Europlanet Prize for Public Engagement 2020 awarded jointly to Dr Sheila Kanani and The Travelling Telescope

Europlanet Prize for Public Engagement 2020 awarded jointly to Dr Sheila Kanani and The Travelling Telescope

The 2020 Europlanet Prize for Public Engagement with Planetary Science has been awarded jointly to Dr Sheila Kanani and to the team behind The Travelling Telescope, Susan Murabana and Daniel Chu Owen.

Dr Sheila Kanani is a planetary physicist, broadcaster, comedian, author and teacher, with a background in research as part of the Cassini science team, studying Saturn’s magnetosphere. She is the co-founder of the STEMMsisters charity, a STEM ambassador and a representative of ScienceGrrl. Since 2014, she has been the Education, Outreach and Diversity Officer of the Royal Astronomical Society (RAS), where she has transformed the public engagement activity of the Society, delivering a comprehensive programme across the UK, concentrating on areas of socioeconomic deprivation and cultural diversity. She has written five non-fiction books for children, including two space themed books, and has just signed to write a further two science books for children.

Since establishing The Travelling Telescope in 2014, Susan Murabana and Daniel Chu Owen have enabled hundreds of thousands of children to engage with planetary science and astronomy by bringing a portable 12-inch telescope, an inflatable planetarium and outreach resources to remote and underserved regions of Kenya. In January 2020, they completed the construction of the first digital planetarium in East Africa. The Nairobi Planetarium has been built in a low-cost and environmentally sustainable way using bamboo harvested at the site. Susan Murabana is the president of the newly formed Africa Planetarium Association and the United Nations Space4Women mentor 2020.

José Antonio Gordillo Martorell, Chair of the Europlanet Outreach Jury, said, “This is the first time that we have awarded two Europlanet Prizes for Public Engagement in the same year. Sheila Kanani and The Travelling Telescopehave both made outstanding contributions to reaching diverse communities, showing profound personal commitment and innovative approaches to inspiring young people through planetary science and astronomy. We are delighted to have two such worthy winners.”

An awards ceremony will take place during the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2020 virtual meeting on Tuesday 22nd September and this will be followed by 15-minute prize lectures by the winners. Both winners will receive an award of 4000 Euros.

Dr Becky Parker, Chair of the Education and Outreach Committee of the RAS, said: “I cannot think of any person more actively engaged in promoting physics and astronomy than Sheila. Collaborators all value her clear and purposeful determination to raise the profile of physics and astronomy and develop engagement in a number of new ways, always thinking about how to support teachers and students. In this extraordinary time of COVID 19, she has been incredibly innovative, providing online activities, teacher training, national activities. Her commitment to such a range of public engagement activities well beyond her day job is phenomenal.”

Dr Mark SubbaRao, President of the International Planetarium Society, said: “Susan and Chu are advocates for astronomy and planetary science education across Africa. The Travelling Telescope is an incredibly important model for Africa, where it is difficult to rely on support from government, or private donations. Whether in the planetarium or at the eyepiece of the telescope, I was struck with the enthusiasm and passion with which Chu and Susan communicated science to everyone from world leaders to small children. I also saw how they hired and mentored many local astronomy students, nurturing the next generation of Kenyan scientists and outreach professionals.”

Dr Sheila Kanani said: “I’m honoured and quite speechless to win this award, especially in being able to share it with such esteemed colleagues in Africa. I’ve always been entirely supported in my endeavours by my family and friends, which has led me to want to support others to be part of the wonderful world of astronomy. Being able to include the space diversity aspects into my job has also been extremely fulfilling, after all, we all share the same sky and earth, so I hope I can help others enjoy space as it has so inspired me!” 

Sheila at a book signing at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Credit: Helen Giles
Sheila at a book signing at the Edinburgh Book Festival. Credit: Helen Giles
Dr Sheila Kanani. Credit: Lynda Laird
Dr Sheila Kanani. Credit: Lynda Laird
Susan Murabana leading an observing session. Credit: The Travelling Telescope
Susan Murabana leading an observing session. Credit: The Travelling Telescope
Daniel Chu Owen leading a school session. Credit: The Travelling Telescope
Daniel Chu Owen leading a school session. Credit: The Travelling Telescope

Contacts
Dr Sheila Kanani
Royal Astronomical Society
skanani@ras.ac.uk

Susan Murabana
CEO and Co-Founder
The Travelling Telescope
smurabana@travellingtelescope.co.uk

Daniel Chu Owen,
Technical Director and Co-Founder
The Travelling Telescope
chu@travellingtelescope.co.uk

Media Contacts

Anita Heward
Europlanet 2020 RI Press Officer
Mobile: +44 (0)77 5603 4243
Email: epsc-press@europlanet-society.org

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

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

Dr Robert Massey
Royal Astronomical Society
rmassey@ras.ac.uk

About the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2020

EPSC (https://www.epsc2020.eu/) will take place as a virtual meeting for the first time in 2020 from 21 September to 9 October. The meeting has a hybrid format of asynchronous presentations and discussion alongside a programme of live webinars.

The Europlanet Science Congress (formerly the European Planetary Science Congress) is the annual meeting place of the Europlanet Society. With a track record of 14 years and regularly attracting around 1000 participants, the Europlanet Science Congress is the largest planetary science meeting in Europe. It covers the entire range of planetary sciences with an extensive mix of talks, workshops and poster sessions while providing a unique space for networking and exchange of experiences.

Follow on Twitter via @europlanetmedia and using the hashtag #EPSC2020

About Europlanet

Since 2005, Europlanet (www.europlanet-society.org) has provided Europe’s planetary science community with a platform to exchange ideas and personnel, share research tools, data and facilities, define key science goals for the future, and engage stakeholders, policy makers and European citizens with planetary science. 

The Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure (RI) has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 871149 to provide access to state-of-the-art research facilities and a mechanism to coordinate Europe’s planetary science community. 

The Europlanet Society promotes the advancement of European planetary science and related fields for the benefit of the community and is open to individual and organisational members. The Europlanet Society is the parent organisation of the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC).

The Europlanet Prize for Public Engagement

The Europlanet Prize for Public Engagement with Planetary Science (https://www.europlanet-society.org/prize/) aims to recognise achievements in engaging European citizens with planetary science and to raise the profile of outreach within the scientific community. Established by Europlanet in 2010, the Prize is awarded to individuals or groups who have developed innovative practices in planetary science communication and whose efforts have significantly contributed to a wider public engagement with planetary science. The 2020 Prize has been supported by the University of Kent.

EPSC2020: Parker Solar Probe, Akatsuki and Earth-bound observers give rare top-to surface glimpse of Venus

EPSC2020: Parker Solar Probe, Akatsuki and Earth-bound observers give rare top-to surface glimpse of Venus

Akatsuki observations of Venus at the time of the Parker Solar Probe flyby. These observations sampled the upper atmosphere at roughly 70 km altitude above the surface. Credit: JAXA, Planet-C

Observations of Venus by NASA’s Parker Solar Probe, JAXA’s Akatsuki mission and astronomers around the world have given a rare cloud-top-to-surface glimpse of the Earth’s neighbouring planet. The results are being presented this week at the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2020, which is taking place as a virtual meeting from 21 September – 9 October.

On 11 July 2020, the Parker Solar Probe, which is travelling to the inner Solar System to catch particles of the outer atmosphere of the Sun, completed the third of a series of flybys of Venus. From 19 June to 18 July, astronomers and members of the Akatsuki science team joined forces to support the probe’s encounter through a coordinated campaign of observations. The ground-based observations were contributed largely by amateur astronomers.

A similar campaign will be carried out to support the flyby of Venus by ESA’s BepiColombo mission on 15 October 2020.

“The campaign has resulted in multiple, multi-level observations right from the surface to the cloud-tops and airglow phenomena, which have given us unique insights into Venus’s atmosphere,” said Ricardo Hueso, a former member of ESA’s Venus Express mission and coordinator of the amateur participation. “The opportunity to observe Venus with so many instruments and with such a large collaboration means that we can enhance the scientific value of these short visits by the Parker Solar Probe and BepiColombo to Venus.” 

Venus is the brightest object we see in the night-sky aside from the Moon. Although it is the most similar planet in size to the Earth, it is a radically different world. Its thick atmosphere, composed mainly of the greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, keeps the surface at temperatures of 460 degrees Celsius and pressures comparable to those found at the depths of Earth’s oceans. The upper atmosphere is home to multiple cloud layers, made of sulphuric acid with traces of water, which move at hurricane-like speeds. Despite this hostile environment, the recent discovery of phosphine molecules in Venus atmosphere has reactivated speculation about the possible presence of ‘aerial’ microbial life existing in the upper clouds of the planet. Spacecraft passing close to Venus as they travel through the inner Solar System can gather valuable data to help us understand the planet’s properties and its evolution. 

During the campaign, the Parker Solar Probe observed the nightside of the planet from the surface to the upper atmosphere and Akatsuki obtained data of the upper clouds. Back on Earth, researchers used the Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF) in Hawaii and the Nordic Optical Telescope (NOT) in La Palma to probe the deeper clouds of Venus on the night-side of the planet. Additional observations of the deeper clouds and Venus surface were obtained at Pic du Midi in France. Amateur astronomers observed the upper and middle clouds in ultraviolet, violet and near infrared wavelengths. Some amateur observers also managed to observe the Venus surface through the warm radiation escaping from the planet through Venus’s clouds. 

The global ground-based support from professional telescopes was led by Javier Peralta, an astronomer who has coordinated similar campaigns in support of past missions. The amateur ground-based support campaign was coordinated through the Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure.

“It was a really exciting opportunity to have researchers using the IRTF and NOT join forces with amateur astronomers to observe Venus at the same time as Parker and Akatsuki,” said Dr Peralta.  “These observations have also given us the chance to monitor the evolution of a fast-moving, giant, longitudinal divide in the deeper clouds of Venus that has been previously observed between January and April 2020 by amateur astronomers.”   

Observations continued and intensified throughout August, when Venus was best observed from the Earth, and will culminate in October, when the BepiColombo mission will flyby Venus on its journey to Mercury. 

“There are clear signs of changes over time in the clouds of Venus if we compare observations by the Venus Express mission in 2006-2014 with more recent observations by Akatsuki since 2015. The data obtained by amateur and professional observers in these campaigns associated with flybys this summer and autumn will extend our knowledge of Venus weather and its variability,” said Dr Peralta. 

