process of science promotes critical thinking and more in-depth understanding rather than shallow memory. By engaging people’s emotions, stories can, hand in hand with other approaches, help achieve this.

Julie is also a member of Europlanet Society and the XPRIZE Sci-fi Advisory Council. Her newest book is a story collection titled The Ship Whisperer (Arbiter Press, 2020).

Why EPEC? Because communities are vital in science. The popular image of the ‘lone wolf scientist’ is so far from actual reality! Scientific work is achieved in teams and further circles, and EPEC enables early-career researchers to find inspiration, mentors, friends, useful information and better footing to pursue their careers.


More information about Julie Nováková:


Julie Nováková. Credit: Julie Nováková’s archive.

If you are an Early Career member of the Europlanet Society and would like to be featured in an EPEC Profile, find out more about how to submit your profile.

See all the EPEC Profiles.

#PlanetaryScience4All 2nd Edition launched

PlanetaryScience4All EPEC-EPSC 4-minute video contest: Call for PhD students and early career researchers

Deadline: 1 August 2021

The Europlanet Early Career (EPEC) Communication working group is giving all early career researchers, including Bachelor’s, Master’s and PhD students, involved in planetary science the opportunity to showcase their research through a 4-minute video contest called #PlanetaryScience4All.

All videos will be shown during a dedicated session during the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2021, which is being held as a virtual meeting from 13-24 September 2021. The winner will be announced at the end of the virtual conference.

#PlanetaryScience4All challenges PhD, Master’s and Bachelor’s students and early career researchers to explain their research project to a general public audience in just 4 minutes. The videos will be judged on scientific content, communication skills and creativity.

The winner of the competition will receive free registration for EPSC 2022, which will be held in Granada, Spain, from 18-23 September 2022. The winning video will be also shared via the Europlanet website, newsletters and social media. It will also be used to inspire young people in future EPEC outreach activities.

Find out more

EPEC Social Media Pages

The EPEC Communication Working Group is responsible for the presence of all the EPEC activities. The aim of the social media pages is to highlight the contribution of young professionals within the space sector. Currently, we are active on two platforms, Twitter and Facebook, and we plan to expand our presence in the future also in other media, with the objective to reach and connect as many Early Career people as possible. If you would like to get updates for the EPEC activities, job and funding opportunities, new research and open candidacies within our network, follow us and help us to spread the news!!

Facebook EPEC page:

Twitter EPEC account:

EPEC Annual Week 2021 – Call for Applications

3rd Europlanet Early Career (EPEC) Annual Week 2021 – Call for Applications

EPEC is pleased to announce the third edition of its training school for early career scientists who work in the field of planetary/space science and engineering.


Dates: 7-11 June 2021
Venue: Virtual
Deadline for registration: 15 April 2021

The school is organised by EPEC, the Europlanet Early Career (EPEC) network. One of the main objectives of EPEC is to form a strong network of young professionals by organising early-career-relevant events and by engaging in different projects through the nine EPEC Working Groups. The EPEC community aims to bring a young voice into the Europlanet Society to shape the future of planetary and space sciences and engineering. More information on EPEC can be found here.

The programme for this year’s EPEC Annual Week will cover:

Monday: Introduction
Tuesday: Fundings & how to..
Wednesday: Academia vs industry & social event
Thursday: European projects and working groups
Friday: Working groups results

The training school is an opportunity for the EPEC community to better get to know each other and to brainstorm how to further develop the network and the activities of its Working Groups. It is also an opportunity to enhance the interaction with members of the Europlanet Executive Board, who will be invited to give talks throughout the week. The school brings together young scientists from across the EU and beyond, and provides a networking platform where scientific discussion and collaboration can be stimulated via a series of group activities. Download more details of the week’s schedule.

Applicants must either be in their final year of an MSc course (or equivalent), be currently enrolled in a PhD program in the field of planetary/space science or have obtained their PhD qualification not earlier than 2014.

Note that in order to apply to the training school you are NOT required to be a member of EPEC, although this is encouraged. If you fulfil the requirements to be a member and wish to become one, please send an email to, including ‘EPEC application’ in the subject.

To register for the EPEC Annual Week 2021, please complete this form by 15th April 2021.

Successful applicants will be notified via e-mail within two weeks after the submission deadline. In case of any queries or problems related to the application procedure, please send an email to, including ‘EPEC Annual Week application’ in the subject.

We look forward to seeing you at the virtual meeting!

EPEC Annual Week Organising Team

Erica Luzzi, Jacobs University Bremen (Chair)
Gene Schmidt, Università Degli Studi Roma Tre
Batiste Rousseau, INAF-IAPS

Past EPEC Annual Weeks

2nd EPEC Annual Week 2018, University of Lisbon, Portugal, 20-24 May 2019
EPEC Annual Week 2019 Report
EPEC Annual Week Programme 2019

1st EPEC Annual Week 2018, ISU Strasbourg, 11-15 June 2018

2021 Call for Funding Scheme to Support Society Committees and Membership

2021 Call for Funding Scheme to Support Society Committees and Membership

The 2021 Call for the Europlanet Society’s funding scheme to support its Committees and Membership is now open.

Applications can be submitted by any of the Society’s Regional Hubs, Committees (EPEC, Diversity) or Working Groups in support of their activities or those of the Society Membership.

The scheme is designed to support projects with funds of between €1000-5000. The proposals should further the aims of the Europlanet Society and actively involve Society members.

The scope of the funding scheme is deliberately broad to enable the community to propose diverse and innovative projects.

Members of the Society may approach their Regional Hub (or any of the other Committees or Working Groups) with suggestions for projects, which may be submitted on their behalf.

The closing date for applications is 16 April 2021.

To find out more, Members can log-in to access the applications page for the funding call.

Inspiring Stories – The Diaries of Space Explorers Podcast

Inspiring Stories – Space Explorers Podcast

In this EPEC Inspiring Outreach Story, Gavin Tolometti, a PhD student at the University of Western Ontario in Canada, describes how he is making space science accessible through podcasts.

Since I was a kid, I remember seeing rockets and rovers designed and constructed by engineers on the news, and the out of this world (excuse the pun!) space and planetary science research being conducted by NASA scientists. My interests for space research led me to look for grad school openings in planetary science. I applied to as many as I could, and eventually my applications brought me to the University of Western Ontario in Canada, where I joined the Institute for Earth and Space Exploration.

Gavin Tolometti. Credit: G. Tolometti.

