Call for Farinella Prize 2022

Call for 12th ‘Paolo Farinella’ Prize, 2022

To honour the memory and the outstanding figure of Paolo Farinella (1953-2000), an extraordinary scientist and person, a Prize has been established in recognition of significant contributions in the fields of interest of Paolo, which spanned from planetary sciences to space geodesy, fundamental physics, science popularisation, security in space, weapon control and disarmament.

The Prize has been proposed during the ‘International Workshop on Paolo Farinella, the scientist and the man‘, held in Pisa in 2010.

Previous recipients of the ‘Paolo Farinella Prize’ were:

The 12th Paolo Farinella Prize will be awarded to a young scientist with outstanding contributions in the field of planetary science concerning ‘Asteroids: Physics, Dynamics, Modelling and Observations‘, including theoretical, modelling, experimental and observational work on asteroids. The award winner will be honoured during the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2022 in Granada (Spain).

For the 12th ‘Paolo Farinella’ Prize the terms and rules are as follows:

  1. A competition is announced to award the ‘Paolo Farinella’ Prize for the year 2022. The Prize consists of a plate, a certificate and the amount of 1500 €. The winner is expected to give a Prize lecture during EPSC2022.
  2. The winner will be selected on the basis of their overall research results in the field of ‘Asteroids: Physics, Dynamics, Modelling and Observations‘. 
  3. Nominations must be sent by email not later than May 1st to the following addresses:, and, using the downloadable form.
  4. The nominations for the ‘Paolo Farinella’ Prize can be made by any researcher that works in the field of planetary sciences following the indications in the attached form. Self-nominations are acceptable. The candidates should have international and interdisciplinary collaborations and should be not older than the age of Paolo when he passed away, 47 years, as of 1 May 2022. 
  5. The winner of the Prize will be selected before 20 June 2022 by the ‘Paolo Farinella’ Prize Committee composed of outstanding scientists in planetary sciences, with specific experience in the field. 
  6. The Prize Committee will consider all the nominations, but it will be entitled to autonomously consider other candidates.

‘Paolo Farinella’ Prize homepage.

Let’s light up the skies of the world at EXPO!

Let’s light up the skies of the world at EXPO!

OAE Italy center and INAF are organizing Let’s light up the skies of the world! Astronomy for Education, from theory to practice, a round table that will take place in Dubai, at the Italy Pavilion of EXPO, and streamed online for all the community.

The event will be in English, on 16 March 2022, starting at 9:45 and ending at 11:00 CET (starting at 12:45 and ending at 14:00 at Dubai time).

Participants to the round table are: Markus Poessel (Director of IAU OAE Hq); Stefano Sandrelli (Manager of IAU OAE Center Italy); Sara Ricciardi (Deputy of IAU OAE Center Italy); Hamid Al-Naimiy (President of the Arab Union for Astronomy and Space sciences, and Director General of SAASST, the Sharjah Academy for Astronomy, Space sciences & Technology); Ilias Fernini (Deputy Director General of SAAST); Pedro Russo (Leiden University/Ciência Viva).

We warmly invite you to participate, following the streaming online or dropping in at the Italy Pavilion, if you are at Dubai on 16 March. To participate (both online or in presence) register at 

A link to follow the streaming will be sent by email after registration.

Anticipating Planetary Science with the James Webb Space Telescope

Anticipating Planetary Science with the James Webb Space Telescope

What are Jupiter and Saturn made of? Are there still open mysteries about these two giant planets? How will the James Webb Space Telescope help investigate them? Find out with Leigh Fletcher (University of Leicester, UK and member of the Europlanet Society Board) in this interview by Claudia Mignone (EDU INAF, Italy).

Il Cielo in salotto: aperitif with the Comet!

Monday 8 November, starting at 18:30 (CEST), a live online event of the EduINAF’s format “Il cielo in salotto“, to celebrate the return to our skies of the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The comet studied by the Rosetta space mission has reached the perihelion on November 2nd, and it will be at its minimum distance from Earth (just over 60 million km) on November 12th: between these two dates the comet, visible with the help of a small telescope or large binoculars, will be at its maximum brightness.
The return of 67P is in conjunction with another important anniversary related to the mission: on November 12th it will be exactly 7 years since the landing of the probe Philae on the comet, the highlight of the adventurous Rosetta mission that accompanied 67P in its journey around the Sun between 2014 and 2016.