EPSC Presentations

Wednesday 23 September, 10:10-10:450 CEST: Interview session about BepiColombo flyby of Venus with guests, Johannes Benkhoff, Ricardo Hueso and Javier Peralta: https://meetingorganizer.copernicus.org/EPSC2020/session/38646

Amateur Ground-based Support of the first BepiColombo flyby of Venus, Itziar Garate-Lopez et al: https://meetingorganizer.copernicus.org/EPSC2020/EPSC2020-1060.html

Amateur observations of a planetary-scale wave in the middle clouds of Venus, Emmanouil Kardasis, Javier Peralta, Grigoris Maravelias, and Yaroslav Naryzhniy: https://meetingorganizer.copernicus.org/EPSC2020/EPSC2020-712.html

Modelling the in situ solar and thermal radiation environment for future entry probe missions to Venus, P. Irwin et al: https://meetingorganizer.copernicus.org/EPSC2020/EPSC2020-312.html

Links:

Science Contacts:

Javier Peralta
Coordinator of Parker Solar Probe Amateur Ground-based Support
Algeciras
Spain
javier.peralta.calvillo@gmail.com

Ricardo Hueso
Física Aplicada I, Planetary Sciences Group, UPV/EHU
Bilbao, Spain
Tel: +34 94601 4262
ricardo.hueso@ehu.eus

Media contacts:

Anita Heward
EPSC 2020 Press Officer
+44 7756 034243
aheward@europlanet-society.org
epsc-press@europlanet-society.org

Livia Giacomini
EPSC2020 Press Officer
epsc-press@europlanet-society.org

Adriana Postiglione
EPSC2020 Press Officer
epsc-press@europlanet-society.org

Images:

Akatsuki observations of Venus at the time of the Parker Solar Probe flyby. These observations sampled the upper atmosphere at roughly 70 km altitude above the surface. Credit: JAXA, Planet-C

Figure 1: Akatsuki observations of Venus at the time of the Parker Solar Probe flyby. These observations sampled the upper atmosphere at roughly 70 km altitude above the surface. Credit: JAXA, Planet-C

Observations of Venus lower clouds in the night-side of the planet. Images from NOT acquired by J. Peralta (JAXA) and R. Baena (IAC). Images from IRTF acquired by E. Young (SwRI). These observations sampled the middle atmosphere at roughly 45-50 km altitude above the surface. Credit: NOT/ NASA, IRTF

Figure 2: Observations of Venus lower clouds in the night-side of the planet. Images from NOT acquired by J. Peralta (JAXA) and R. Baena (IAC). Images from IRTF acquired by E. Young (SwRI). These observations sampled the middle atmosphere at roughly 45-50 km altitude above the surface. Credit: NOT/ NASA, IRTF

Selection of amateur observations of Venus before, during and after the Parker Solar Probe flyby. These observations sampled Venus atmosphere from the surface to the upper clouds. These and many other amateur images are available at the PVOL database http://pvol2.ehu.eus. Credit: Emmanuel Kardasis/Sebastian Voltmer/Phil Miles/Joaquin Camarena/Luigi Morrone

Figure 3: Selection of amateur observations of Venus before, during and after the Parker Solar Probe flyby. These observations sampled Venus atmosphere from the surface to the upper clouds. These and many other amateur images are available at the PVOL database http://pvol2.ehu.eus. Credit: Emmanuel Kardasis/Sebastian Voltmer/Phil Miles/Joaquin Camarena/Luigi Morrone

Further information:

About the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2020

EPSC (https://www.epsc2020.eu/) will take place as a virtual meeting for the first time in 2020 from 21 September to 9 October. The meeting has a hybrid format of asynchronous presentations and discussion alongside a programme of live webinars.

The Europlanet Science Congress (formerly the European Planetary Science Congress) is the annual meeting place of the Europlanet Society. With a track record of 14 years and regularly attracting around 1000 participants, the Europlanet Science Congress is the largest planetary science meeting in Europe. It covers the entire range of planetary sciences with an extensive mix of talks, workshops and poster sessions while providing a unique space for networking and exchange of experiences.

Follow on Twitter via @europlanetmedia and using the hashtag #EPSC2020

About Europlanet

Since 2005, Europlanet (www.europlanet-society.org) has provided Europe’s planetary science community with a platform to exchange ideas and personnel, share research tools, data and facilities, define key science goals for the future, and engage stakeholders, policy makers and European citizens with planetary science. 

The Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure (RI) has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 871149 to provide access to state-of-the-art research facilities and a mechanism to coordinate Europe’s planetary science community. 

The Europlanet Society promotes the advancement of European planetary science and related fields for the benefit of the community and is open to individual and organisational members. The Europlanet Society is the parent organisation of the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC).

Media Announcement: Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2020 – Monday 21 September – 9 October 2020

Media Announcement: Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2020 – Monday 21 September – 9 October 2020

The 2020 Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) will take place as a virtual meeting from Monday 21 September to Friday 9 October 2020. This is the first time that EPSC has taken place as an online conference. The EPSC2020 programme covers the full spectrum of planetary science and technology across 47 sessions. More than 975 oral and poster presentations have been uploaded by planetary scientists from Europe, the US and around the world.

The EPSC2020 virtual meeting has a hybrid format of asynchronous presentations and discussion alongside a programme of live webinars. Scientific oral presentations have been submitted as pre-recorded 10-minute videos. Poster presentations are in PDF format, optimised for viewing on screen. The live programme includes daily briefings, interviews with members of the planetary science community, a “showcase” summary for each session, a keynote lecture for each thematic programme group, prize lectures, community events, short courses and splinter meetings.

An overview of the full programme is now online.

The meeting hashtag is #EPSC2020

Details of the live programme, the scientific sessions and the presentations can be found at the official website:https://www.epsc2020.eu/

A limited number of press notices will be issued by the EPSC2020 Press Office during the meeting.

MEDIA REGISTRATION

Media representatives are cordially invited to attend the EPSC2020 meeting. Media registration is free. Any bona fide media delegates can register by e-mailing epsc-press@europlanet-society.org.

The EPSC2020 Press Office will provide support for media registered for the meeting in identifying presentations of interest and contacting authors.

CONTACTS

Anita Heward
EPSC2020 Press Officer
+44 7756 034243
aheward@europlanet-society.org
epsc-press@europlanet-society.org

Livia Giacomini
EPSC2020 Press Officer
epsc-press@europlanet-society.org

Adriana Postiglione
EPSC2020 Press Officer
epsc-press@europlanet-society.org

FURTHER INFORMATION

About the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 

The Europlanet Science Congress (https://www.epsc2020.eu/) formerly the European Planetary Science Congress, is the annual meeting place of the Europlanet Society. With a track record of 14 years, and regularly attracting around 1000 participants, EPSC is the largest planetary science meeting in Europe. It covers the entire range of planetary sciences with an extensive mix of talks, workshops and poster sessions, as well as providing a unique space for networking and exchanges of experiences.

Follow on Twitter via @europlanetmedia and using the hashtag #EPSC2020

About Europlanet

Since 2005, Europlanet (www.europlanet-society.org) has provided Europe’s planetary science community with a platform to exchange ideas and personnel, share research tools, data and facilities, define key science goals for the future, and engage stakeholders, policy makers and European citizens with planetary science.

The Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure (RI) has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 871149 to provide access to state-of-the-art research facilities and a mechanism to coordinate Europe’s planetary science community. 

The Europlanet Society promotes the advancement of European planetary science and related fields for the benefit of the community and is open to individual and organisational members. The Europlanet Society is the parent organisation of the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC).

Europlanet Telescope Network launched to support planetary research and build global pro-am collaboration

Europlanet 2024 RI logo

Europlanet Telescope Network launched to support planetary research and build global pro-am collaboration

A new collaboration between telescopes around the world has been launched to provide coordinated observations and rapid responses in support of planetary research. The Europlanet Telescope Network will provide professional and trained amateur observers with access to telescopes located around the globe and ranging from 0.25 – 2m in diameter. 

Initially linking 15 observatories, the network plans to draw in additional facilities and build new collaborations, particularly in geographical regions that are currently under-represented in the planetary science community.

The study of planets, asteroids and comets can require long-term monitoring or very precise timing by ground-based observatories. This combination of characteristics produces a unique set of challenges, as it matters both where on the Earth one observes from and precisely when. 

“Relatively small telescopes can produce first-rate planetary science,” said Manuel Scherf, the coordinator of the Europlanet Telescope Network. “Our aim with this new network is to support a global community that can react fast and effectively to observational alerts and participate in coordinated observational campaigns related to objects in our Solar System and planets orbiting distant stars.”

Examples of research that could be supported via the network include monitoring of how atmospheric features on planets evolve, or how a comet’s activity changes as it orbits the Sun. The network will also be used in studies that require significant amounts of observing time, like searches for lunar impact flashes, and observations from multiple locations simultaneously, such as to reveal the size, shape and orbit of asteroids that might be hazardous to Earth.

“As planets and smaller bodies of our Solar System move against the background of distant stars, we can gather information about their physical properties and orbits,” explained Colin Snodgrass of the University of Edinburgh, deputy coordinator of the network and chair of its scientific advisory board. “A network of telescopes that can make long-term or time-sensitive observations from different locations across Europe and beyond will be very valuable for planetary astronomy.”

Professional and amateur astronomers can now apply to visit the facilities participating in the Europlanet Telescope Network and have their expenses covered for the time needed to make their observations, which can range from hours to several weeks. Visits will start from the autumn, subject to any local travel restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The project is coordinated through the Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure, which is funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme.

Grazina Tautvaisiene, Director of the Institute of Theoretical Physics and Astronomy in Lithuania, said, “There are many small telescopes in facilities around the world, and particularly in Eastern Europe, that are under-used. By networking these diverse observatories, we can take advantage of their geographical spread and relative lack of time constraints to carry out exciting, cutting-edge research.”

The network also aims to strengthen collaborations between professional and amateur astronomers and provide training to widen participation in planetary research.

“Amateur astronomers are playing an increasingly important role in planetary research and in supporting missions to study objects in our own Solar System and planets orbiting other stars. The Europlanet Telescope Network aims to empower skilled amateurs to use professional facilities and to participate in international campaigns,” said Ricardo Hueso of the Universidad del País Vasco/Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea.

The observatories participating in the project are:

  • Pic du Midi Observatory, IMCCE, Observatoire de Paris, CNRS, France: 1.06m-telescope
  • Moletai Astronomical Observatory, Vilnius University, Institute of Theoretical Physics and Astronomy, Lithuania: 1.65m-telescope and 35/51cm-telescope
  • Kryoneri Observatory, National Observatory of Athens, Greece: 1.2m-telescope
  • Skalnate Pleso Observatory, Astronomical Institute of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, Slovakia: 1.3m-telescope and 61cm-telescope
  • Faulkes Telescope Project, UK (accessing the Las Cumbres Observatory, LCO, global network): Two 2m-robotic telescopes, nine 1m-robotic telescopes, and ten 40cm-robotic telescopes
  • Tartu Observatory, University of Tartu, Tartu Observatory, Estonia: 1.5m telescope, 60cm telescope, 30cm robotic telescope
  • Danish 1.54m telescope at ESO La Silla Observatory (Chile), Copenhagen University, Niels Bohr Institute, Denmark: 1.54m mirror telescope
  • Beacon Observatory, University of Kent, UK: 42cm remote controllable astrograph
  • Observatorie del Teide, Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias, Spain : 82cm IAC-80 telescope, 45cm telescope
  • Calar Alto Observatory, Junta de Andalucia and the Instituto de Astrofisica de Andalucia, Spain : 1.23m telescope
  • Lisnyky Observation Station, AO KNU, Ukraine: 70cm telescope
  • Chuguev Observatory, Institute of Astronomy of V.N. Karazin Kharkiv National University, Ukraine: 70cm telescope
  • Terskol Peak Observatory, International  Center for Astronomical, Medical and Ecological Research of the  National Academy of Sciences  of  Ukraine (IC AMER), Ukraine: 2m telescope, 60cm telescope
  • Konkoly Observatory, Research Centre for Astronomy and Earth Sciences, Hungary: 1m telescope, 80cm telescope
  • Ussuriysk Astrophysical Observatory, Institute of Applied Astronomy of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia: 25cm-telescope, 50cm-telescope