As I started my PhD in Earth and Planetary Science, I became more involved in outreach and science communication. I love opportunities to chat about space and getting the chance to constantly talk about it at schools, museums, institutes, and public events has always made me happy and excited. For this reason, after meeting more and more people involved in the space exploration I decided I wanted to find a way make space science more accessible, to share the stories of why people became involved in space, and to chat about the everyday technology we use because of space exploration. 

At the beginning of 2021, I started my own podcast called “The Diaries of Space Explorers”. I have loved listening to podcasts ever since I moved to Canada in 2016, and I even joined a graduate student podcast committee in 2018. I wanted to combine the skills I developed from the committee and my love of space to create a brand-new podcast community and to bridge the gap between the public and the space sector. The goal has been to highlight the stories of students, scientists, engineers, artists, journalists, administrators, musicians, and more, about why they chose space and how it has helped shape their lives and motivate them to improve the world.

In my podcast, I also aim to bring the human side of the space sector out. I wanted the audience to connect with the guests in more than one way. Not just connect with them because of their job, but because of who the guest is as a space explorer.  One fun question I ask my guests is what is their favourite spin-off technology that came from space exploration. From this, I get to reveal some of the technologies and materials we use every day that has come from space missions or space companies. To this day I am still surprised at developments that have come as a result of a satellite launch, astronaut training, or from NASA hiring a company to help them solve a flight test problem.

I have so far published more than nine episodes, and I have many more to share with the world. The goal is to use my podcast and my research to help connect people around the globe through space science and exploration. I love podcasting. I love science communication. I love space and I love my research. Combining these passions is my way of showing the world why space is incredible and why so many smart, brilliant, and talented humans around the world strive to push the boundaries of humankind.

I hope you can all connect with my space explorer guests, and share with your friends, family, or even your neighbour about why space is amazing and how it impacts their lives.

Podcast Links

My Links

Do you like this story and want more? Browse our archive of EPEC Inspiring Stories and get inspired!

EPEC Profiles – Gavin Tolometti

EPEC Profiles – Gavin Tolometti

In this series from the EPEC Communication Working Group, we meet members of the Europlanet Early Career (EPEC) community and find out more about their experiences and aspirations.

Gavin Tolometti is a PhD student at the University of Western Ontario and uses radar data to study the surface roughness of lava flows on Earth, the Moon and Mars.

As a kid, I always found volcanoes, lava flows and magma in general incredibly interesting! However, once I realised other planetary bodies in our solar system, including our own natural satellite, have lava flows I was convinced that planetary science was the field for me.

It took a while to get on to a planetary science path. I started with a bachelors degree in geology, and it was not until the final year of my undergraduate degree in 2016 that I learned I could study lava flows for a PhD!

My study focuses on using radar remote sensing data to study the surface roughness of lava flows on Earth, the Moon and Mars. The surface roughness of a lava flow provides us a window into learning about the emplacement styles of lava flows on other planetary bodies, which can inform us about the eruption dynamics and thermal properties of planetary interiors. I use radar data collected by airbourne platforms and Earth orbiting satellites, including the ESA Sentinel-1 satellite and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar platform.

My PhD has taken me to some very exciting locations, including Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve in Idaho, USA and the 2014-15 Holuhraun lava flow-field in central Iceland. Iceland is my most memorable experience conducting field work because I was given the role as logistics lead. I had to ensure the safety of my team and lead a field expedition funded by the Canadian Space Agency. It was also the first time I had visited Iceland and driven a vehicle through a river (nervously!) to reach our field site.

Gavin Tolometti
Gavin Tolometti in the field. Credit: G. Tolometti.

I have also been involved in two high fidelity analogue sample return missions. In 2016, I was part of the CanMars 2016 Sample Return Mission field team where we were tasked to simulate a rover on Mars searching for organic sediments. This included using geochemical and hyperspectral handheld field instruments to analyse sedimentary rocks in Utah, similar to the instruments attached to the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity mission. In 2019, I was part of the CanMoon Sample Return Mission planning team where we simulated a sample return mission on the Moon in preparation for the NASA Artemis Lunar Gateway initiative.

As well as my research, I am also involved in science communication on social media and I am part of a graduate student podcast committee group known as “GradCast” at the University of Western Ontario. I got into listening to podcasts at the start of my PhD, but I never thought I would get to participate in a podcast and learn about the amazing research conducted by other students in different departments.

My interests in podcasting and science communication has me on a path to strengthen the bridge between STEAM and the public. Learning how to best communicate ground breaking scientific discoveries, discuss important news, and share our passion for fields in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) with the public will benefit not only ourselves, but the entire world.

Getting involved with EPEC has been extremely rewarding as I have gotten to meet and work with many incredible researchers. I will continue to become more involved with EPEC and contribute to the society using my science communication and research skills.

Gavin Tolometti

More information about Gavin Tolometti:

GradCast Radio


Gavin Tolometti. Credit: G. Tolometti.

If you are an Early Career member of the Europlanet Society and would like to be featured in an EPEC Profile, find out more about how to submit your profile.

See all the EPEC Profiles.

EPEC Profiles – Juan Luis Rizos

EPEC Profiles – Juan Luis Rizos

In this series from the EPEC Communication Working Group, we meet members of the Europlanet Early Career (EPEC) community and find out more about their experiences and aspirations.

Juan Luis Rizos is a postdoc researcher at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias working on machine learning tools to exploit spectral data from Solar System missions.

Dr Juan Luis Rizos was born in El Carpio, a small village that sits on the banks of the Guadalquivir River, near Cordoba, in the south of Spain. He started working in the music world as a youth, but always showed a strong interest in science. For this reason, he combined his work with studies in physics by distance learning. After graduating, he decided to continue with science, first earning a Master’s degree in Physics and Mathematics, and finally a PhD in Astrophysics. Although he never planned to become an astrophysicist, life offered him this opportunity and he did not hesitate in taking it.

During his PhD, Dr Rizos was an active member of the Image Processing Working Group of the OSIRIS-REx mission. This sample return NASA mission was launched to study the primitive asteroid (101955) Bennu, and he performed a spectrophotometric characterisation of the surface. using MapCam data, a medium-field imager. Given the large astronomical datasets taken by MapCam for several years, it was necessary to develop a methodology to manage these data for a spectral characterization of the Bennu surface. His methodology consisted of an unsupervised machine learning classification through the K-Means algorithm. It allowed the identification of spectral clusters with similarities for a global and local characterisation, with particular attention being paid to the places where the sample would be collected.

Juan Luis Rizos

Currently, Dr Rizos is a postdoc researcher at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias. He is interested in building machine learning tools to exploit spectral data from Solar System missions.