During the live event some special guests will show us images and videos of 67P collected by INAF telescopes and EduINAF readers fond of sky observations. The audience will discover some of the scientific secrets of comets and finally relive together some of the most exciting moments of the Rosetta mission. For the most enterprising, it will also be an opportunity to learn how to observe our celestial guest with a small binoculars or telescope and try to photograph it. Since a few weeks, indeed, 67P is the great protagonist of the observational campaign entitled “Cattura la Cometa!” organised by EduINAF together with the Unione Astrofili Italiani, AstronomiAmo, the Italian Association for Astronautics and Space and the Astronomical Observatory of the Autonomous Region of Valle d’Aosta and with the collaboration of Europlanet. The images collected are published on EduINAF and the most beautiful ones will be shown and commented during the live event.
The appointment is on the EduINAF’s YouTube channel: go here to find all the information!

EPEC Profiles – Dimitrios Athanasopoulos

EPEC Profiles – Dimitrios Athanasopoulos

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

Dimitrios Athanasopoulos is a Ph.D. candidate at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens (NKUA) in Greece. His research focuses on the most ancient asteroid families that have been discovered. He is performing observations to reveal the asteroids’ spin state.

From a young age, I was particularly interested in the Natural Sciences and especially in Astrophysics and Planetary Science. With the ambition to become a researcher, I set a goal to study at the Department of Physics of NKUA. The first step was taken and the journey to knowledge and research began.

During my undergraduate studies, I took part in a European student competition, where I came up with an alternative scenario of Lunar colonization that uses Lunar morphology, namely lunar pits, to protect astronauts from cosmic radiation. As part of this work, I developed code and performed original computational simulations calculating the radiation levels in these structures. Thanks to my performance, I was given the opportunity to do a 6-month internship at the European Astronaut Center (EAC) in Cologne, Germany, of the European Space Agency (ESA). There, I was a member of the Spaceship EAC team, and my work was included radiation shielding simulations for the Moon Village scenario.

In the summer of 2018, I participated in the Alpbach Summer School with the theme “Sample return from small solar system bodies”, where European students are invited to prepare a space mission proposal divided into groups. My group’s proposal was to return a sample from a type D type asteroid in order to find the relationship between asteroids and comets. Our proposal was distinguished with two awards. 

After the Summer School, asteroids were included in my research interests. Hence, I enrolled in the Master in Astrophysics program at my university, and I worked on the photometric observations of the most ancient asteroids. Now, as a Ph.D. candidate, I want to delve into this field and answer research questions that arise about the oldest asteroid families and the information they give us about the early stages of our Solar System. 

In the last years, I am working as a high-school teacher and in the last semester, I was working as Graduate Teaching Assistant at my University, performing lab courses for undergraduate students. Apart from teaching, I also like science communication. As an active member of the “Planets In Your Hand” team (awarded by Europlanet Funding Scheme 2017), I have conducted many outreach activities. I believe that public outreach is the duty of the scientific community so knowledge to be spread in the wider community and everyone can benefit.

Lastly, an international observing campaign, called “Ancient Asteroids”, supports my Ph.D. and was initiated willing to establish a node between professional and amateur astronomers, a Pro-Am collaboration for the characterization of the oldest asteroid families.

Everyone should have the opportunity to participate in the discovery.

The EuroPlanet Early Career (EPEC) network lays a solid foundation for tomorrow’s scientific community in Planetary Science. I am very happy to be part of this multidisciplinary team.


More information about Dimitrios Athanasopoulos:



Dimitrios Athanasopoulos. Image credit: Kosmas Gazeas

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

See all the EPEC Profiles.

EPSC2021: Life support cooked up from lunar rocks

EPSC2021: Life support cooked up from lunar rocks

Engineers have successfully shown how water and oxygen can be extracted by cooking up lunar soil, in order to support future Moon bases. A laboratory demonstrator, developed by a consortium of the Politecnico Milano, the European Space Agency, the Italian Space Agency and the OHB Group, is presented this week at the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2021.