Europlanet Telescope Network: https://www.europlanet-society.org/europlanet-2024-ri/telescope-network/

Images

Calar Alto Observatory. Credit: Calar Alto Observatory
Full resolution image
Calar Alto Observatory. Credit: Ricardo Hueso
Full resolution image
Skalnate Pleso Observatory. Credit: Marek Husarik
Full resolution image
Moletai Astronomical Observatory
Moletai Astronomical Observatory. Credit: Moletai Astronomical Observatory Archive
Full resolution image
1.05 m telescope at Pic du Midi Observatory. Credit: Ricardo Hueso
Full resolution image
Beacon Observatory at the University of Kent. Credit: University of Kent
Full resolution image
Locations of the telescopes in the network. Map data © Google
Infographic on Europlanet Telescope Network. Credit: Europlanet/José Utreras
Full resolution infographic

Science Contacts

Manuel Scherf
Space Research Institute
Austrian Academy of Sciences
Graz, Austria
manuel.scherf@oeaw.ac.at

Gražina Tautvaišienė
Institute of Theoretical Physics and Astronomy
Vilnius University
Vilnius, Lithuania
grazina.tautvaisiene@tfai.vu.lt

Ricardo Hueso Alonso
Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingeniería
Universidad del País Vasco/Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea
Bilbao
ricardo.hueso@ehu.eus

Media Contact
Anita Heward
Europlanet Media Centre
Tel: +44 7756 034243
anita.heward@europlanet-eu.org

About Europlanet

Since 2005, Europlanet has provided Europe’s planetary science community with a platform to exchange ideas and personnel, share research tools, data and facilities, define key science goals for the future, and engage stakeholders, policy makers and European citizens with planetary science.

The Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure (RI) has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 871149 to provide access to state-of-the-art research facilities and a mechanism to coordinate Europe’s planetary science community. The project builds on a €2 million Framework 6 Coordination Action (EuroPlaNet), a €6 million Framework 7 Research Infrastructure (Europlanet RI) and a €10 million Horizon 2020 Research Infrastructure (Europlanet 2020 RI) funded by the European Commission. 

The Europlanet Society promotes the advancement of European planetary science and related fields for the benefit of the community and is open to individual and organisational members. The Society’s aims are:

  • To expand and support a diverse and inclusive planetary community across Europe through the activities of its 10 Regional Hubs
  • To build the profile of the sector through outreach, education and policy activities
  • To underpin the key role Europe plays in planetary science through developing links at a national and international level. 

Europlanet 2024 RI project website: www.europlanet-2024-ri.eu

Europlanet Society website: www.europlanet-society.org   

Follow on Twitter via @europlanetmedia

New e-book anthology dives into the world of astrobiology

Is anyone out there? From the possibility of microbial life on Mars and elsewhere in the solar system across the multitude of exoplanets all the way to the Fermi Paradox, astrobiology tries to find the answer to this age-old question and more – like how life originated here on Earth, what are its physical limits and what forms might life take under different conditions.

A new freely available anthology released by the European Astrobiology Institute delves into these questions via Science Fiction (SF) stories by world-renowned authors, followed by essays about the science of each story.

The anthology, titled Strangest of All (a nod to H. G. Wells’s War of The Worlds), was edited by the author, editor and scientist Julie Nováková, who leads the outreach working group of the European Astrobiology Institute. The book contains reprint SF stories by G. David Nordley, Geoffrey Landis, Gregory Benford, Tobias S. Buckell, Peter Watts and D. A. Xiaolin Spires, plus a bonus story by the editor.

Nordley’s “War, Ice, Egg, Universe” takes readers to an aquatic civilization inhabiting a Europa-like world with an ice-covered ocean, and the accompanying essay focuses on what we know about conditions for life on Europa, Enceladus, Ganymede and other ocean worlds. In “Into The Blue Abyss” by Landis, the protagonist dives into an entirely different ocean – the high-pressure liquid water layer on Uranus, where chemistry signifying possible life had been observed. Could life really exist in such conditions – and could high-pressure environments actually be one of the most common habitats in the universe?

Continuing the journey outward of the Sun, “Backscatter” by Benford finds life in an improbable place: an icy asteroid in the Kuiper Belt. The follow-up essay provides background on the possibility of life in asteroids and comets, and dives into the topic of exotic silicon-based life in such cold places with no liquid water.

In Buckell’s “A Jar of Goodwill”, we leave solar system and environments similar to it entirely, visiting a strange exoplanet where plants metabolize chlorine – but the main problem the hero faces is whether its ant-like inhabitants are intelligent creatures. Halogen-based photosynthesis was actually proposed in theory – so we can look at where we could expect such exotic life. Even more exotic is the titular creature in Watts’s novelette “The Island”: a live Dyson sphere. In the essay, we look at how we can search for Dyson spheres, what the surveys yielded up-to-date, and whether we could presume anything about the origin and thought processes of a nigh-impossible being like the Island.

Benford returns with a microstory “SETI for Profit”, an interesting take on how to revive interest in SETI. What efforts to listen to potential extra-terrestrial messages have been taken so far, and what can we expect in the future? The topic of SETI is inextricably linked with the Fermi Paradox, one of the themes of Spires’s “But, Still, I Smile”. How can we explain the paradox with what we know so far, and how does the explanation in the story relate to our world? Finally, in the bonus story by Nováková, “Martian Fever”, we look at Mars exploration gone awry – and the risks of interplanetary biological contamination and the question of planetary protection.

Each story is followed not only by the science essay complete with references for readers craving more, but also a couple of ideas for classroom discussions or tasks (best-suited for higher high school grades or undergraduate university students), such as thinking of how to devise a message for a potentially listening alien civilization, bearing in mind what we know of sensory and cognitive differences between species here on Earth. For most of the questions, there is no definitive answer – but all the more curiosity should they elicit.

Strangest of All is the first of major outreach projects coming from the European Astrobiology Institute (EAI). EAI was founded in 2019 with the aims to support interdisciplinary research in astrobiology across Europe and beyond, disseminate scientific results and promote education and outreach in astrobiology and related fields by organizing summer schools, supporting the AbGradE forum for graduate students and creating materials such as this book, among other ways. Astrobiology is an exciting and booming scientific field, and science fiction is a perfect tool to bring it closer to people and enable them to imagine the incessant drive of curiosity and the joy of discovery that are at the heart of both science and SF. More such efforts are considered by EAI’s project team “Science Fiction as a tool for Astrobiology Outreach and Education”, which also welcomes new members who are interested in developing similar outreach materials.

The anthology Strangest of All can be downloaded for free in several formats on the websites of the European Astrobiology Institute and the editor, Julie Nováková.

Links:

About the European Astrobiology Institute

About the editor, Julie Nováková

Strangest of All at the European Astrobiology Institute

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Strangest of All Book Cover

From Planets to A Pearl Earring

From Planets to A Pearl Earring

One of Europlanet 2024 RI’s Transnational Access facilities has contributed to a new analysis of pigments used by Vermeer to add highlights to his famous painting, “Girl with a Pearl Earring”.

The ratio of lead isotopes in individual layers of the paint were analysed at the Geology and Geochemistry Isotope Facility (GGIF) at the Vrije University Amsterdam, to try to identify the pigment’s geographical origin. The study revealed that the lead in white paint and primer used by Vermeer all came from a mine located in the Peak District in Derbyshire, UK.

The research is part of “The Girl in the Spotlight”, an international study of the painting led by the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague. Researchers from VU Amsterdam, including Paolo D’Imporzano and Gareth Davies, analysed samples from loose fragments of paint collected during restoration and cross sections taken from the edge of the painting. The researchers compared the lead isotope ratios in different paint layers with data from lead mines across Europe, which have distinct regional signatures as a result of variations in the geological settings. The team found that the source of the pigment in the “Girl with a Pearl Earring” was constant and consistent with the lead used in other Dutch paintings from the 17th century. The question now facing art historians is: does this mean that Vermeer’s studio processed the white lead to produce a range of pigments, or were the different pigments purchased from a single supplier? 

D’Imporzano and Davies are currently working with the Rijksmuseum to build up a detailed database of 17th-century Dutch paintings with a view to understanding how the source of lead varied over time and to determine whether lead isotope analysis can help identify when a particular work was painted.

Read the paper: van Loon, A., Vandivere, A., Delaney, J.K. et al. Beauty is skin deep: the skin tones of Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl EarringHerit Sci 7, 102 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40494-019-0344-0

Girl with a Pearl Earring. Credit: René Gerritsen Art & Research Photography/ van Loon et al

Image: Detail of Johannes Vermeer, Girl with a Pearl Earring, c. 1665, oil on canvas, Mauritshuis, The Hague (inv nr 670), showing the face of the Girl and sample locations 39 and 40. a Visible light image. René Gerritsen Art & Research Photography. Corresponding MA-XRF maps (0.4 mm/pixel): bc lead (Pb-L), d iron, e lead (Pb-M), f mercury, gpotassium, h calcium, i copper. Credit: René Gerritsen Art & Research Photography / van Loon et al

Bepi in the sky with stars

In early April, as the European-Japanese BepiColombo spacecraft was approaching our home planet ahead of the first flyby in its seven-year journey to Mercury, mission scientists invited amateur astronomers to observe the event from Earth and share their photos of this unique event. The authors of the three best images of the flyby – the best glimpse, the best track and the last glimpse – selected by the jury will receive a scale model of BepiColombo.

Over thirty observers from around the world participated in the campaign. The jury, composed of BepiColombo mission experts, was very positively impressed by all entries, both on aesthetical grounds and because of the good quality of the astronomical observations, and wishes to thank all participants who observed the Mercury explorer as it crossed our sky and immortalized it in their beautiful images and sequences.

The winning photos are:

  • A view of BepiColombo passing through a deep sky object – the Blue Horsehead Nebula – taken in the early hours of 10 April by S. Silva in Porto Feliz, São Paulo, Brazil, which was selected as the ‘best glimpse’ of the flyby;
  • A sequence of images of BepiColombo moving through a stellar field, featuring a ‘guest’ appearance of a piece of space debris – a decommissioned geostationary satellite – captured in the evening of 10 April from the Northolt Branch Observatories by G. Welles and D. Bamberger in London, UK, which was selected as ‘the best track of BepiColombo’ during its passage above the horizon;
  • A parting view of the spacecraft, a dot against the tracks of distant stars, taken on 19 April from the Rikubetsu Space and Science Museum observatory in Ashoro District, Hokkaido, Japan, which was selected as the ‘last glimpse’ of BepiColombo.

The jury also acknowledges the following contributions with a special mention: Gianluca Masi, Virtual Telescope Project; Alain Maury, Jean Marc Mari and Joaquin Fabrega; Inoue Takeshi; Kenichi Shirakami; Masanori Mizutani; T. Oribe, Saji Observatory; Nicolas Biver.

BepiColombo reached its closest approach to Earth at 04:24:57 UTC on 10 April, flying only 12 689 km above our planet’s surface. The manoeuvre – the first of nine planetary flyby and the only one of Earth – tightened the spacecraft’s orbit towards the inner Solar System, where it is scheduled to meet Venus on 15 October for the first of two flybys of this planet on the way to Mercury.

