The Europlanet Summer School 2023 is being hosted by Vilnius University’s Moletai Astronomical Observatory (MAO) in Lithuania from 8-18 August.
For the first time, the School is taking place in hybrid format, with 20 participants from 10 countries attending on site and up to 30 people following online. The participants include early careers (right the way from high-school to BSc, MSc, PhD and postdoc) and amateur astronomers.
During the School, participants will gain hands-on experience observing with MAO’s 1.65m and 35/51cm-telescopes (weather permitting!) and training in analysing exoplanet transits, stellar spectra, atmospheric parameters and variability data. The programme includes training modules in communication skills and engaging with schools, as well as lectures on space and ground-based observations and machine learning.
Deividas Dudulis (high-school student and astrophotographer), who is participating in the Summer School, will be posting photos here.
Get involved the Europlanet Northern Regional Hub Activities
The Europlanet Northern Regional Hub will be at the Europlanet Research Infrastructure Meeting (ERIM) 2023 in Bratislava from 19-23 June.
The Northern Europe Hub was established in 2019 to promote planetary science and related fields for the benefit of the Danish, Estonian, Finnish, Icelandic, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Swedish and wider European community, within the Europlanet Society, however the pandemic situation suppressed activities very much.
The first face-to-face Europlanet Society Northern Europe Hub meeting took place on the 21st of September, 2022, during the Europlanet Science Congress in Granada.
Now, with the new Chair Harri Haukka (Finland) and Vice Chair Grazina Tautvaisiene (Lithuania) as well as with advises of the former Chair Jonathan P. Merrison (Denmark), the hub is organising an amateur training workshop in Spring of 2023 and other activities. New members are welcome to join the Europlanet Society and its Northern Europe Hub !
The Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure (RI) project and the Tartu Observatory of the University of Tartu are pleased to announce the international training workshop “Asteroid Research”. The aim of the workshop is to give participants a thorough, multidisciplinary introduction to the ground-based and space observations of asteroids. Participants will be given hands-on experience in CCD photometry and spectroscopy of asteroids using the telescopes of the Tartu Observatory and in analysing the observational data. The hands-on sessions will be accompanied by lectures from leading astronomers. The participants will also be trained in writing and submitting observing proposals to different facilities of the Europlanet Telescope Network, mentorship possibilities between professional astronomers and amateurs will be introduced.
The course is open to PhD and master students, early career scientists, and amateur astronomers from the Danish, Estonian, Finnish, Icelandic, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Swedish, and wider European communities. Activities of professional astronomers and amateur astronomers will be merged in order to achieve more understanding between communities.
The deadline for applications for the full program is 1 June 2023 23:59:00 UTC. The deadline for application for the remote part of the program (LECTURES ONLY) is 1 August 2023 23:59:00 UTC. 20 selected participants will be provided free accommodation (in Tartu), transportation between accommodation and Tartu Observatory, meals and travel reimbursement up to 360€.
Transnational Access Insight: Investigating Fingerprints of Life on the Greenland Ice Sheet
In this guest post, Laura Sánchez García of the Centro de Astrobiología (CAB, CSIC-INTA) describes her recent trip to Europlanet 2024 RI’s Kangerlussuaq Planetary Field Analogue Site in Greenland to investigate molecular and isotopic fingerprints of life on Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) cryo-ecosystems with astrobiological interest for icy worlds.
Glacial systems are interesting for studying habitability and the limits of life. They are extreme environments where microorganisms may survive prolonged exposure to sub-zero temperatures and background radiation over millions or billions of years. Glaciers and the surrounding icy “cryo” environments (permafrost, glacial lakes, or melting streams) can be used to study the development of microbial cryo-ecosystems and may have implications in the search for past or current life in icy worlds beyond the Earth.
In the Solar System, Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus have been recognised as the icy worlds with highest likelihood to harbour life, largely because liquid water could be in contact with rocks. Both moons are believed to contain a global ocean of salty water under a rigid icy crust that would enable interaction between briny water and rocks, and allow the conditions for life to arise.
The permanent Greenland Ice Sheet (GrIS) is a potential analogue for such icy worlds, constituting an important historical record of microorganisms that can survive in extreme cold environments. Around the GrIS, different formations such as glacial lakes, permafrost, or further peat soils represent diverse stages of evolution of the GrIS and its thermal destabilisation.
We submitted a proposal to the second Transnational Access Call of Europlanet 2024 RI to visit the Kangerlussuaq Planetary Field Analogue Site in Greenland. In April 2021, we received the news that it had been successful, and our team’s visit took place from 19-29 July 2021.
Our project is an investigation of molecular and isotopic lipid biomarkers of microorganisms inhabiting different cryo-ecosystems at and around the GrIS. Through our results, we hope to obtain clues of a potential life development at an analogue site (ice sheet) of icy moons in our Solar System, and learn how ecosystems evolve (biological succession) when the ice cover retreats and gets exposed to the atmosphere (resulting in glacier-melting streams, bedrock-erosion sediments, lake sediments, glacial soils).