The set-up uses a two-step process, well known in industrial chemistry for terrestrial applications, that has been customised to work with a mineral mixture that mimics the lunar soil. Around 50% of lunar soil in all regions of the Moon is made up of silicon or iron oxides, and these in turn are around 26% oxygen. This means that a system that efficiently extracts oxygen from the soil could operate at any landing site or installation on the Moon.

In the experimental set-up, the soil simulant is vaporised in the presence of hydrogen and methane, then “washed” with hydrogen gas. Heated by a furnace to temperatures of around 1000 degrees Celsius, the minerals turn directly from a solid to a gas, missing out a molten phase, which reduces the complexity of the technology needed. Gases produced and residual methane are sent to a catalytic converter and a condenser that separates out water. Oxygen can then be extracted through electrolysis. By-products of methane and hydrogen are recycled in the system.

“Our experiments show that the rig is scalable and can operate in an almost completely self-sustained closed loop, without the need for human intervention and without getting clogged up,” said Prof Michèle Lavagna, of the Politecnico Milano, who led the experiments. 

To accurately understand the process and prepare the technology needed for a flight test, experiments have been carried out to optimise the temperature of the furnace, the length and frequency of the washing phases, the ratio of the mixtures of gases, and the mass of the soil simulant batches. Results show that yield is maximised by processing the soil simulant in small batches, at the highest temperatures possible and using long washing phases.

The solid by-product is rich in silica and metals that can undergo further processing for other resources useful for in-situ exploration of the Moon.

‘The capability of having efficient water and oxygen production facilities on site is fundamental for human exploration and to run high quality science directly on the Moon,’ said Lavagna. ‘These laboratory experiments have deepened our understanding of each step in the process. It is not the end of the story, but it’s very a good starting point.’


Lavagna, M., Prinetto, J., Colagrossi, A., Troisi, I., Dottori, A., and lunghi, P.: Water production from lunar regolith through carbothermal reduction modelling through ground experiments, Europlanet Science Congress 2021, online, 13–24 Sep 2021, EPSC2021-527,, 2021.

Images and animations

Artist impression of a Moon Base concept. Credit: ESA - P. Carril
Artist impression of a Moon Base concept. Credit: ESA – P. Carril

Video showing water extracted from lunar regolith simulant, 2021. Credit: Politecnico Milano. License: CC BY-NC-ND. Credit must be given to the creator. Only noncommercial uses of the work are permitted. No derivatives or adaptations of the work are permitted.

Science Contacts

Michèle Lavagna
Politecnico di Milano

Media Contacts

EPSC2021 Press Office

About the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 

The Europlanet Science Congress ( formerly the European Planetary Science Congress, is the annual meeting place of the Europlanet Society. With a track record of 15 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 #EPSC2021.

EPSC2021 is sponsored by Space: Science & Technology, a Science Partner Journal.

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 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).

Exploring Mars from Etna

Exploring Mars from Etna

There are many different ways of studying the Solar System and the other planets. Some of them do not require to go to space or to be in a laboratory, but can be carried out in the field – in some of the most beautiful places on Earth.

This is the case for a campaign that took place in July 2021, which brought 11 students from all over Europe together for a field trip on the Sicilian volcanano, Etna, in preparation for the arrival ESA’s next mission to Mars in 2022. In this campaign, organised through the EuroMoonMars initiative and presented for the first time at EPSC2021, the team simulated the landing of a basic rover and used it to explore the harsh environment of Etna and to collect and analyse data from a selection of instruments.

‘Sicily was chosen due to the fact that Mount Etna is a very similar environment to the Moon and Mars, both being fairly desolate, harsh environments,’ says Hannah Reilly, from Technological University Dublin, a member of the team. ‘The constant volcanic activity at Mount Etna means that the terrain and surrounding areas are constantly changing and covered in fresh volcanic soil, similar to soil found on other planets. Volcanic areas are usually chosen for campaigns like this.’

The rover used in the campaign was operated by the team to simulate the activities of the Rosalind Franklin Rover that will be used in the Exomars mission.

‘As you can imagine our rover is a lot smaller than the ESA one, but we developed our own camera system similar to that on ExoMars, including PanCam, which we used to generate 360 panoramas,’ explains Reilly. ‘Just like the ExoMars rover that will analyse the terrain, we also used different spectrometers including a Raman spectrometer and UV-Vis-NIR one. The in-situ analysis of samples collected was then carried out on site, as part of the simulation of what will happen with ExoMars. All the scientific results have been shared with the community in a selection of articles discussing different aspects of the campaign, like the rover and radio antenna, that have been presented at EPSC this year.’