Image captions

The last glimpse of BepiColombo 

Credit: Rikubetsu Space and Science Museum. BepiColombo

This image shows a parting view of the ESA/JAXA BepiColombo spacecraft, taken from Japan more than a week after the mission performed its Earth on 10 April 2020. The spacecraft is visible as a dot (circled) against the tracks of distant stars.

Captured between 12:43:19 and 13:18:23 UTC on 19 April from the Rikubetsu Space and Science Museum observatory in Ashoro District, Hokkaido, Japan, the image was selected as the ‘last glimpse’ of the BepiColombo flyby as part of a photographic contest aimed at amateur astronomers.

The jury appreciated that the observers tried until the very end, nine days after closest approach, and succeed in obtaining an appealing image – even in colour – of the spacecraft as it departed from our planet.

The colour image is a stack of 32x 60-second exposures obtained using a 1.15m f/5.6 Ritchey-Chretien telescope and Canon EOS 6D. 

Credit: Rikubetsu Space and Science Museum

BepiColombo passing through the Blue Horsehead Nebula

BepiColombo passing through the Blue Horsehead Nebula. Credit: Sergio Silva

This image shows the ESA/JAXA BepiColombo spacecraft moving across the sky as viewed from Brazil during its Earth flyby on 10 April 2020. The moving spacecraft is visible as a series of four diagonal lines crossing the frame from top left to bottom right against a field of stars featuring a beautiful deep sky object, the reflection nebula known as Blue Horsehead Nebula, or IC 4592.

The flyby was captured by Sergio Silva from Porto Feliz, São Paulo, Brazil, at 04:39:58 UTC on 10 April. The flyby observation comprises four 15-second exposures as part of a 3-hour long exposure to image the nebula. 

The jury appreciated the choice to combine the flyby, not far from Earth, and a distant nebula, observing the event against a deep sky object, as well as the fine quality of the image and processing. 

The image was obtained using a Celestron C11 Edge HD telescope with a Hyperstar lens, a iOptron CEM60 mount and a ZWO ASI071MC-Pro camera.

Credit: S. Silva

A tale of two spacecraft: BepiColombo and the INSAT 2D satellite

Credit: Northolt Branch Observatories. We used the observatories' 0.25m Ritchey-Chretien and QHY42 CMOS camera to obtain astrometry on BepiColombo before it left the vicinity of Earth.

This sequence of images shows the ESA/JAXA BepiColombo spacecraft during its Earth flyby on 10 April 2020, crossing the sky as viewed from the UK. The spacecraft is visible as a moving dot in the frame of stars, making its way from the lower right towards the upper left; halfway through the observations, another satellite also made an appearance, moving from the right towards the left in the upper part of the frame.

The sequence was captured at 21:13 UTC on 10 April by G. Welles and D. Bamberger from the Northolt Branch Observatories, a British-German collaboration of astrophotographers with telescopes located in London, UK. 

The jury appreciated the nice tracking sequence, the serendipitous coincidence that another satellite was caught in the observations, and the effort to identify the piece of space debris as the decommissioned geostationary satellite INSAT 2D. 

The image was obtained using the observatory’s 0.25m Ritchey-Chretien telescope and a QHY42 CMOS camera.

Credit: Northolt Branch Observatories

Europlanet launches 10M Euro research infrastructure to support planetary science

Europlanet 2024 RI logo

Europlanet launches 10M Euro research infrastructure to support planetary science

Europlanet has launched a 10 million Euro project, the Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure (RI), to provide open access to the world’s largest collection of planetary simulation and analysis facilities, as well as a global network of small telescopes, data services, and community support activities. Europlanet 2024 RI aims to widen participation in planetary science and provides the infrastructure to address key scientific and technological challenges facing the planetary research community.

The project is funded through the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme and will run for four years from February 2020 until January 2024. The Europlanet 2024 RI consortium is led by the University of Kent, UK, and has 53 beneficiary institutions from 21 countries in Europe and around the world, with a further 44 affiliated partners.

“This is a step-change in ambition for Europlanet, involving 60% more partners and expanding our collaborations in Africa and, for the first time, in Asia,” said Prof Nigel Mason, the Coordinator of Europlanet 2024 RI and President of the Europlanet Society. “The project will draw on the resources of the Europlanet Society, launched in 2018, to disseminate activities and outcomes and develop a more diverse community of users.”

Europlanet 2024 RI will provide the planetary community with free ‘transnational access’ to 24 laboratories in Europe and five field sites worldwide to carry out research projects.

Prof Gareth Davies, of VU Amsterdam, who leads the transnational access programme, said: “Europlanet 2024 RI has created a unique collection of field sites and laboratories to simulate and analyse planetary environments. Planetary missions over the next decade will study very diverse targets in our own Solar System and those around other stars. Europlanet 2024 RI has chosen a suite of facilities that can best help us understand the data sent back by spacecraft and plan for future missions.”

The five field sites offered by Europlanet 2024 RI stretch from Africa to the Arctic Circle and provide terrestrial analogues for planetary environments past and present, including the icy environments of Europa and Ganymede, geothermally active regions of Venus, Io and ancient Mars, and lava caves on the Moon or Mars that may house human habitats in the future.

Eleven laboratories provide simulation facilities for atmospheric and surface environments that do not exist on Earth, from the scorching surface conditions of Mercury and Venus, to low-pressure dust-storms on Mars, or the extreme cold of Uranus, Neptune and comets, as well as dust and particle accelerators to study impact and irradiation effects. A further 13 facilities offer capabilities to analyse the composition of planetary samples with high precision and using non-destructive techniques, and to detect and sequence microbial communities found living in hostile conditions on Earth.

Europlanet 2024 RI builds on the heritage of EU-funded projects dating back over 15 years. To harness collaborations developed between professional and amateur astronomers, Europlanet 2024 RI is launching a coordinated network of small telescope facilities around the world that can provide rapid response observations to support planetary missions.

The project will expand virtual access services to include a geological mapping portal, GMAP, and to exploit machine learning for automatic recognition and analysis of planetary data sets.

Over 30 databases will be added to the VESPA virtual observatory portal, which currently provides access to 54 planetary science data services derived from space missions, observation campaigns, modelling projects and laboratory experiments. Europlanet 2024 RI will also extend its planetary space weather service, SPIDER, to provide predictions and alerts for spacecraft operations in response to solar activity and support science data analysis.

To bring in new users, support the community and raise awareness of planetary science, Europlanet 2024 RI will organise training and workshops to engage industry, policy makers, early career professionals and researchers from countries that are under-represented in planetary science, both in Europe and around the world. The project will also trial a reciprocal access agreement with Chinese and Korean research facilities.

Prof Barbara Cavalazzi of the University of Bologna, who leads global collaboration activities for Europlanet 2024 RI, said: “We aim to help create a more interconnected global planetary science community and support sustainable development around new facilities, recognising the unique contribution of each community involved and building collaborative research and outreach programmes.”

Video:

Video of the Iceland transnational access facility offered by Matis. Credit: Europlanet/madebygravity.co

Images:

Europlanet 2024 RI provides access to the planetary field analogue site at the Danakil Depression in north-eastern Ethiopia, including the Dallol volcano and its adjacent areas. The site provides a natural and complex analogue for extreme planetary environments linked to transient lakes and hydrothermal vents, the latter representing analogues of Venus, Io, Ganymede and other satellites where water is pumped to the surface in tectonically active settings. Sulphate deposits in the region also appear to have direct analogues on Mars. Credit: B. Cavalazzi

https://www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/fig-6.jpg

Europlanet 2024 RI provides access to 24 laboratory simulation and analysis facilities, including the Isotoptech Carbon-14 dating accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS14C) facility. Credit: Isotoptech Zrt.

https://www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/amsc14_3.jpg

Collaborations between professional and amateur astronomers developed by Europlanet over recent years have led to the establishment of a network of small telescopes under Europlanet 2024 RI to support space missions with rapid-response ground-based observations. Credit: Ricardo Hueso.

https://www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/IMG_5483b2.jpg

Europlanet 2024 RI will provide training and workshops to widen participation in planetary science from under-represented countries and support early career researchers. Credit: Andrius Zigmantas.

https://www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/DSC1065.jpg

Further information

First Call for Transnational Access: [Link]

The Beneficiaries of Europlanet 2024 RI

Austria: Österreichische Akademie de Wissenschaften, KNOW Center Graz, Medizinische Universität Graz. Belgium:Institut d’Aéronomie Spatiale de Belgique. Botswana: Botswana International University of Science and Technology. China: China University of Geosciences (Beijing), Peking University, Shandong University, National Space Science Center, Chinese Academy of Sciences. Czech Republic: Ústav fyziky atmosféry AV ČR. Denmark: Aarhus Universitet. Ethiopia: University of Mekelle. Finland: Ilmatieteen Laitos. France: ACRI-ST, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique., European Science Foundation, Observatoire de Paris, Office National d’Etudes et de Recherches Aérospatiales, Spacefrog Design. Germany: Deutsches Zentrum für Luft-und Raumfahrt, Jacobs University, University of Passau, Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster. Greece: European Institute of Law, Science and Technology. Hungary: Atomki, Isotoptech, Wigner RCP. Iceland: Matís Ohf. Italy: Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica, Universita Degli Studi Gabriele D’annunzio di Chieti-Pescara, Università di Bologna, University of Padova. Korea: National Facilities and Equipment Center in Korean Institute. Lithuania: Vilniaus Universitetas. Netherlands: Stichting VU. Poland: Uniwersytet Im. Adama Mickiewicza W Poznaniu, Centrum Badan Kosmicznych Polskiej Akademii Nauk. Russian Federation: M.V. Lomonosov Moscow State University. Slovakia: Comenius University of Bratislava. Spain: Centro de Astrobiologia-CAB (CSIC-INTA), Universidad Del Pais Vasco/Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea. Sweden: Institutet För Rymdfysik, Luleå University of Technology. Switzerland: ETH Zurich. UK: University of Kent, Armagh Observatory and Planetarium, Blue Skies Space Ltd, The Dill Faulkes Educational Trust Ltd, Natural History Museum, Open University, University College London, University of Edinburgh, University of Stirling. 

Contacts:

Prof Nigel Mason
President of the Europlanet Society
Coordinator of Europlanet 2024 RI
University of Kent
Canterbury, UK
Email: N.J.Mason@kent.ac.uk

Professor Gareth R. Davies
Vrije Universiteit
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Email: g.r.davies@vu.nl

Prof Barbara Cavalazzi
Università di Bologna
Bologna, Italy
E-mail: barbara.cavalazzi@unibo.it

Media Contacts

Anita Heward
Communications Officer
Europlanet 2020 RI
Tel: +44 7756034243

About Europlanet

Since 2005, Europlanet has provided Europe’s planetary science community with a platform to exchange ideas and personnel, share research tools, data and facilities, define key science goals for the future, and engage stakeholders, policy makers and European citizens with planetary science.

The Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure (RI) has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 871149 to provide access to state-of-the-art research facilities and a mechanism to coordinate Europe’s planetary science community. The project builds on a €2 million Framework 6 Coordination Action (EuroPlaNet), a €6 million Framework 7 Research Infrastructure (Europlanet RI) and a €10 million Horizon 2020 Research Infrastructure (Europlanet 2020 RI) funded by the European Commission.