“Spectral data are a valuable source of information for understanding planetary surfaces, ranging from mineralogical composition to morphology, age, particle size, or organic molecules content. Until now, all unmanned missions to other bodies in the Solar System incorporate a suite of spectral instruments for high precision measurements. However, these instruments acquire large amounts of data that are almost impossible to analyse only by humans,” said Dr Rizos.

EPEC is an amazing working group for young scientists. It brings together people from different places but with similar interests in Planetary Science. It puts a strong emphasis on cooperation and networking between different areas. I think early careers can make a big contribution to the community: they have an essential freshness and vitality.

Juan Luis Rizos

More information about Juan Luis Rizos:


Juan Luis Rizos
Juan Luis Rizos. Credit: Juan Luis Rizos

If you are an Early Career member of the Europlanet Society and would like to be featured in an EPEC Profile, find out more about how to submit your profile.

See all the EPEC Profiles.

Inspiring Stories – Instagram Infographics to Share Space Science

Inspiring Stories – Instagram Infographics to Share Space Science

In this EPEC Inspiring Outreach Story, Lanre Logan, Space Exploration Systems Masters student at the University of Leicester, tells us how to share passion for science on Instagram.

I love sharing what I’m passionate about; you might know the feeling. There’s a topic you’re enthralled with, and it’s all you can manage not to talk to your friends about it…all the time! When it comes to science it can be exactly the same, except in this case it’s vitally important that we share this information with others.

By communicating science to a few friends, or especially to the wider public, you are helping the scientific method work. Afterall, who are these discoveries being made for if not the wider world? On a local scale, sharing a scientific tidbit or a recent discovery could lead somebody to think “Huh. I want to know more”, become inspired, and launch their own career in the field!

Personally, I simply find great satisfaction in getting to the crux of a topic and getting a deeper understanding of how a physical concept works. Furthermore, being able to instil the same feeling in others is even more gratifying.

The rise of social media has made this an even more accessible possibility where people don’t need to sift through endless journals or newspapers to find the latest developments. Simply following their favourite YouTube channel or Instagram page can give them all the science stories they need.

I hadn’t considered all of these possibilities when I began Straight Outta Quantum (I hope you get the pun), but I am all the more satisfied for knowing them now.

At first, I was in the position I mentioned earlier – I couldn’t stop talking my friends’ ears off about a new astronomy fact that I’d learned, figured out, or had recently been turning over in my head. I’d always have something I was eager to share with people, and then it hit me: I had Photoshop skills I could combine with my love of science and explain my favourite ideas through Instagram!

The freedom that the Instagram medium brings is a welcomed break. The topics which I write about are mostly content from the courses I have studied, a fact somebody has told me in passing which piqued my interest, or a science video I watched which intrigued me to research further. Before I even realise I want to make a post, I’ll have caught myself turning over the details of it in my head (while I should be revising!) The challenge then is turning it into a story.

If you’ve read any of my posts before, you may not have realised that they are essentially mini narratives, as simply posting the facts line by line would convey the information, but not in any manner that will encourage the viewer to read on. Once I’ve summed up my points coherently, all the while picturing how I’d like each slide to look, the drawing begins! Each slide of course compliments the lesson I’ve written, but to decide how they’ll specifically look I mostly think to myself: “What will look the most exciting?”

For example, instead of showing a diagram of a comet’s constituents, why not draw it rushing past you in the dynamic vacuum of space? All my graphics are made in Adobe Photoshop Elements, purely by myself, and from conception to posting I spend about two weeks between each publication. However, seeing as this began as a hobby, I don’t keep to any strict schedule and mostly work on the posts when I like!

To figure out how to break down complex information into reasonable chunks, I realised communicating science like this successfully comes down to three factors: how comprehensive vs abstract my graphics are, the detail vs brevity of the explanations, and the scientific accuracy vs artistry of my depictions. It’s fun finding the balance with these as too much of any would be detrimental. For instance, I strive to maintain scientific accuracy while still making posts artistic enough to be eye-catching and memorable. Similarly, more detail allows for a deeper understanding of the ideas but too much is of course unmanageable, and not what Instagram users tend to stick around for. Fortunately, I know my audience well through their responses to previous posts, for instance, ones with more words on each slide don’t do as well, most likely because they look less welcoming to read. Once I’ve chosen the key messages of the story I try to add as little to that as possible while keeping it coherent, as this follows my chosen mission statement of simplicity.

Inspired by YouTube channels such as Kurzgesagt and PBS Spacetime, my vision is to share aspects of astronomy and other science which I find interesting. Simple infographics are my chosen information vessel, explaining things from astronomical events such as “The Great Jupiter-Saturn Conjunction”, to more obscure facts such as that “Stars Aren’t Star Shaped. Your Eyes Are”. I believe science should be accessible and making it as easy to follow as possible is my target, even encouraging my followers to see astronomy facts for themselves by reminding them to ‘keep looking up.’

In the end, Straight Outta Quantum serves as a great pastime for me, creating designs about space; both things I love. I don’t know exactly where it’s going, or where it will end up, but I suppose that’s part of the journey when it comes to outreach. There are limitless forms it can take, anybody can do it, and if you enjoy sharing your interests then it is a great option.

I love sharing what I’m passionate about. Do you?

You can find my page here: @StraightOuttaQuantum. I hope you enjoy it, and keep looking up!

Do you like this story and want more? Browse our archive of EPEC Inspiring Stories and get inspired!

EPEC Profiles – Foivos Karakostas

EPEC Profiles – Foivos Karakostas

In this series from the EPEC Communication Working Group, we meet members of the Europlanet Early Career (EPEC) community and find out more about their experiences and aspirations.

Foivos Karakostas is a PostDoctoral Associate at the University of Maryland. His field is planetary seismology and he works for the NASA InSight mission.

I am a geophysicist, more precisely a planetary seismologist, and one of the luckiest inhabitants of Earth, as in 2012 I started my involvement in Planetary Seismology, when Philippe Lognonné offered me an internship related to the InSight mission. Months later, after a decades-long wait, a new seismometer was selected to be deployed on the ground of another planet. The renaissance of Planetary Seismology with InSight, after the Apollo and Viking era, is the best thing that could happen to the new generation of seismologists interested in other worlds.

Like many other kids, I grew up being fascinated about planets and I wanted to study them. My interest was extended to the large scales of the universe or the human exploration of the outer space, but what was always more fascinating for me were these other worlds, different than ours, with exotic landscapes and possibly different life! Unlike many childhood dreams, this one came true, and no matter the challenges that any early career scientist encounters these days, doing this job is a motivation to tackle them all.