The campaign was organised as part of the LEAPS project by the ESA/Leiden University, under the supervision of Prof Bernard Foing and with the collaboration of researchers from DLR and from INAF and University in Catania. The EuroMoonMars initiative was founded by the International Lunar Exploration Working Group (ILEWG), as part of research efforts towards the exploration of the Moon and Mars. In the past, EuroMoonMars has carried out field campaigns in other Moon-Mars analogue environments like Hawaii and Iceland. Next summer, the project will return to Etna, collaborating with a new mission, called ARCHES, which will be run by DLR.

Aside from the scientific aspects and results, campaigns such as the Etna one are also an opportunity for young researchers.

‘Our team was made of students coming from all over Europe, Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Ireland, England and Italy. It was a really nice opportunity, especially during Covid, in terms of academic and career experience, getting to work in an international team and learning how to put our university knowledge to good use. And Mount Etna was an amazing and beautiful place that I can’t wait to visit again. We even got the chance to see some volcanic activity – we spent one whole evening watching an eruption, a once in a lifetime opportunity!’ said Reilly.


Group photo : left to right : Gary Brady, Chiaryu Mohan, Dr. Armin Wedler, Yke Rusticus, Leander Schlarmann, Kevin McGrath, Christoph Hones, Prof. Bernard Foing , Anouk Ehreiser, Hannah Reilly
Credits: Hannah Reilly, Bernard Foing and Gaia de Palma

The Rover on site at Mount. Etna
Credits: Hannah Reilly, Bernard Foing and Gaia de Palma

Instrument set up : Mock Lander and rover
Credits: Hannah Reilly, Bernard Foing and Gaia de Palma

Setting up the spectrometer
Credits: Hannah Reilly, Bernard Foing and Gaia de Palma

Watching an eruption on Etna
Credits: Hannah Reilly, Bernard Foing and Gaia de Palma

EPSC2021: From walls and railings of our cities to…space: the story of Xanthoria parietina

EPSC2021: From walls and railings of our cities to…space: the story of Xanthoria parietina

One of the main topics in astrobiology is the study of life limits in stressful environments -very high temperatures, inhuman pressures, deadly radiations- in order to shed light on the possibility of life in space or in extra-terrestrial habitats such as Mars. You might think it’s difficult to find life forms suitable for these studies, but instead in some cases they are very common; so common as to grow on walls and railings of our cities. 

This is precisely the case of Xanthoria parietina, a yellow-orange leafy lichen selected by the research group of Dr John Robert Brucato, Senior Research Scientist at INAF, the Italian National Institute of Astrophysics, for their study presented at EPSC2021.

The Xanthoria parietina is so common in our cities because it is particularly tolerant to air pollutants as nitrogen oxides and heavy metals” says John, “but we chose it for its ability to produce a particular substance, the parietin, which allows it to protect itself from UV rays”.

In the study, presented at EPSC by Christian Lorenz, a Master’s Student in Environmental Biology at the University of Florence, John and his team tested the lichen under simulated UV space radiations in two different extreme and dehydrating environments, i.e. in nitrogen atmosphere and in vacuum, and demonstrated that it was able to survive. 

The innovative aspect of our study is the spectroscopic analysis we used.” says Christian. “This analysis allowed us to obtain for the first time the spectrum of this lichen species, which we monitored during the exposure, allowing us to appreciate the real time changes in it.

Is this silent inhabitant of our cities ready to colonise space? John thinks it’s too early to tell: “As the next step of our study, we will directly assess the presence of damages in the lichen through electron microscope analyses and expose it to other extreme conditions. Then, it would be really exciting to expose it in real space conditions, for example on the ISS!”.

For more information about the work, you can have a look at Christian’s presentation, Survival of Xanthoria parietina in simulated space conditions: spectroscopic analysis and vitality assessment during the EPSC2021 session TP5 on Friday 17 September. 