The Europlanet Society promotes the advancement of European planetary science and related fields for the benefit of the community and is open to individual and organisational members. The Society’s aims are:

  • To expand and support a diverse and inclusive planetary community across Europe through the activities of its 10 Regional Hubs.
  • To build the profile of the sector through outreach, education and policy activities
  • To underpin the key role Europe plays in planetary science through developing links at a national and international level.

Europlanet 2024 RI project website: www.europlanet-2024-ri.eu

Europlanet Society website: www.europlanet-society.org   

Follow on Twitter via @europlanetmedia

Gateway into Inner Solar System Discovered, Finding May Alter Fundamental Understanding of Comet Evolution

Gateway into Inner Solar System Discovered, Finding May Alter Fundamental Understanding of Comet Evolution

A new study may fundamentally alter our understanding of how comets arrive from the outskirts of the solar system and are funneled to the inner solar system coming closer to Earth. 

At the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 in Geneva, planetary scientist Dr. Jordan Steckloff presented the discovery of an orbital ‘Gateway’ through which many comets pass just before they approach our Sun. The Gateway was uncovered as part of a suite of orbital simulations of Centaurs, a group of small icy bodies traveling on chaotic orbits between Jupiter and Neptune. The study team modeled the evolution of bodies from beyond Neptune’s orbit, through the giant planet region and inside Jupiter’s orbit. These icy bodies are considered nearly pristine remnants of material from the birth of our solar system.

For a long time, evolution pathwayof comets from their original formation location inwards towards the Sun, has been debated. “How do new comets, controlled by Jupiter’s influence, replace those that are lost? Where is the transition between residing in the outer solar system, as small dormant bodies, and becoming active inner solar system bodies, exhibiting a widespread gas and dust coma and tail?” asked Steckloff. These questions remained a mystery until now. “What we discovered, the Gateway model as a ‘cradle of comets’, will change the way we think about the history of icy bodies,” said Dr. Gal Sarid (University of Central Florida), the lead scientist for the study. 

Centaurs are thought to originate in the Kuiper Belt region beyond Neptune and are considered as the source population of Jupiter Family Comets (JFCs), which occupy the inner solar system. The chaotic nature of Centaur orbits obscures their exact pathways making it difficult to predict their future as comets.  When icy bodies like Centaurs or comets approach the Sun, they begin to release gas and dust to produce the coma and extended tails that we refer to as comets. This display is among the most impressive phenomena observable in the night sky, but it is also a fleeting flicker of beauty that is rapidly followed by either the destruction of the comet or its evolution to a dormant state, said team member Dr. Kathryn Volk (Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, The University of Arizona). 

The original goal of the investigation was to explore the history of a peculiar Centaur object – 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 1 (SW1). It is a mid-sized Centaur in a nearly circular orbit just beyond Jupiter. SW1 has long puzzled astronomers with its high activity and frequent explosive outbursts that occur at a distance from the Sun where ice should not effectively vaporize. Both its orbit and activity put SW1 in an evolutionary middle ground between the other Centaurs and the JFCs. The research team wanted to explore whether SW1’s current circumstances were consistent with the orbital progression of the other Centaurs. 

“More than one in five Centaurs that we tracked were found to enter an orbit similar to that of SW1 at some point in their lifetime,” said Dr. Maria Womack (Florida Space Institute), scientist and co-author of the study. “Rather than being a peculiar outlier, SW1 is a Centaur caught in the act of dynamically evolving into a JFC.” 

In addition to the commonplace nature of SW1’s orbit, the simulations lead to an even more surprising discovery. “Centaurs passing through this region are the source of more than two thirds of all JFCs, making this the primary Gateway through which these comets are produced,” said team member Dr. Walter Harris (Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, The University of Arizona). The Gateway region does not hold resident objects for long, with most Centaurs becoming JFCs within a few thousand years. This is a short portion of any solar system object’s lifetime, which can span millions and sometimes billions of years. 

The presence of the Gateway provides a long sought after means of identifying the Centaurs on an imminent trajectory toward the inner solar system. SW1 is currently the largest and most active of the handful of objects discovered in this Gateway region, which makes it a “prime candidate to advance our knowledge of the orbital and physical transitions that shape the comet population we see today,” said team member Dr. Laura Woodney (California State University San Bernardino).

Our understanding of comets is intimately linked to knowing our solar system’s early composition and the evolution of conditions for atmospheres and life to arise, the researchers said. The results of this study have recently been accepted for publication in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.  

Image

An artist rendered image of what Centaur SW1 would look like as an inner solar system Jupiter-Family comet at a distance of 0.2 AU (30 million km, 19 million miles) from Earth. The Moon is in the upper right part of the frame for scale. (Credit/Copyright: University of Arizona/Heather Roper).

Media contacts

The authors of this study are all members of the Chimera mission concept, a proposed mission to send a spacecraft to orbit 29P/Schwassmann-Wachmann 1 for a 30 month investigation of its evolution, dynamics and activity. This work is funded in part by grants from NSF (1615917, 1824869, 1910275, and 1945950) and NASA (80NSSC18K0497, NNX15AH59G, 80NSSC19K0785).

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

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

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

Shantanu Naidu
DPS Press Officer
dpspress@aas.org

Notes for Editors

EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019
The 2019 Joint Meeting (www.epsc-dps2019.eu) of the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) of the Europlanet Society and the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) will take place at the Centre International de Conférences de Genève (CICG), Geneva, Switzerland, from Sunday 15 to Friday 20 September 2019. More than 1950 abstracts have been submitted and over 1500 planetary scientists from Europe, the US and around the world are expected to attend the meeting, making it one of the largest gatherings of planetary scientists held in Europe to date.
The EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 will be the third time that EPSC and the DPS Annual Meeting have been held together.
Follow: @europlanetmedia #EPSCDPS2019

Europlanet
The Europlanet Society, launched in September 2018, is an organization for individual and corporate members to promote the advancement of planetary science and related fields in Europe. The Society provides Europe’s planetary science community with a platform to exchange ideas and personnel, share research tools, data and facilities, define key science goals for the future, and engage stakeholders, policy makers and European citizens with planetary science. The Europlanet Society is the parent organisation of the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC).
Europlanet Society website: www.europlanet-society.org
EPSC-DPSC 2019 Joint Meeting 2019 website: www.epsc-dps2019.eu

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

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

Could Venus have been habitable?

Could Venus have been habitable?

Venus may have been a temperate planet hosting liquid water for 2-3 billion years, until a dramatic transformation starting over 700 million years ago resurfaced around 80% of the planet. A study presented today at the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 by Michael Way of The Goddard Institute for Space Science gives a new view of Venus’s climatic history and may have implications for the habitability of exoplanets in similar orbits.

Forty years ago, NASA’s Pioneer Venus mission found tantalising hints that Earth’s ‘twisted sister’ planet may once have had a shallow ocean’s worth of water. To see if Venus might ever have had a stable climate capable of supporting liquid water, Dr Way and his colleague, Anthony Del Genio, have created a series of five simulations assuming different levels of water coverage.

In all five scenarios, they found that Venus was able to maintain stable temperatures between a maximum of about 50 degrees Celsius and a minimum of about 20 degrees Celsius for around three billion years. A temperate climate might even have been maintained on Venus today had there not been a series of events that caused a release, or ‘outgassing’, of carbon dioxide stored in the rocks of the planet approximately 700-750 million years ago.

“Our hypothesis is that Venus may have had a stable climate for billions of years. It is possible that the near-global resurfacing event is responsible for its transformation from an Earth-like climate to the hellish hot-house we see today,” said Way.

Three of the five scenarios studied by Way and Del Genio assumed the topography of Venus as we see it today and considered a deep ocean averaging 310 metres, a shallow layer of water averaging 10 metres and a small amount of water locked in the soil. For comparison, they also included a scenario with Earth’s topography and a 310-metre ocean and, finally, a world completely covered by an ocean of 158 metres depth.

To simulate the environmental conditions at 4.2 billion years ago, 715 million years ago and today, the researchers adapted a 3D general circulation model to account for the increase in solar radiation as our Sun has warmed up over its lifetime, as well as for changing atmospheric compositions.

Although many researchers believe that Venus is beyond the inner boundary of our Solar System’s habitable zone and is too close to the Sun to support liquid water, the new study suggests that this might not be the case.

“Venus currently has almost twice the solar radiation that we have at Earth. However, in all the scenarios we have modelled, we have found that Venus could still support surface temperatures amenable for liquid water,” said Way.

At 4.2 billion years ago, soon after its formation, Venus would have completed a period of rapid cooling and its atmosphere would have been dominated by carbon-dioxide. If the planet evolved in an Earth-like way over the next 3 billion years, the carbon dioxide would have been drawn down by silicate rocks and locked into the surface. By the second epoch modelled at 715 million years ago, the atmosphere would likely have been dominated by nitrogen with trace amounts of carbon dioxide and methane – similar to the Earth’s today – and these conditions could have remained stable up until present times.

The cause of the outgassing that led to the dramatic transformation of Venus is a mystery, although probably linked to the planet’s volcanic activity. One possibility is that large amounts of magma bubbled up, releasing carbon dioxide from molten rocks into the atmosphere. The magma solidified before reaching the surface and this created a barrier that meant that the gas could not be reabsorbed. The presence of large amounts of carbon dioxide triggered a runaway greenhouse effect, which has resulted in the scorching 462 degree average temperatures found on Venus today.

“Something happened on Venus where a huge amount of gas was released into the atmosphere and couldn’t be re-absorbed by the rocks. On Earth we have some examples of large-scale outgassing, for instance the creation of the Siberian Traps 500 million years ago which is linked to a mass extinction, but nothing on this scale. It completely transformed Venus,” said Way.

There are still two major unknowns that need to be addressed before the question of whether Venus might have been habitable can be fully answered. The first relates to how quickly Venus cooled initially and whether it was able to condense liquid water on its surface in the first place. The second unknown is whether the global resurfacing event was a single event or simply the latest in a series of events going back billions of years in Venus’s history.

“We need more missions to study Venus and get a more detailed understanding of its history and evolution,” said Way. “However, our models show that there is a real possibility that Venus could have been habitable and radically different from the Venus we see today. This opens up all kinds of implications for exoplanets found in what is called the ‘Venus Zone’, which may in fact host liquid water and temperate climates.”

Artist’s representation of Venus with water. Credit: NASA

https://www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/ancient-venus-new.jpg

Media contacts

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

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

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

Shantanu Naidu
DPS Press Officer
dpspress@aas.org

Notes for Editors

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

The EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 will be the third time that EPSC and the DPS Annual Meeting have been held together.
Follow: @europlanetmedia #EPSCDPS2019

Europlanet
The Europlanet Society, launched in September 2018, is an organization for individual and corporate members to promote the advancement of planetary science and related fields in Europe. The Society provides Europe’s planetary science community with a platform to exchange ideas and personnel, share research tools, data and facilities, define key science goals for the future, and engage stakeholders, policy makers and European citizens with planetary science. The Europlanet Society is the parent organisation of the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC).
Europlanet Society website: www.europlanet-society.org
EPSC-DPSC 2019 Joint Meeting 2019 website: www.epsc-dps2019.eu

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

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

Drones probe terrestrial dust devils to better understand the atmosphere of Mars

Drones probe terrestrial dust devils to better understand the atmosphere of Mars

Dust devils, small dusty whirlwinds, have been studied for decades. But, says Brian Jackson, an associate professor in the Department of Physics at Boise State University, the ability of dust devils to lift dust into the atmosphere remains murky. “When we compare theoretical predictions of how much dust a devil should lift to how much it does lift, the numbers just don’t add up,” says Jackson,

Now, Jackson and his team, including Dr Ralph Lorenz of Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab and Michelle Szurgot, an undergraduate physics major at Boise State, have begun to study the phenomenon in a way it has never been studied before. They fly drones through active dust devils on the Alvord Desert of southeastern Oregon. The drones carry cameras and other lightweight instruments, including pressure and temperature loggers, that measure the structures of the dust devil while taking particle samples to determine how much material the dust devil is carrying.  Jackson will present results today at the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Dust devils, while common in arid climates on Earth, are ubiquitous on Mars, where they may be responsible for much of the planet’s haze that helps heat its atmosphere. Dust devils have been observed from landers the ground and from orbiting spacecraft all over the surface of Mars. A better understanding of dust devils on Earth will help scientists understand their influence on Mars’ climate, says Jackson.