Since 2012, I have been working exclusively on topics related to the seismic investigation of other planets and planetary bodies. If I could make a metaphor, my research interests are following the way we investigate the planets, starting from their exterior, the visible part, and going deeper, where the secrets about the planetary formation and evolution are hidden but ready to be revealed. In my PhD studies I developed methodologies for using meteor associated events, airbursts or impacts, as seismic sources, generating surface waves on extraterrestrial environments. Therefore, it was a work in the atmosphere and shallow subsurface. Now, I extend my investigation to the structure of the Martian lithosphere, more precisely through the study of the attenuation of seismic waves, recorded by InSight.

Working for a space mission is tremendously beneficial for a young scientist, as it is a highly collaborative environment, with opportunities to be involved in many different projects and the chance to interact with some of the experts of the field. It is something that I would like to see happening across the broader scientific community. This is why I am keen to contribute to the activities of the Europlanet Society.

I often like to quote Carl Sagan: “Of all the fields of mathematics, technology, and science, the one with the greatest international cooperation […] is the field called “Earth and space sciences.” Studying this world and others, by its very nature, tends to be non-local, non-nationalist, non-chauvinist.” My understanding is that the incarnation of this message are the organizations of international communication and cooperation and we need to support them, through active participation. I consider that the scientific culture and communication is the ground where we perform our work, prepared by others, patiently and tirelessly. We should preserve this tradition for the good of science, the best thing that happened to humanity and we decided to dedicate our lives to it.

I recently joined the Communications Working Group of the EuroPlanet Early Career (EPEC) network. My goal is to use the experience from extracurricular activities for the needs of the network. Until today I have written dozens of popularized articles on new advances on planetary exploration and I am podcasting, with the aim of conveying the core concepts of recently published scientific papers in plain language. This outreach activity is highly beneficial, as it allows us to better understand the contribution of our work to the society, while developing skills of inter-scientific communication.

Foivos Karakostas

More information about Foivos Karakostas:


Foivos Karakostas. Credit: Foivos Karakostas
Foivos Karakostas. Credit: Foivos Karakostas

If you are an Early Career member of the Europlanet Society and would like to be featured in an EPEC Profile, find out more about how to submit your profile.

See all the EPEC Profiles.

Inspiring Stories – using science fiction to teach astrobiology

Inspiring Stories – using science fiction to teach astrobiology

Julie Nováková

In this EPEC Inspiring Outreach Story, Julie Nováková from the Charles University in the Czech Republic and the European Astrobiology Institute tells us how she edited an anthology of science fiction stories to help astrobiology outreach and education.

When was the last time you felt the unmistakable ‘sense of wonder’? The familiar awe, surprise and joy at – what? A beautiful sight to behold? A story? A discovery? A piece of data? For scientists, data itself or its collection can evoke a powerful sense of wonder (and sometimes frustration, boredom, puzzlement – we probably all know it), but for nearly anyone outside of science, the journey and/or the result has to be communicated to inspire wonder and facilitate understanding, and hopefully further interest.

Science fiction is a genre of literature built on the sense of wonder. In the 19th century, people held their breath devouring the latest Verne or Wells, widened their eyes at the modern-age horror described by Shelley, and imagined the key ‘what if’ at the heart of SF – what if we could really create new life, travel to the Moon, encounter visitors from Mars… Nowadays, SF is also very popular and increasingly familiar to most of us, at least indirectly as ‘common knowledge’. The mix of familiar tropes, wonder-inspiring new ideas and in the ideal (if not the most frequent) case relying on science makes SF a great medium for communicating science. All of the above points are enormous advantages of using SF as means of science outreach and/or education. There are potential pitfalls as well, of course – with this approach, it needs to be outlined clearly what is science and what is speculation within a story, without getting too carried away.

I’ve been writing, editing and translating science fiction for more than a decade, publishing in major magazines such as Asimov’sAnalog or Clarkesworld and having published seven novels in my native Czech. And for a decade now (how the time flies!), I’ve been studying biology. For approximately the same time, I’ve been writing popular science articles, doing workshops at schools, helping out at science-themed summer camps and lecturing at festivals, conventions and elsewhere. Astrobiology, together with astronomy and planetary science, has always been an interest of mine, and I was happy to join the European Astrobiology Institute (EAI) at the time of its founding in mid-2019. Then it was only logical to take the next step and merge my backgrounds… 

As my first major project as the leader of the team ‘Science Fiction as A Tool of Astrobiology Outreach and Education’ at the EAI, I decided to prepare a freely available book of science fiction stories with interesting astrobiology themes, each accompanied by a popular science essay on the topic and a few tips for using the text in classroom, making the book useful for any individual reader as well as high school or university teachers who like to experiment with unusual approaches. It also enabled us to clearly distinguish between SF and current scientific understanding, while also providing the readers with the option to read just the nonfiction texts, just the stories, or both.

The anthology, titled Strangest of All, was released in May 2020 under the free Creative Commons license in several e-book formats, so that it was accessible to as many people as possible. It contains seven science fiction stories by six renowned authors and a bonus story by myself (whom I cannot possibly call renowned next to the rest of the names). The stories are reprints (meaning previously published), but many of them are impossible to access elsewhere, which would be a shame, because they are all amazing. Together, they showcase the topics of life in a subsurface ocean, life under extremely high pressure, potential for life in the Kuiper Belt, Dyson spheres, the Fermi Paradox, SETI and planetary protection. Each is introduced more in-depth in the nonfiction pieces I personally wrote for the book.

Publishing Strangest of All wasn’t the end of it. It needed to be promoted so that it could reach its audience and actually inspire as many people as possible. The news was shared by Europlanet,, Centauri Dreams and elsewhere, including sources in different languages such as Spanish, Portuguese or Czech, thanks to translations of the press release by members of the institute, especially the SF outreach team. Furthermore, I conducted interviews about SF and science with three of the authors so far (Peter WattsGregory BenfordG. David Nordley), with three more coming up later (Geoffrey Landis, Tobias S. Buckell, D.A. Xiaolin Spires). We also used several stories from the anthology for tasks and discussions within the Astrobiology Seminar at the Charles University.

Nor is this the end. The team ‘Science Fiction as A Tool of Astrobiology Outreach and Education’ has a lot of work ahead. Apart from the ‘usual stuff’ such as convention talks, participating in exhibitions or preparing more interviews with scientists and SF authors, we’re hoping to publish a print anthology of original SF stories – written exclusively for the book in cooperation with EAI scientists – also accompanied by nonfiction pieces, covering more astrobiological topics in an exciting and innovative way. We have a long journey ahead: securing funding, talking to publishers and authors, facilitating effective author-scientist collaboration, editing… but I’m optimistic. Having edited three anthologies so far, one of them in print, I know it can be done, and I hope the result will be as amazing as we imagine now.