Comics “When the Earth Flares Up”

Download a unique educational tool, a comic book about the geomagnetic field and its importance for life on our Earth. The comic book is intended for primary school pupils. Once you get acquainted with the story of the geomagnetic field, play a board game designed for 1-4 players. You can download the game for free below, you will only need 4 game pieces and two dice.

Download the Comic Book and the board game free under the Creative Commons licence:

Comic book cover – profi printing version, PDF file

Comic book for home printing – PDF file

Comic book ofset, profi printing version – PDF file

Board game – profi printing version, PDF file

The comic book was created on the initiative of the staff of the Geophysical Institute Matěj Machek and Petr Brož in co-operation with David Píša from the Institute of Atmospheric Physics CAS.  It was drawn by Karolina Kučerová (whose work you can watch in this video or here) and written by Lucie Lukačovičová. The board game was designed by Julie Nováková. The work can be freely downloaded and freely distributed under a Creative Commons license.

Regional Hubs at EPSC2021

Regional Hubs at EPSC2021

Let us show you how the Europlanet Society and its regional hubs can serve you. We will present you the benefits of joining the hubs and will gladly hear about your needs.

12:45 Welcome (Séverine Robert)

12:50 Why am I a member of the EPS? (Miguel Lopez Valverde)

12:55 Funded project: Mars Atlas (Henrik Hargitai)

13:05 Why am I a member of the EPS? (Jonathan Merrison)

13:10 Funded project: Storytelling workshop (Arianna Piccialli)

13:20 Why am I a member of the EPS? (Nicholas Achilleos)

13:25 Collaborative framework: Europlanet Telescope Network (Manuel Scherf)

13:35 Why am I a member of the EPS? (Lena Noack)

13:40 General discussion: What do you want the EPS to do for you? (All Panelists)

14:10 Wrap up (Séverine Robert)

14:15 End of meeting


The Europlanet Society Regional Hubs support the development of planetary science at a national and regional level, particularly in countries and areas that are currently under-represented within the community.

Our Hub Committees organise networking events and workshops to support the research community, as well as to build links with amateur astronomers, industrial partners, policymakers, educators, the media and the wider public. Europlanet Society members are welcome to participate in the activities of one or more Hubs.

The 10 Regional Hubs established to date are:

Dancing around Venus

Dancing around Venus

A close flyby of the planet Venus between 9 and 10 August, led to an (almost) meeting of the Euro-Japanese BepiColombo and the Euro-American Solar Orbiter (SOLO) spacecrafts. Venus isn’t the final destination of either mission but the approach to the planet made it possible to collect valuable data for future studies.

The almost-contemporary flyby at Venus of Solar Orbiter is a great opportunity to have more data and an additional point of view of the Venus environment. We’ll take advantage of it!” says Valeria Mangano, coordinator of the ESA working group on Venus flybys of the BepiColombo mission. 

SOLO will use Venus’s gravity multiple times to get closer to the Sun and to change direction to get a good look at the Sun’s poles (a first for a spacecraft), while BepiColombo needs gravitational help from Earth, Venus and Mercury itself to reach its destination.  BepiColombo, named after the Paduan mathematician, physicist, astronomer and engineer Giuseppe Colombo, is the result of the collaboration between the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) with European leadership. The aim of the mission is to unveil the deepest secrets of Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun and one of the least explored in the Solar System. Four out of the sixteen instruments and experiments on board BepiColombo were built by Italian industry and the Mercury Planetary Orbiter carries onboard the Italian instruments ISA, SERENA and SIMBIO-SYS, and the MORE radio-science experiment.

ESA’s SOLO spacecraft encountered Venus at an altitude of 7995 km 33 hours earlier than BepiColombo and on the opposite face of the planet. Its main mission is to observe the surface of the Sun and study the changes that occur in the solar wind that is emitted at high speed by our star. Among its ten instruments, SOLO carries Metis, the innovative coronagraph born through an international collaboration led by the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) and supported by the Italian Space Agency (ASI), involving several universities in Italy and research institutes in the world. 

Approaching Venus has allowed the two spacecraft to make several science investigations of the planet’s atmosphere and its induced magnetosphere and ionosphere. During its flyby, the Solar Orbiter Heliospheric Imager (SoloHI) was able to capture a view of the planet Venus’s nightside, which appeared as a dark semicircle surrounded by a gleaming, bright crescent of light. The day after and a few minutes after BepiColombo’s closest approach of 552km, the Mercury Transfer Module’s Monitoring Camera 2 took this beautiful black-and-white snapshot with the high-gain antenna and part of the body of the spacecraft visible in front of Venus.