NASA currently has three active rovers on Mars, two of which are powered by solar panels. Martian dust has been a concern, falling on the panels and reducing the amount of energy generated, and the static charges that can build up in the dust devils may pose a hazard to electrical equipment deployed on Mars.

Previous studies of martian dust devils have relied on passive sampling of the profiles via meteorology packages on landed spacecraft. Past studies of terrestrial devils have employed more active sampling (instrumented vehicles or manned aircraft) but have been limited to near-surface or relatively high-altitude sampling.

Drones promise a new and powerful platform from which to sample dust devils at a variety of altitudes. Measurements made aloft are more directly relevant for evaluating the dust that is injected into the atmosphere.

In summer 2017, Jackson and his team were awarded a grant from the NASA Idaho Space Grant Consortium to launch drones into dust devils. In 2018, they also received a three-year, $217,000 grant from NASA’s Solar System Workings Program.

Image and video

Dust devil research in the Alvord desert of Eastern Oregon. Credit: J. Kelly/B. Jackson

https://www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Dust_devil.jpg

Footage collected onboard the drone during flight:

Media Contacts
Anna Webb
Tel: +(208) 426-3275
annawebb@boisestate.edu

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

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

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

Shantanu Naidu
DPS Press Officer
dpspress@aas.org

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

Further information

EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019

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

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

Follow: @europlanetmedia #EPSCDPS2019

Europlanet 

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

Europlanet Society website: www.europlanet-society.org

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

DPS

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

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

About Boise State University

A public metropolitan research university with more than 22,000 students, Boise State is proud to be powered by creativity and innovation. Located in Idaho’s capital city, the university has a growing research agenda and plays a crucial role in the region’s knowledge economy and famed quality of life. In the past 10 years, the university has quadrupled the number of doctoral degrees, doubled its masters degrees and now offers 13 online degree programs. Learn more at www.BoiseState.edu.

Venus puts on variety show among its cloud-tops

Studies of the cloud-tops of Venus by JAXA’s Akatsuki spacecraft show striking variety in wind speeds year-on-year and between the planet’s northern and southern hemispheres. The first fine-scale observations of cloud-top temperatures have also revealed a tendency for clouds to converge towards the equator at night, in contrast to poleward circulation seen previously in daytime studies. 

The results, which have been presented today at the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 in Geneva, provide new insights into the mystery of why the Venusian atmosphere rotates much faster than the planet itself.

Prof Masato Nakamura, Project Manager of Akatsuki at JAXA, said: “The Venusian ‘super-rotation’ is most pronounced at the tops of Venus’s clouds, making this an important region for understanding the dynamics of the planet’s atmosphere. The Akatsuki mission is in a highly elliptical orbit around Venus that enables the spacecraft to image both the north and south hemispheres of the planet simultaneously.”

An international team of researchers has used advanced cloud-tracking and quality control techniques to analyse with high accuracy the direction and speed of cloud top winds using data collected by the Ultraviolet Imager (UVI) instrument over three years.

The study, led by Prof Takeshi Horinouchi of Hokkaido University, Japan, and Dr Yeon Joo Lee of JAXA/ISAS and TU Berlin, found that the super-rotation speed at the cloud tops not only changes over time but is different in the northern and southern hemispheres. The team also detected planetary-scale atmospheric waves at the cloud tops, which may interact with the super-rotation.

The degree of difference between the hemispheres, or ‘asymmetry’, may be linked to a second mystery at Venus: an as-yet unidentified chemical species in the atmosphere that strongly absorbs ultraviolet radiation from the Sun. 

Prof Horinouchi said: “The asymmetry in super-rotation speeds in cloud tops in the northern and southern hemispheres might be caused by variability in the distribution of the so-called ‘unknown’ ultraviolet absorber, which plays a key role in regulating how much radiation from the Sun that Venus can absorb. Our results provide new questions about the atmosphere of Venus, as well as revealing the richness of variety of the Venus atmosphere over space and time.” 

A separate study has revealed a detailed picture of Venus’s cloud temperatures for the first time on both the dayside and nightside of the planet. A team from the University of Tokyo, Rikkyo University and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology in Japan tracked the development over time of mottled clouds and streaky features in imagery from Akatsuki’s LIR infrared camera. 

The observation of cloud motions throughout the day and night has enabled the team to determine the average circulation in north-south directions and to detect thermally driven tides that create waves in the atmosphere and could play a key role in maintaining the super-rotation.

Mr Kiichi Fukuya of the University of Tokyo, who presented the results at the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019, said: “The most exciting discovery is the frequent occurrence of equatorward motions on the nightside – this is in contrast to the strong poleward circulation on the dayside we have observed previously at other wavelengths.” 

The findings suggest that there are as-yet unknown processes that are affecting cloud formation and atmospheric dynamics.“Akatsuki team members have been presenting their hottest topics today at the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019. The main goal of Akatsuki is to understand the Venusian atmospheric dynamics and cloud physics, which is quite different from that of the Earth. As the culmination of these studies, we believe that we will give a definitive answer how the super-rotation is maintained at Venus very near future,” said Prof Nakamura.

Images

Venus dayside synthesized false color image by UVI and IR1 (2016 Apr 25) No.1 A synthesized false color image of Venus using 283-nm and 365-nm images taken by UVI plus 0.90-µm (900-nm) image taken by IR1. Images are colorized as follows: 283 nm → blue; 365 nm → green; 0.90 µm → red. In the 283 nm band observed by UVI, there is an absorption band of sulfur dioxide (SO2). Also, there is an absorption band of an unidentified chemical substance in the 365 nm band. For example, it can be said that the amount of SO2 is relatively low in the bluish areas in this image. © PLANET-C Project Team
Equator-wards motion of clouds on night side. Credit: University of Tokyo.
Pole-wards motion of clouds on day side. Credit: University of Tokyo.
Artist’s impression of the Akatsuki mission. Credit: ISAS/JAXA

Science contacts

Takehiko Satoh
Project Scientist of Akatsuki
satoh.takehiko@jaxa.jp

Masato Nakamura
Project Manager of Akatsuki
nakamura.masato@jaxa.jp

Media contacts

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

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

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

Shantanu Naidu
DPS Press Officer
dpspress@aas.org

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

Notes for Editors

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

Europlanet Society website: www.europlanet-society.org
EPSC-DPSC 2019 Joint Meeting 2019 website: www.epsc-dps2019.eu

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

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

Venus Takes Centre Stage in October 2020 Observation Campaign

Venus Takes Centre Stage in October 2020 Observation Campaign

Next October, Venus will be the focus of an international campaign of coordinated observations involving two space agencies, three missions and multiple ground-based telescopes and planetary scientists around the world. The collaboration aims to shed new light on the thick and complex atmosphere of Venus. Plans for the campaign and a call for astronomers to participate have been announced today by Dr Yeon Joo Lee of TU Berlin and Dr Valeria Mangano of INAF-IAPS at the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting in Geneva.

On 15th October 2020, the ESA-JAXA BepiColombo spacecraft will pass close to Venus in the first of two flybys of the planet during the mission’s long journey to Mercury. The encounter will provide an unmissable opportunity to cross-check the accuracy of BepiColombo’s instrumentation with that of JAXA’s Venus orbiter, Akatsuki, and for the two missions to work together with Earth-based observers to study Venus’s atmosphere from multiple viewpoints and at different scales.

The BepiColombo mission was successfully launched on October 20th 2018, at 01:45 UTC. It consists of two scientific orbiters, ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter (MPO) and JAXA’s Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter (MMO, renamed at launch ‘Mio’), which are designed to explore Mercury and its environment. The mission will go into orbit around Mercury in December 2025. BepiColombo will use encounters with Venus in October 2020 and August 2021 to help it spiral onto an orbital path where it can catch up with fast-moving Mercury, which whizzes round the Sun every 88 days.

Eight out of the eleven instruments onboard the MPO will be able to operate at Venus. While this suite of sensors has been designed to study the rocky, atmosphere-free environment at Mercury, the MPO instrumentation will be able to contribute valuable science at Venus during the flyby.

In particular, MPO’s thermal infrared spectrometer and radiometer (MERTIS) will provide temperature and density profiles and study the chemical composition and cloud cover in the mid-altitude atmosphere. This will be the first time observations of this kind have been made since the Russian Venera 15 mission in 1983. MPO’s UV spectrometer (PHEBUS) may provide UV range reflectivity from the clouds and emissions from the upper atmosphere while its approaching to Venus. Six other instruments on both MPO and Mio will study the interaction between the Sun and Venus’s upper atmosphere. The magnetometers on each spacecraft will study the magnetic environment.

The infrared and ultraviolet instruments will make coordinated observations with the corresponding cameras onboard Akatsuki (LIR and UVI). Earth-based telescopes, such as the Canada France Hawaii Telescope (CHFT), the NASA Infrared Telescope Facility (IRTF), the Earth-orbiting Hisaki ultraviolet astronomy satellite, will contribute a different viewing perspective and enable global mapping of atmospheric features at Venus.

Akatsuki is currently the only spacecraft in orbit around Venus. The mission arrived in December 2015 and monitors the planet every two hours from an elliptical orbit that takes it from 1,000 kilometres at its closest approach to 330,000 kilometres at its furthest point.

At the time of the flyby, BepiColombo will be at 10,681 kilometres from Venus’s surface – approximately 30 times closer to the planet than Akatsuki, which will be at its peak distance. This means that BepiColombo will be able to make close up observations while Akatsuki will capture processes at a global scale.

Yeon Joo Lee, said: “The opportunity to use all these instruments simultaneously will give us access to multiple wavelengths to probe different altitudes of the atmosphere and to distinguish the different gases present. Simultaneous observations from a close-up to a global view mean that we can study physical processes on the planet at a variety of scales, from convection across a few tens of kilometres to global circulation patterns. The different viewing angles and distances of all the spacecraft and telescopes involved will enable us to see what’s happening on the dayside and the nightside of the planet and how processes evolve over time, which can be missed by just one mission.”

Akatsuki has made several significant discoveries since arriving at Venus, including global scale waves in the Venusian atmosphere, complex variations in cloud cover and surprising decadal variations of a mysterious constituent of the atmosphere that absorbs of ultraviolet radiation.