Luckily, we’re not alone in our efforts. SF has been used in outreach for over a century to some extent, and for instance organizers of the recent Exoplanet Demographics online conference edited a short SF e-zine for each of the days of the event, with contributions tied to the scientific topics presented that day. That is awesome – and so we move from reading the latest Verne in the age when electricity was still a miracle of modern technology to an era where science and technology surround us everywhere and are more accessible than ever before, but also have to compete for attention with many distractions and agendas. SF can hopefully help bridge the gap between entertainment and science – and show that science itself is often much more exciting than fiction, with fiction nevertheless helping us imagine what science cannot yet.

So switch on your flashlight or your e-reader, nestle in the bed covers, dive into fantastic stories of life in the universe and dream on… perhaps so much that one day, it will be you being the principal investigator of a mission not just inspired by visions of exotic life, but also aiming to elucidate the equally fantastic history of the solar system and life here on Earth.

Nováková, J. (ed.), 2020. Strangest Of All: Anthology Of Astrobiological Science Fiction. 1st ed. European Astrobiology Institute. Accessible at and 

Other books by author: 

Do you like this story and want more? Browse our archive of EPEC Inspiring Stories and get inspired!

EPEC Profiles – Rutu Parekh

EPEC Profiles – Rutu Parekh

In this series from the EPEC Communication Working Group, we meet members of the Europlanet Early Career (EPEC) community and find out more about their experiences and aspirations.

Rutu Parekh is pursuing a PhD at the Freie Universität Berlin and German Space Center on understanding ‘The influence of volatiles on the asteroid surface: Vesta and Ceres’.

My journey as a planetary researcher has been quite a roller coaster ride so far. However, each stepping stone has helped me to grow in my professional career. Currently, I am pursuing my phd at Freie Universität Berlin and German Space Center (DLR) on understanding ‘ The influence of volatile on the asteroid surface: Vesta and Ceres’.

My study region is focused on to analyse the icy planetary bodies. Various morphological features are associated with volatile outgassing, which has shaped the surface of asteroids. These features help us to understand the evolution of Vesta and Ceres. For this study I use data from the Dawn mission. Further, I also worked on the fractal analysis of boulders identified on the rubble-pile Ryugu asteroid. For this, I used the data from the Hayabusa2 mission which was a collaboration between JAXA and DLR.

Other than being full time researcher, I am also volunteering as tbe Secretary of the Europlanet Diversity Committee and Chair of the EPEC Diversity Working Group. Last, year we launched a series entitled ‘Motivational Journeys‘ under the EPEC Diversity Working Group. This series is a collection of interviews where we discuss the professional journey of experienced scientists in the field of planetary science and provide motivation to early career researchers from diverse environments and cultures.

Additionally, due to my passion towards art and science, I also sketch science in my free time. Being a full time researcher and a constant supporter of creativity, I strongly believe that communicating science is equally important as research and when done in an effective way, it could inspire next generation to take STEM as full time career.

EPEC has provided me with a supportive platform to network and communicate with fellow early careers. It has also served as tremendous source of support and motivation at various stages of my career so far.

Rutu Parekh

More information about Rutu Parekh:


Rutu Parekh. Image credit: Indhu Varatharajan

If you are an Early Career member of the Europlanet Society and would like to be featured in an EPEC Profile, find out more about how to submit your profile.

See all the EPEC Profiles.

Inspiring Stories – Unlocking the Secrets of Enceladus with a homemade video

Inspiring Stories – Unlocking the Secrets of Enceladus with a homemade video

In this EPEC Inspiring Story, Grace Richards, a doctoral student at The Open University (UK), describes how she developed a winning video for the #PlanetaryScience4All video competition.

This year, EPSC-EPEC launched the #PlanetaryScience4All video competition, where PhD students and early career researchers involved in planetary science were given the opportunity to showcase their research through a 4 minute video. Although I have very little experience making videos and no camera equipment, I decided to enter. I am a first-year PhD student at The Open University, studying icy moon surfaces, with a focus on Enceladus. I will be working on developing a system which can analyse surface composition and determine the effects of space weathering processes, such as micrometeoroid impacts, on icy surfaces. 

Having just bought some watercolours to keep me occupied during the lockdown in the UK, I decided to take inspiration from stop-motion videos made by Stacy Phillips (her videos use Lego figures to explain the geology of mountains – watch here!). I wanted to make something which was accessible to non-scientists and fun to watch, while maintaining a high level of science.

My resources were fairly limited because I’d just moved to a new flat. After watching some YouTube tutorials, I downloaded the Stop Motion Studio app for iPhone, and used voice notes to record the audio. The only issue with recording the audio in this way was getting it recorded in between noise from my family/dogs/neighbours. Luckily, I have a lot of experience editing audio files from taking part in dance competitions!

Making a winning entry for the EPEC-EPSC Video Contest. Credit: Grace Richards
Making a winning entry for the EPEC-EPSC Video Contest. Credit: Grace Richards

After making a storyboard of the video, I started matching up the audio with how many frames were necessary for each section of the video. I used 5 frames a second, so had to take 1,200 photos to meet the 4-minute mark. This gives the video a very “stop-motion” effect. Although it may have looked smoother and more professional to use more frames, I thought that 1,200 photos was my limit (and my phone’s storage limit). The Stop Motion Studio app is extremely easy to use, especially for someone like me who isn’t very good at taking photos and there are some really great tutorials online for how to use it.

The longest part of the process was the painting. Using watercolours can be a fairly quick process, as you use thin washes to build up the colour, but care is needed to ensure the paper doesn’t wear through. I’d work on multiple pictures at a time, but the whole process took me a few full days of painting. I also enlisted my sister and her friend to help me cut out the little figures of spacecraft and text, so that was a lot less painful than I initially thought it would be.

I filmed the video by balancing my phone on a shelf above my paintings and surrounded the whole (very technical) set up with lamps. The only issues here were trying not to move my phone, some lighting problems while the Sun was setting, and trying not to move the paintings too much. I divided the filming into blocks so I could take a few breaks, then merged the audio and video files together using iMovie. My final video was called “Unlocking the Secrets of Enceladus” and can be seen at the bottom of this post.

I would like to give a big shout out to all the other contestants who submitted their videos, illustrating the fantastic science that is being conducted throughout out the EPEC community. The other films in the competition ranged from a detective story about the geomorphology of the Martian surface, insights into planetesimal formation using comets, and planetary mapping of the moon and Mercury.