We searched for organics to study the molecular and isotopic composition of lipid biomarkers in environmental samples collected from different ecosystems in the Kangerlussuaq region on the west coast of Greenland, including:
The ice sheet cryo-environment,
Nearby glacier-influenced ecosystems in and around glacial lakes
Longer time-exposed and further-developed lake and soil ecosystems.
Ice sheet cryo-environment
For the ice sheet study,we chose an ice sheet region in the Issunguata Sermia glacier system. There, we spotted four sites for sampling ice cores:
One near the glacier front, where ice is relatively older and carries plenty of dark, grey, fine material from the bedrock erosion during the glacier advance.
Two a bit further northeast in the ice sheet, where the ice is relatively younger and looked like slightly cleaner (i.e. whiter).
One further north, in the highest height, where the ice looked cleanest (i.e. whitest).
In the four sites, ice cores were retrieved down to 50-80 cm depth with a manual ice driller and, when the driller didn’t go deep enough, we dug a surface of about 35×35 cm2 with a geologist’s hammer to collect as much ice as possible down to the deepest depth reached by the drill.
Together with the ice drills, we also collected additional samples from:
Melt water from a glacial stream flowing through the ice sheet.
Dark grey sand-sized sediments (with pebbles and small stones) from hill of deposits on the ice sheet coming from the erosion of the bedrock during the glacier advance.
Dark blackish, fine sediments outcropping from an ice wedge, also coming from glacial erosion of the bedrock.
The four ice drills were melted and, together with the melt water sample, were filtrated through 0.7 μm pore-size glass fibre filters, to recover the particulate matter and look for total organic carbon and lipid biomarkers.
2) Nearby glacier-influenced ecosystems in and around glacial lakes
For the study of the glacial lakes study, we chose two different systems:
A glacial lake (GL1) about 200 m apart from an edge of the glacier Issunguata Sermia.
In this lake, we sampled a surface sediment from near the shore, together with sediments from an exposed “terrace” near the shore, where material at ground level represented the oldest and that at top of the terrace the youngest. The terrace was assumed to be composed of sediments accumulated in the past when the lake had a higher water level compared to today.
A multiple-lake system next to an edge of the glacier Issunguata Sermia.
The lake system is composed of four interconnected glacial lakes, where the first lake (GL2; closest to the glacier edge) receives water from the melting glacier and feeds the second lake (GL3), which in turns feeds the third (GL4), and this the fourth (GL5).
Here, we collected water (for chemical analysis) and surface sediments (for lipid biomarkers analysis) from the four lakes, and a 25 cm-deep sediment core only from the fourth lake (i.e. furthest from the glacier edge).
3) Longer time-exposed and further developed lacustrine and soil ecosystem
We aimed to assess the organic-composition differences between glacial and non-glacial lakes, so we also sampled a number of non-glacial lakes fed by meteoric (rain and surface runoff) water:
A small lake (L6): a lake about 1 km long and 0.5 km wide that is about 3 km apart from Issunguata Sermia.
Long Lake (L7): a relatively larger lake about 10 km long and 1.5 km wide that is about 11 km apart from the same glacier.
Salt Lake (SL): a lake about 600 m long and 500 m wide furthest from the glacier, and about 3-4 km apart from Kangerlussuaq.
In the three lakes, we sampled water (for chemistry analysis) and surface sediments near the shore. Then, for the small lake (L6) and Salt Lake (SL), we collected a sediment core of 14 and 34 cm depth, respectively. At the Salt Lake basin, we also collected samples from a terrace in the shore, corresponding to past sediment/peat material piling up at the lake shore.
4) Soil development on glacier retreatment
Finally, we wanted to learn about the soil development upon glacier retreatment, so we collected soil samples from a transect that included:
A young soil (poorly-vegetated so far) from recently exposed ground near the present margin of the Issunguata Sermia glacier.
A relatively older soil (more developed and vegetated) from the basin around the last lake of the four interconnected glacial-lakes system (i.e. GL5).
An even older soil (the most developed) from the Long Lake surroundings.
In order to get a glimpse of the fresh isotopic signatures from the vegetation contributing to the soil lipidic fingerprint, we also collected samples from the most representative vegetal specimens found in the studied area: sphagnum; grass; rounded-leave creeping plant with white flowers; orange, black, and pale-yellow lichens; and submerged and emergent macrophytes (from GL1). Most vegetal samples were collected from the surroundings of glacial lakes GL1 and GL4.
Following our return from Greenland, we are now starting on the analysis of samples and aim to publish our findings in a paper.
All photos from the trip
The BioGreen Transnational Access visit was supported by Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastrucutre and received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 871149.
The Northern Europe Hub was established in 2019 to promote planetary science and related fields for the benefit of the Danish, Estonian, Finnish, Icelandic, Latvian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Swedish and wider European community, within the Europlanet Society.
Committees and national representatives
Members of the Committee of the Northern Europe Hub are:
Europlanet 2024 RI has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 871149.
Europlanet AISBL (Association Internationale Sans But Lucratif - 0800.634.634) is hosted by the Department of Planetary Atmospheres of the Royal Belgian Institute for Space Aeronomy (BIRA-IASB), Avenue Circulaire 3, B-1180 Brussels, Belgium.