Valeria Mangano said: “These collaborative Venus observations with BepiColombo, Akatsuki, and Earth-based telescopes will provide important data to put these recent findings on atmospheric structure and dynamics of Venus into context and improve our understanding of the planet. Should this campaign be fruitful, the effort will be repeated a second time during the next Venus flyby of BepiColombo on 10th August 2021, when a much closer flyby at Venus will happen at less than 1,000 kilometres.”

Images

Graphic highlighting some of the science themes that may be possible to study during the two flybys of Venus. Credit: ESA

https://www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/BepiColombo_Venus_flyby_science.jpg

Animation
An animation of viewing geometry changes during the first Venus flyby. The intervals between the images are 30-60 min. The size of Venus is not scaled, but the apparent size of Venus is shown in the bottom text.
Left: BepiColombo; Middle: Akatsuki; Right: Earth. Credit: ESA/JAXA
https://www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/1stVenusflyby_20201014-20201016_v20190829.wmv

Science Contacts

Yeon Joo Lee
TU Berlin
y.j.lee@astro.physik.tu-berlin.de

Valeria Mangano
INAF-IAPS
Rome
valeria.mangano@inaf.it

Media Contacts

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

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

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

Shantanu Naidu
DPS Press Officer
dpspress@aas.org

Notes for editors

Europlanet 

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

Europlanet Society website: www.europlanet-society.org

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

DPS

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

The AAS, established in 1899, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. The membership (approx. 7,500) also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists,

engineers, and others whose research interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising contemporary astronomy. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe, which it achieves through publishing, meeting organization, education and outreach, and training and professional development.

Updated: EPSC-DPS 2019 press briefings

Thursday 19th September, 12:15-13:15 CEST (10:15-11:15 UTC / 06:15-07:15 EDT)
Akatsuki mission results, 2020 Coordinated Venus Observations and science at Venus

  • Masato Nakamura (ISAS/JAXA) – Akatsuki mission update
  • Takeshi Horinouchi (Hokkaido University) – Cloud-top wind observations by Akatsuki
  • Takeshi Imamura (University of Tokyo) – Infrared observations at Venusian cloud tops
  • Yeon Joo Lee (Technical University of Berlin) – 2020 Coordinated Venus Observation Campaign
  • Valeria Mangano (INAF-IAPS) – Venus flybys of BepiColombo for the 2020 Coordinated Venus Observation Campaign
  • Michael Way (NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies) – Possible habitability of ancient Venus and Venus-like exoplanets

Wednesday 18th September, 12:15-13:15 CEST (10:15-11:15 UTC / 06:15-07:15 EDT)
Future mission updates

  • Patrick Michel (Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur, CNRS) – Asteroid Impact Deflection Assessment (AIDA) science update
  • Nancy Chabot (Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab) – NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission
  • Michael Küppers (European Space Astronomy Centre (ESA/ESAC) – Hera mission
  • Colin Wilson (University of Oxford) – EnVision mission to Venus
  • Kelly Geelen (European Space Agency) – Mars Sample Return plans and current status

Tuesday 17th September, 12:15-13:15 CEST (10:15-11:15 UTC / 06:15-07:15 EDT)
Hayabusa2 & Lucy missions

  • Antonella Barucci (Observatoire de Paris) – Spectral variation on the surface of Ryugu
  • Makoto Yshikawa (ISAS/JAXA) – Hayabusa2 mission results: the impact experiment and the second touchdown
  • Franck Marchis (SETI Institute) – Occultation of Lucy mission target, Orus

Monday 16th September, 12:15-13:15 CEST (10:15-11:15 UTC / 06:15-07:15 EDT)
Cheops mission update

  • Michel Mayor (University of Geneva) – Exoplanets in context
  • Kate Isaak (European Space Agency) – Cheops mission status
  • Willy Benz (University of Bern) – Cheops – An exoplanet follow-up mission
  • Ravit Helled (University of Zurich) – Cheops contribution to open questions in (exo)planetary science
  • David Ehrenreich (University of Geneva) – Cheops in the context of other exoplanet missions

Comet’s collapsing cliffs and bouncing boulders

Comet’s collapsing cliffs and bouncing boulders 

Scientists analysing the treasure trove of images taken by ESA’s Rosetta mission have turned up more evidence for curious bouncing boulders and dramatic cliff collapses.

Rosetta operated at Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko between August 2014 and September 2016, collecting data on the comet’s dust, gas and plasma environment, its surface characteristics and its interior structure.

As part of the analysis of some 76 000 high-resolution images captured with its OSIRIS camera, scientists have been looking for surface changes. In particular, they are interested in comparing the period of the comet’s closest approach to the Sun – known as perihelion – with that after this most active phase, to better understand the processes that drive surface evolution.

Loose debris is seen all over the comet, but sometimes boulders have been caught in the act of being ejected into space, or rolling across the surface. A new example of a bouncing boulder was recently identified in the smooth neck region that connects the comet’s two lobes, an area that underwent a lot of noticeable large-scale surface changes over the course of the mission. There, boulder about 10 m-wide has apparently fallen from the nearby cliff, and bounced several times across the surface without breaking, leaving ‘footprints’ in the loosely consolidated surface material.

“We think it fell from the nearby 50 m-high cliff, and is the largest fragment in this landslide, with a mass of about 230 tonnes,” said Jean-Baptiste Vincent of the DLR Institute for Planetary Research, who presented the results at the EPSC-DPS conference in Geneva today.

“So much happened on this comet between May and December 2015 when it was most active, but unfortunately because of this activity we had to keep Rosetta at a safe distance. As such we don’t have a close enough view to see illuminated surfaces with enough resolution to exactly pinpoint the ‘before’ location of the boulder.”

Studying boulder movements like these in different parts of the comet helps determine the mechanical properties of both the falling material, and the surface terrain on which it lands. The comet’s material is in general very weak compared with the ice and rocks we are familiar with on Earth: boulders on Comet 67P/C-G are around one hundred times weaker than freshly packed snow.

Another type of change has also been witnessed in several locations around the comet: the collapse of cliff faces along lines of weakness, such as the dramatic capture of the fall of a 70 m-wide segment of the Aswan cliff observed in July 2015. But Ramy El-Maarry and Graham Driver of Birkbeck, University of London, may have found an even larger collapse event, linked to a bright outburst seen on 12 September 2015 along the northern-southern hemisphere divide.

“This seems to be one of the largest cliff collapses we’ve seen on the comet during Rosetta’s lifetime, with an area of about 2000 square metres collapsing,” said Ramy, also speaking at EPSC-DPS today.

During perihelion passage, the southern hemisphere of the comet was subjected to high solar input, resulting in increased levels of activity and more intensive erosion than elsewhere on the comet.

“Inspection of before and after images allow us to ascertain that the scarp was intact up until at least May 2015, for when we still have high enough resolution images in that region to see it,” says Graham, an undergraduate student working with Ramy to investigate Rosetta’s vast image archive.

“The location in this particularly active region increases the likelihood that the collapsing event is linked to the outburst that occurred in September 2015.”

Looking in detail at the debris around the collapsed region suggests that other large erosion events have happened here in the past. Ramy and Graham found that the debris includes blocks of variable size ranging up to tens of metres, substantially larger than the boulder population following the Aswan cliff collapse, which is mainly comprised of boulders a few metres diameter.

“This variability in the size distribution of the fallen debris suggests either differences in the strength of the comet’s layered materials, and/or varying mechanisms of cliff collapse,” adds Ramy.

Studying comet changes like these not only gives insight into the dynamic nature of these small bodies on short timescales, but the larger scale cliff collapses provide unique views into the internal structure of the comet, helping to piece together the comet’s evolution over longer timescales.

“Rosetta’s datasets continue to surprise us, and it’s wonderful the next generation of students are already making exciting discoveries,” adds Matt Taylor, ESA’s Rosetta project scientist.

Cliff collapses on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko following outbursts as observed by the Rosetta mission, by M. R. El-Maarry and G. Driver
https://meetingorganizer.copernicus.org/EPSC-DPS2019/EPSC-DPS2019-1727-1.pdf

Bouncing boulders on Comet 67P by J-B. Vincent et al
https://meetingorganizer.copernicus.org/EPSC-DPS2019/EPSC-DPS2019-502-1.pdf

Evolution of a bouncing boulder

Caption: An example of a boulder having moved across the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko’s surface, captured in Rosetta’s OSIRIS imagery.

The first image (left) provides a reference view of the comet, along with a close-up of the region under study. The smaller insets on the right show before and after images of the region containing the bouncing boulder, captured on 17 March 2015 and 19 June 2016, respectively. Impressions of the boulder have been left in the soft regolith covering the comet’s surface as it bounced to a halt. It is thought to have fallen from the nearby cliff, which is about 50 m high. The graphic at the bottom illustrates the path of the boulder as it bounced across the surface, with preliminary measurements of the ‘craters’ calculated. 

Credits: Images: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA (CC BY-SA 4.0); Analysis: J-B. Vincent et al (2019)
Comet outburst 12 September 2015 Caption: An outburst event on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko took place on 12 September 2015 and is thought to be associated with one of the most dramatic cliff collapses captured during the lifetime of the Rosetta mission. Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Cliff collapse before and after

Caption: Before and after a cliff collapse on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. In the upper panels the yellow arrows show the location of a scarp at the boundary between the illuminated northern hemisphere and the dark southern hemisphere of the small lobe at times before and after the outburst event (September 2014 and June 2016, respectively). The lower panels show close-ups of the upper panels; the blue arrow points to the scarp that appears to have collapsed in the image after the outburst. Two boulders (1and 2) are marked for orientation. 

Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Media contacts

Anita Heward

EPSC Press Officer

+44 7756 034243

epsc-dps-press@europlanet-society.org

Livia Giacomini

EPSC Press Officer

epsc-dps-press@europlanet-society.org

Adriana Postiglione

EPSC Press Officer

epsc-dps-press@europlanet-society.org

Shantanu Naidu

DPS Press Officer

dpspress@aas.org

Notes for Editors

EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019

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

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

Follow: @europlanetmedia #EPSCDPS2019

Europlanet Society

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

Europlanet Society website: www.europlanet-society.org

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

DPS

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

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

AIDA collaboration highlights case for planetary defence

AIDA collaboration highlights case for planetary defence

Surprising results from recent asteroid missions have highlighted the importance of testing planetary defence strategies in space, according to scientists participating in the joint ESA/NASA Asteroid Impact and Deflection Assessment (AIDA) collaboration. The unexpectedly large crater on asteroid Ryugu created by the JAXA Hayabysa2 impactor, together with the sand-like behaviour of material on its surface, further motivate the need to determine the effectiveness of proposed deflection techniques for an asteroid on a potential collision course with Earth. Implications are being discussed this week at the EPS-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 in Geneva.

The AIDA collaboration encompasses two missions that will demonstrate and evaluate the ‘kinetic impactor’ technique at the near-earth binary asteroid, Didymos. NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) will impact the smaller of the two companions, Didymos B, in September 2022. ESA’s Hera mission, if funded at the Ministerial Conference in November this year, will rendezvous with the Didymos asteroid pair and investigate the outcome of the impact in 2027. 

Didymos B – sometimes known as “Didymoon” – is around 160 metres in diameter and will be the smallest target object for a mission to date. Asteroids around 100-200 metres in size are the most common type of Near Earth Objects (NEOs) that could potentially end up on a collision course with Earth and cause regionally catastrophic devastation. However, it is thought that only about a third of these objects have been detected and tracked to date.