Do you like this story and want more? Browse our archive of EPEC Inspiring Stories and get inspired!

EPEC Profiles – Indhu Varatharajan

EPEC Profiles – Indhu Varatharajan

In this series from the EPEC Communication Working Group, we meet members of the Europlanet Early Career (EPEC) community and find out more about their experiences and aspirations.

Indhu Varatharajan is a final-year PhD student at Planetary Spectroscopy Laboratory (PSL) group at Department of Planetary Laboratories, Institute of Planetary Research, German Aerospace Center (DLR), Berlin.

Being a girl child from a village in southern India with a dream to pursue planetary career since 13 year old and with no adequate financial background, its been one hell of a ride until here. I did not do it alone and I had help throughout my journey — and everyday I try my best to be someone’s help in their journey of a planetary career.

I strongly believe that international collaboration in very important when it comes to planetary science. This is my motivation to become the council member and Chair of Europlanet Early Career (EPEC) Network. I am passionate about volunteering for leader/professional posts as its my best chance to promote planetary and astronomy science to a wider community and see the community I envision it to be.

I am currently a final-year PhD student at the Planetary Spectroscopy Laboratory (PSL) group at the Department of Planetary Laboratories, Institute of Planetary Research, German Aerospace Center (DLR), Berlin and will be graduating by end of 2020. My PhD is focused on ‘Evaluating new spectral analysis techniques to study the hot surface of Mercury with MERTIS on ESA/JAXA BepiColombo mission’ and my advisor is Dr Jörn Helbert, Co-PI of MERTIS. I am officially Co-Investigator of MERTIS since 2018.

In the last 8 years, I am have been working in the field of planetary science investigating various planetary exploration methods such as laboratory spectroscopy from ultraviolet to far-infrared spectroscopy of planetary analogues, laboratory emissivity studies of hot planetary analogues under simulated planetary surface conditions, nanoscale spectroscopy of synthetic planetary analogue materials with synchrotron facilities, telescope observations, machine learning approaches to data analysis of orbital hyperspectral datasets, and planetary field analogue studies targeting in-situ planetary exploration. Over these years, I have had the opportunities to study and explore various aspects of planetary targets include the Moon, Mars, Mercury, near earth asteroids, main belt asteroids, Earth and meteorites.

I am personally motivated towards developing cross disciplinary AI-ML techniques for planetary surface exploration through an integrated spectroscopy approach. I am passionate about designing and building planetary science solutions that transform hierarchical datasets at scale and generate valuable insights to planetary surface resources and drive crucial exploration decisions.

I personally believe that taking responsibilities at a young age allows us to learn the professional elements in a more stress-free environment and EPEC allows me exactly that!!

At EPEC we are a team who are not only passionate about the research we do but also equally passionate in engraining varieties of soft skills including leadership and management qualities that benefit our early career fellows in becoming young professionals. It’s a rewarding and unique experience to work with early-career researchers across Europe and the international community across various working groups under common goals.

Indhu Varatharajan

More information about Indhu Varatharajan:


The compilation of all publications and abstracts are linked at this NASA ADS link:

Credit: Indhu Varatharajan

Academics and others: BE in Geoinformatics (Chennai, India), MSc in Planetary Science (London, UK), (ongoing) PhD in Planetary Spectroscopy and MERTIS/BEPICOLOMBO Data Science (Berlin, Germany), Co-Investigator of MERTIS payload onboard ESA-JAXA BepiColombo mission (2018-present), Chair of Europlanet Early Career (EPEC) Committee (2017-present), RAS Councillor (2019-2020), Founder and President of Astronomy and Planetary Science Club of CEG (2009-2012).

Indhu Varatharajan’s special interests: AI-driven integrated planetary spectroscopy and planetary surface science and exploration, Moon-Mercury science, space weathering, volatiles, volcanism, impact cratering, STEM outreach.

If you are an Early Career member of the Europlanet Society and would like to be featured in an EPEC Profile, find out more about how to submit your profile.

See all the EPEC Profiles.

Inspiring Stories – Make the wonders of space accessible to all

Inspiring Stories – Make the wonders of space accessible to all

In this EPEC Inspiring Story, Ines Belgacem and the Sens’Astro team describe how they are creating resources to share the wonders of the Universe with those with disabilities through a multisensory experience.

Making your work accessible to the general public is a crucial part of a scientist’s mission. This is the fundamental belief that brought the eight of us together to create Sens’Astro: experiencing space through the five senses. 

Passionate about space science and astrophysics, we love sharing that passion with the public. However, in our past experiences, we have been struck by how part of the population has limited access to the wonders of space that are so much based on what we see. That is how in October 2019, through the original idea of Marina Gruet, we came together to create Sens’Astro. Our mission is to share innovative content to discover the Universe through our five senses – sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch – making it accessible to people with sensory disabilities. 

Meet the team!

Sens'Astro team. Credit: Sens'Astro

During our first year, we have developed several activities that we have had the chance to test at a series of public events with audiences of all ages and backgrounds. Do you know what the Milky Way tastes like? What does the Moon smell like? What does Mars’s wind sound like? These are the sort of things we are proposing to be discovered at our events!

We are grateful for the support we have already received from organisations like the Société Française d’Astronomie et d’Astrophysique (SF2A), la Cité de l’Espace (Toulouse, France) and Délires d’Encre. Thanks to them, we were able to develop and do live tests of the activities we want to share.

Discover the sounds of the Universe, the Sun, Jupiter, Mars and can you name the songs on Voyager's Golden Record? Scientilivre Festival at Diagora, Labège, France.
Discover the sounds of the Universe, the Sun, Jupiter, Mars and can you name the songs on Voyager’s Golden Record? Scientilivre Festival at Diagora, Labège, France.

We are now looking to expand and invest in more durable equipment for the future. We are currently reflecting on how to make our activities safe in the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are really looking forward to going back out there to meet the public and keep sharing our passion with everyone!

“Scent bingo” – Sulfur, ammonia, barbecue… would you be able to identify what these scents belong to? From Scientilivre Festival at Diagora, Labège, France.
“Scent bingo” – Sulphur, ammonia, barbecue… would you be able to identify what these scents belong to? From Scientilivre Festival at Diagora, Labège, France.

One of the most rewarding aspects of this first year has been getting feedback from our different events. So much of space exploration is told through breath-taking images and it is not easy to find ways to share it through other senses. People who were already a bit of a space enthusiast found our activities to be a clever take on what they were already familiar with, and they even discovered a new way to look at the Universe. People with sensory disabilities appreciated that we tailored our content for them and had some crucial remarks to help us improve, e.g. the spacing in our Braille impressions was sometimes insufficient for them to read. Kids were incredibly happy to be able to touch things like meteorites and 3D-printed planetary surfaces or to bake Milky Way and Jupiter cookies. Involving them in that way makes it so much easier to hold their attention and help them remember what they learnt.

All in all, finding ways to discover space through all five senses has been challenging – in a good way! It has allowed us to reach a wide range of audiences though innovative and accessible content. And you can do that too! You can visit our social network pages to see more examples or interact with us. You can even participate in our first-year anniversary event and share with our community the image, the scent, the feel, the sound and taste of this last year in space. 


Twitter, Instagram, Facebook: @SensAstro31


Do you like this story and want more? Browse our archive of EPEC Inspiring Stories and get inspired!

EPEC-EPSC Video Contest – Announcing the Shortlist

EPEC-EPSC Video Contest – Announcing the Shortlist

We are excited to announce the shortlist for the #PlanetaryScience4All EPEC -EPSC video contest.

We have four fantastic finalists who have risen to the challenge of describing their research in just 4 minutes. The judges are deliberating and the winners will be announced on Friday 2 October in Session CE13 – Outstanding Student Poster Award and EPEC-EPSC video contest announcements

And the winner is….

Grace Richards

Congratulations to Grace and to all the finalists:

Doro Bischoff

Anthony Guimpier

Gloria Tognon

Back to EPSC2020 Outreach

EPEC Profiles – Solmaz Adeli

EPEC Profiles – Solmaz Adeli

In this series from the EPEC Communication Working Group, we meet members of the Europlanet Early Career (EPEC) community and find out more about their experiences and aspirations.

Solmaz Adeli is a planetary geologist, working as a Postdoctoral researcher at the Institute of Planetary Research of the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

Studying the planets has always been a dream to me, since I was little, and I couldn’t be happier for being in this research topic in this particular period of time, where there are missions to various planets, asteroids, icy moons, even far Kuiper belt objects!

Researching the past climate and surface conditions of the Red Planet is my expertise. I am actively involved in the HRSC camera science team on board ESA’s Mars Express mission, and the PanCam camera on board the future ESA and Roscosmos rover, Rosalind Franklin, which is a part of the ExoMars mission.

I obtained my doctoral degree in 2016 from the Freie Universität Berlin and German Space Center (DLR) on the topic of ‘History of liquid water on Mars’. My thesis was about reconstructing the geological history of a region on the southern hemisphere of Mars, where the presence of one of the largest paleolakes on Mars has been hypothesized (Eridania lake). During my first postdoc, I studied the recent glaciation phases in the midlatitude regions of Mars.

Currently I am supporting the Rosalind Franklin rover science team in their landing site high resolution mapping effort, by leading a part of the mapping exercise. In addition, I am also involved in preparing samples to be analyzed by the rover’s scientific payload. This allowed me to visit the exobiology research team at CBM/CNRS laboratories in Orleans, France last year, for a couple of months. For this visit, I won a travel grant from the Geo.X network in Berlin and Brandenburg.

In addition to the research activities, I also teach planetary science-related topics at the Freie Universität Berlin and Universität Potsdam, and occasionally supervise bachelor and master thesis, as well as co-supervising doctoral studies. Interacting with interested and motivated students is one of the most rewarding parts of my job.

Since 2019, I am chairing the EPEC EPSC working group, along with Maike Neuland. This has been an amazing experience of creativity, networking, organizing, planning, interacting with other working groups and conference organizers, and working with great members of the this working group. I have learnt so much about how an event such as EPSC is being managed and how early careers can influence the larger community.

Solmaz Adeli

More information about Solmaz Adeli:


Solmaz Adeli
Credit: Solmaz Adeli

If you are an Early Career member of the Europlanet Society and would like to be featured in an EPEC Profile, find out more about how to submit your profile.

See all the EPEC Profiles.

Voyage 2050 Viewpoint: Dr Patricio Becerra

Voyage 2050 Viewpoint: Dr Patricio Becerra

In this series from the EPEC Future Research Working Group, Eleni Maria Ravanis talked with three early career planetary science researchers who are lead authors on Voyage 2050 white papers to find out more about how they got involved and what they think planetary science will look like in 2050. 

Dr Patricio Becerra

Dr Patricio Becerra is a post-doc at the University of Bern in Switzerland. Originally from Peru, he completed his PhD in the US at the University of Arizona in 2016, then moved to Bern in 2017. He is the co-lead on the white paper entitled “Mars and the Science Programme: The case for Mars Polar Science”. 

What is the basic idea of your white paper?

Our white paper seeks to promote the continued exploration of Mars, with a particular focus on the polar regions and the icy deposits on the planet’s surface, and how they relate to climate. Mars’ climate, like that of Earth, has changed over time due to oscillations in its orbital parameters, which affect the solar flux on the surface. These oscillations are more extreme on Mars than on Earth, and Mars has no other factors heavily affecting its climate (such as oceans, biology and anthropogenic emissions), resulting in a direct relationship between its geologic deposits and its orbital climate forcing. This is especially evident in the stratified deposits of ice at the poles, and in the icy deposits in the mid latitudes. Therefore, the Martian icy climate record is an ideal laboratory to study the basic causes of planetary climate change. In addition, Martian ice deposits are the most extensive in the inner solar system, after Earth’s, and the possibility of signs of extant or extinct life being present in this ice is considerable. Finally, easily accessible surface ice is indispensable for in-situ resource utilisation by future crewed exploration missions. For all these reasons, continued exploration of Mars benefits not just planetary science, but climatology, geology, astrobiology, and the future of astronautics. The ideas, goals, and mission proposals presented in the white paper were the result of a Keck Institute for Space Science (KISS) Workshop held in 2017 and 2018.

Coming from Peru, I hope that in the future there will be more contributions from Southern Hemisphere countries, and that research in planetary science becomes truly diversified.

Dr Patricio Becerra

How did you become involved in the white paper?

I specialise in remote sensing of the polar regions of Mars. As a postdoc in Switzerland, I became aware of the white paper call through my boss (Prof. Nicolas Thomas) and the Voyage 2050 website. At the 9th International Conference on Mars, in Pasadena, California, a session was set aside to discuss white papers for NASA’s decadal survey, and for ESA’s Voyage 2050. At this session, Prof. Thomas (who is the PI of ExoMars TGO’s CaSSIS camera) expressed his interest in writing a white paper promoting Mars exploration for the next decades. As we had both participated in the KISS Workshop in 2017 and 2018, I asked him to participate and we decided to focus the paper on Mars Polar Science, adding another collaborator from Canada.