Dr Patrick Michel, who is presenting in sessions on planetary defence at EPSC-DPS 2019, said, “The impact with Hayabusa2 showed that there was no cohesion on the surface and the regolith behaved like pure sand. Gravity was dominating the process, rather than the intrinsic strength of the material from which the asteroid is made. If gravity is also dominant at Didymos B, even though it is much smaller, we could end up with a much bigger crater than our models and lab-based experiments to date have shown. Ultimately, very little is known about the behaviour of these small bodies during impacts and this could have big consequences for planetary defence.”

The DART mission is on track to launch in July 2021. The DART spacecraft will impact Didymos B, with the aim of shortening the time it takes the moonlet to orbit its larger companion by several minutes. Telescopes on Earth will be able to observe Didymos both before and after DART’s impact, and these observations will be used to measure the amount of deflection caused by DART’s impact. The impact will be imaged by LICIACube (Light Italian Cubesat for Imaging Asteroids), a cubesat contributed by Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI), which will be deployed from the DART spacecraft a few days prior to impact.  

Nancy Chabot, DART Mission Coordination Lead and Planetary Scientist at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, said: “DART’s target, Didymos, is an ideal candidate for humankind’s first planetary defence experiment.  It is not on a path to collide with Earth, and therefore poses no current threat to the planet. However, its binary nature enables DART to trial and evaluate the effects of a kinetic impactor.”

A primary objective of ESA’s Hera mission is to measure the mass of Didymos B to estimate how efficient the kinetic impact turned out to be. It will study the impact crater in detail and characterise the physical and mineralogical properties of the asteroid pair. 

An in-depth understanding of the Didymos binary pair provided by the Hera mission, together with ground-based observations, would enable planetary defence preparations to go to a new level of planning by scaling the effects of the impact to other asteroids. 

Hera has passed its system requirements review, which demonstrates that the mission can proceed into development. Following a green light at the meeting in November, in addition to start building the spacecraft, the Hera team will plan the operations at the asteroid in detail.

Last week the AIDA Consortium held a workshop in Rome to show the status of DART, LICIACube and Hera. The meeting was attended by over 100 participants from 18 countries.

Michael Kuppers said, “DART and Hera will provide valuable knowledge individually. However, when combined together through the AIDA collaboration, the scientific and technical benefits are enhanced considerably. In an even wider context, comparing the physical properties of Didymos to those of Ryugu from JAXA’s Hayabusa2 mission and the Bennu asteroid studies by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission will significantly contribute to our understanding of how single and multiple asteroid systems form and evolve.”

AIDA is the international ESA- and NASA-supported collaboration that will combine the data obtained from NASA’s DART mission, ASI’s LICIACube, and ESA’s Hera mission to produce the most accurate knowledge possible from the first demonstration of an asteroid deflection technology..The DART mission is being developed and led for NASA by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, USA. 

Images

Schematic of the DART mission shows the impact on the moonlet of asteroid (65803) Didymos. Post-impact observations from Earth-based optical telescopes and planetary radar would, in turn, measure the change in the moonlet’s orbit about the parent body. Credits: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab

https://www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/dart-schematic.png

ESA’s Hera mission will visit the double asteroid Didymos. It will get close to the smaller of the two asteroids, Didymoon, an artistic rendering of which is shown in this image. ESA – Science Office

https://www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Didymoon_seen_from_Didymos.jpg

Artistic rendering of the double asteroid Didymos. ESA – Science Office

https://www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Didymos_and_Didymoon.jpg

Hera in orbit. Credit: ESA–ScienceOffice.org

https://www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/Hera_in_orbit.jpg

Science Contacts

Patrick Michel
Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur, CNRS
michelp@oca.eu

Nancy Chabot
Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab
Nancy.Chabot@jhuapl.edu

Michael Küppers
European Space Astronomy Centre (ESA/ESAC)
michael.kueppers@sciops.esa.int

Media contacts

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

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

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

Shantanu Naidu
DPS Press Officer
dpspress@aas.org

Notes for Editors

EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019

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

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

Follow: @europlanetmedia#EPSCDPS2019

Europlanet

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

Europlanet Society website: www.europlanet-society.org

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

DPS

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

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

Citizen science starts to reveal Lucy mission target, Orus

Citizen science starts to reveal Lucy mission target, Orus

Observations made with a telescope designed for citizen science has taken the first step in providing detailed information on a target asteroid for NASA’s Lucy mission. The findings were presented today at the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 in Geneva by Dr Franck Marchis of the SETI Institute.

Orus is the fifth object that Lucy will visit during a circuitous tour of seven different asteroids. The mission is due for launch in 2021 and will fly past Orus, which is part of a group of primitive bodies known as the Trojans, in 2028. 

On 7th September 2019, a team from the Unistellar citizen science project flew to Oman and successfully observed an event known as an occultation, in which Orus passed in front of a star, blocking its light for a few seconds.

Measuring precisely the time that the star is hidden enables astronomers to estimate the diameter of the asteroid and other physical properties. This is the first time an Orus occultation has been observed successfully. Making multiple occultation measurements over the next few years will help the Lucy team to build up an accurate picture of Orus’s shape and rotation.

Marc Buie, an astronomer at Southwest Research Institute, provided the predicted path of the occultation using a combination of observations from the ESA space telescope Gaia, and ground-based facilities like PanSTARRS, as well as other robotic telescopes. A new occultation by Orus will be visible in Australia on 4th November of this year.

“Calculations based previous on our observations from Oman give a diameter of about 54.8 kilometres for Orus, which is in line with estimations. We don’t yet know much about Orus, such as its shape and whether it possesses one or several satellites. The observation has proved that our predictions of the orbit of Orus are accurate and we can now plan a campaign to make multiple occultation observations,” said Dr. Franck Marchis, a senior astronomer at the SETI Institute and Unistellar’s Chief Scientific Officer.

The Lucy mission will be the first spacecraft to study Jupiter’s Trojans – two loose groups of asteroids that orbit the Sun, with one group always ahead of Jupiter in its path, the other always behind. These primitive objects hold crucial information about the history of our Solar System. Because many uncertainties surround the targeted asteroids, NASA needs to understand their shape and trajectories, and therefore to improve the path of its $450 million spacecraft. Determining the shape and size of an asteroid will, for example, allow engineers to optimise the exploration schedule, and increase the science return generated by the mission.

The SETI Institute is partnering with the Unistellar, the start-up behind the eVscope digital telescope, to develop a citizen astronomy programme in response to NASA’s call to the astronomical community to contribute to its Lucy space mission. They plan to use a worldwide network of 2,500 eVscopes to observe occultations by Lucy targets to derive their size, shape, and determine the existence of companion asteroids.

Oman was the most favourable spot on Earth from which to observe the occultation.

“Everything worked perfectly at our station located near Khalil. We were able to capture a light-curve full of valuable information and we have demonstrated that this is do-able with the eVscope prototype,” said Dr Marchis. “We hope to work with observers all over the world to support the Lucy mission.”

Video:

The Orus asteroid occulting a star, in the middle of the screen. Credit: F Marchis/Unistellar/SETI Institute

Images

Conceptual image of the Lucy mission. Credits:  NASA/SwRI

Science Contact

Franck Marchis
Co-founder & CSO at
Unistellar and Senior
Astronomer at SETI Institute
fmarchis@seti.org
+1 510 599 0604

Media contacts

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

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

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

Shantanu Naidu
DPS Press Officer
dpspress@aas.org

Unistellar
Ludovic Nachury
Head of Communication
press@unistellaroptics.
com
+33 6 24 31 63 89

SETI Institute
Rebecca McDonald
Director of Communications
rmcdonald@seti.org

Notes for Editors

EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019
The 2019 Joint Meeting (www.epsc-dps2019.eu) of the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) of the Europlanet Society and the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) will take place at the Centre International de Conférences de Genève (CICG), Geneva, Switzerland, from Sunday 15 to Friday 20 September 2019. More than 1950 abstracts have been submitted and over 1500 planetary scientists from Europe, the US and around the world are expected to attend the meeting, making it one of the largest gatherings of planetary scientists held in Europe to date.
The EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 will be the third time that EPSC and the DPS Annual Meeting have been held together.
Follow: @europlanetmedia #EPSCDPS2019

Europlanet
The Europlanet Society, launched in September 2018, is an organization for individual and corporate members to promote the advancement of planetary science and related fields in Europe. The Society provides Europe’s planetary science community with a platform to exchange ideas and personnel, share research tools, data and facilities, define key science goals for the future, and engage stakeholders, policy makers and European citizens with planetary science. The Europlanet Society is the parent organisation of the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC).
Europlanet Society website: www.europlanet-society.org
EPSC-DPSC 2019 Joint Meeting 2019 website: www.epsc-dps2019.eu

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

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

About Unistellar
Unistellar is the start-up behind the eVscope, a unique, compact, and user-friendly digital telescope. Its light amplification technology allows users to observe galaxies, nebulae, and comets in unparalleled crisp and colorful detail. In partnership with the SETI Institute, the Unistellar eVscope also allows anyone to contribute to astronomical discoveries while observing.
The Unistellar eVscope received a CES Innovation Award in 2018 in the category Tech for a Better World and has been nominated for a SXSW 2019 Innovation Award. It has raised more than $3 million through crowdfunding, and more than 2,500 digital telescopes have already been preordered.

About the SETI Institute
Founded in 1984, the SETI Institute is a non-profit, multi-disciplinary research and education organization whose mission is to explore, understand, and explain the origin and nature of life in the universe and the evolution of intelligence. Our research encompasses the physical and biological sciences and leverages expertise in data analytics, machine learning and advanced signal detection technologies. The SETI Institute is a distinguished research partner for industry, academia and government agencies, including NASA and NSF. https://www.seti.org/

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further information

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

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

Images

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

Science Contact

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

Media contact

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

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

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

Shantanu Naidu
DPS Press Officer
dpspress@aas.org 

Notes for Editors

EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019

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

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

Follow: @europlanetmedia #EPSCDPS2019

Europlanet

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

Europlanet Society website: www.europlanet-society.org

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

DPS

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Images

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

Science contact

Julie Rathbun
Planetary Science Institute
rathbun@psi.edu

Media contact

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

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

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

Alan Fischer
Planetary Science Institute
fischer@psi.edu

Notes for Editors

EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019

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

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

Follow: @europlanetmedia #EPSCDPS2019

Europlanet

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

Europlanet Society website: www.europlanet-society.org

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

DPS

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

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

Age-old debate on Saturn’s rings reignited

Age-old debate on Saturn’s rings reignited

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Images

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

Further information

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

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

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

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

Science Contacts

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

Media contact

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

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

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

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

Notes for Editors

EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019

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

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

Follow: @europlanetmedia #EPSCDPS2019

Europlanet

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

Europlanet Society website: www.europlanet-society.org

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

DPS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ESA ExoMars pages: www.esa.int/exomars

Images

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

Video

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

Scientific Contact

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

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

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

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

Media Contact

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

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

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

Shantanu Naidu
DPS Press Officer
dpspress@aas.org 

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

Further Information

Europlanet 

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

Europlanet Society website: www.europlanet-society.org

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

DPS

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

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