Talk to the authors. Email them, show your enthusiasm and be proactive about becoming involved.

Dr Patricio Becerra

What advice do you have for early career researchers who want to get involved in the follow-up of the white papers presented at this workshop?

Talk to the authors. Email them, show your enthusiasm and be proactive about becoming involved. Co-signers are always welcome, and generally, the more interest an author has on their topic, the better it will be for that topic/mission/proposal down the line.

What do you think planetary science will look like in 2050?

It’s hard to say, given numerous political instabilities around the world at the present time. However, I think that at the very least, humans will be back on the Moon before then. Also, I think we will probably have missions to the Ice Giants that are bound to result in numerous discoveries and perhaps completely revolutionise knowledge in planetary science. The upcoming missions to Europa, the Jupiter system, and Titan, will surely generate as much, if not more knowledge as the seminal missions that came before them, namely Galileo and Cassini. Hopefully, this will continue to spark public interest, which will enable more job opportunities for young aspiring planetary scientists.
In particular, I hope that planetary science becomes truly global. Currently, the majority of advanced research in planetary science is done primarily in the US and Europe, followed closely by Japan. China and India are beginning to become players in the game, and hopefully this will continue and improve. Coming from Peru, I hope that in the future there will be more contributions from Southern Hemisphere countries, and that research in planetary science (and also other fields) becomes truly diversified.

It would also be great to see more scientists – who in their majority are driven by a passion for the field – in leading positions within companies, or even starting their own space exploration companies that collaborate with agencies, provide payload, staff, and even propose their own mission concepts.

Dr Patricio Becerra

Historically, scientists have worked solely with space agencies to perform experiments in space and on planets. Do you think that the growth of private companies bringing payloads in space, e.g., to or around the Moon, is serious and mature enough for scientists to start collaborating with them?

Yes, I do. The disadvantage of private enterprises in research is that most of the time, profit is the most important objective, which tends to bias which type of research gets done, and limits who has access to the results of that research. However, I think that the way forward is collaborations between space agencies and private companies, such as those between NASA and Boeing, historically with Lockheed-Martin, and most recently with Space-X. These types of collaborations reduce the cost of launches and payload construction, while ensuring that the community goals for research are kept at the forefront. It would also be great to see more scientists – who in their majority are driven by a passion for the field – in leading positions within companies, or even starting their own space exploration companies that collaborate with agencies, provide payload, staff, and even propose their own mission concepts.

More about Voyage 2050 Viewpoints.

New space companies and planetary science

New space companies and planetary science

This article has been contributed by Hans Huybrighs and Ottaviano Ruesch of the EPEC Future Research Working Group.

In the news, we often hear about New Space companies and their goals to ‘revolutionise’ the access and use of space. Think, for example, of Blue Origin and their planned Blue Moon lunar lander. These new opportunities to access planetary bodies are not, however, always considered in the planetary science community as serious options.

We wonder: are private space companies overlooked because there is some uncertainty as to whether they will eventually launch? Is it worth considering such opportunities when we think of the future of planetary science?

Here at the EPEC Future Research Working Group, we want to explore whether New Space companies will affect how we do research in the future. To find out more, we spoke with Dr Thorben Könemann, Deputy Scientific Director of the ZARM Drop Tower Operation and Service Company at the Center of Applied Space Technology and Microgravity (ZARM) in Bremen, and Dr Erika Wagner, payload sales director at Blue Origin in Kent, Washington.

‘Complementary’ is the keyword that Dr Könemann uses to describe the opportunities provided by New Space companies. His engineering team at ZARM integrates and supports microgravity experiments that have also flown onboard Blue Origin’s reusable launch vehicle, New Shepard, and Dr Könemann has been involved in those experiments from the beginning. 

‘Blue Origin provides complementary access to space with a different set of boundary conditions for the payload than was previously available,’ Dr Könemann says. ‘Examples of such boundary conditions are: payload mass, duration and quality of microgravity, performance of the vehicle, and finally pricing. The availability of a new option increases the chance of finding a launcher that meets the requirement of an experiment and thus the chance to obtain an opportunity to fly.’

Although those experiments are generally more focused on microgravity research and less on planetary science, ZARM’s experience of becoming involved with Blue Origin still gives us lessons that can be applied to planetary science.

Through talking to Dr Könemann, it is clear that today, we are not necessarily witnessing a radical change in how space missions are developed, but rather an increase in the ways that space can be reached and studied. Flights provided by Blue Origin’s suborbital New Shepard rocket are an example of such new methods.

Dr Könemann states, ‘ZARM reached out early to potential new launch providers a decade ago. We not only contacted Blue Origin but also spoke to other upcoming companies, some of which don’t exist anymore.’

Therefore, even though the flight opportunities from new space companies for planetary science beyond Earth do not exist at present, it does make sense to establish relations with these companies early, so as not to miss out on these new opportunities later down the line.

Blue Origin's Blue Moon lunar lander. Credit: Blue Origin.
The Blue Moon lunar lander. Credit: Blue Origin.

Looking at the future and at rockets that can reach deep space, Dr Wagner says,  ‘Blue Origin will be able to bring a considerable mass and volume of payload onto the surface of the Moon with the Blue Moon lunar lander. This would offer the opportunity to build heavier and more voluminous instruments.’

This is somewhat contrary to the trend of miniaturisation. It is the view of the EPEC Future Research WG that being aware of these opportunities from now will enable the community to develop instrumentation that makes optimal use of the new diverse platforms when they become available (and planning space missions is a long process – check out our series on the ESA Voyage 2050 white papers).

Dr Wagner also explains that of the 100 experiments to have flown on New Shepard, only 3 were funded by European agencies. Thus, it seems that there is a slower uptake on commercial opportunities in Europe when compared with the USA.

Dr Wagner suggests, “If early career researchers want to see an increase in this uptake, they could enable this change by advocating for the potential use of these new opportunities.”

For example, early career researchers can include these possibilities in white papers for government surveys equivalent to the US decadal survey, or through bodies such as the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC).

We conclude that new space companies could provide further opportunities in the future to reach our planetary destinations. To make the most of these opportunities, however, it helps to establish connections early, and early career researchers can encourage a move in this direction by advocating for links between planetary science and future launches by private space companies.

What are your thoughts about new space and planetary science? Let us know:

Find out more about the EPEC Future Research WG.

Banner image credit: Blue Origin.