Beautiful view of Venus on 10 August 2021 as bepiColombo passed the planet for a gravity assist manoeuvre.

The Venus Flybys Working group (VFBWG, here the relative ESA webpage), Valeria tells us, aims to promote discussion on Venus science as related to the BepiColombo passages nearby the planet, and also by taking advantage of some of the complementary observations from Earth-based telescopes and by amateur astronomers. Europlanet 2024 RI is actively involved in this, by supporting and encouraging the amateur observations through a campaign coordinated by Ricardo Hueso and Itziar Garate-Lopez from UPV/EHU in Spain. You can find some of the images collected after the first BepiColombo Venus flyby last October on the Planetary Virtual Observatory and Laboratory (PVOL) website. The working group also supports coordination of Venus observations by BepiColombo and other spacecraft. JAXA’s Akatsuki spacecraft, for instance, is now in orbit around Venus and joint observations of the plasma environment surrounding the atmosphere of Venus will enable, again, new insights concerning the planet that were not previously achievable.

Apparently the data for the public will be coming through and continuously being uploaded to the ESA’s dedicated webpage but it will take some time.

Now that the flyby at Venus has passed, we are all working hard at the data analysis, interacting among the teams to gain the most comprehensive view of what we measured. This is at the same time the most stressful and exciting moment of the flyby, when you realise if all the efforts we did of planning the ‘best possible measurements’ really worked and will bring us results or not,” Valeria Mangano continues.

Even more exciting is that all the data collected during the flybys will provide useful inputs to ESA’s future Venus orbiter, EnVision, which is scheduled to launch to Venus in the 2030s.

It seems that the heavens will continue to give us great, emotional highlights in the years to come and we can do nothing but wait, anxiously, for the next planetary dance. The next appointment is for the night of 1-2 October, when BepiColombo will finally see its long dreamed-of destination, making its first of six flybys of the planet Mercury.

Transnational Access Insight: Investigating Fingerprints of Life on the Greenland Ice Sheet

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.

Kangerlussuaq TA Field Trip (Spanish Team): Group Pictures

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: 

  1. The ice sheet cryo-environment,
  2. Nearby glacier-influenced ecosystems in and around glacial lakes
  3. Longer time-exposed and further-developed lake and soil ecosystems.

Ice sheet cryo-environment

Kangerlussuaq TA Field Trip (Spanish Team): Issunguata Sermia landscape

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.

Kangerlussuaq TA Field Trip (Spanish Team): Ice drilling on Issunguata Sermia

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.

Kangerlussuaq TA Field Trip (Spanish Team): Sampling Bedrock erosion sediments from Issunguata Sermia ice

2) Nearby glacier-influenced ecosystems in and around glacial lakes

Kangerlussuaq TA Field Trip (Spanish Team): Sampling on 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.

Kangerlussuaq TA Field Trip (Spanish Team): Sampling on Rain Lakes

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.

Soil & Vegetation studies at the Kangerlussuaq Planetary Analogue Field Site.  Credits: Laura Sánche-García/CAB (INTA-CSIC).

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

Kangerlussuaq TA Field Trip (Spanish Team) All Photos

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.

Transnational Access to the TA1.6 Kangerlussuaq Planetary Analogue Field Site facility is coordinated by Aarhus University.

Find out more about Europlanet 2024 RI’s Transnational Access Programme.

Central Europe Hub – Calling for a new chair

Central Europe Hub – Calling for a new chair

Submit your interest by September 2021

An opportunity to become the next Central Europe Hub chair. The Central Europe Hub was established in 2018 to promote planetary science and related fields for the benefit of the Austrian, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, Slovenian, Slovakian and wider European community, within the Europlanet Society.

If you’re interested in applying, please reach out to the Central Europe Hub team

An overview of explosive volcanism on Mars

An overview of explosive volcanism on Mars

Petr Brož (Institute of Geophysics of the Czech Academy of Sciences) et al. 2021

Decades of space exploration reveal that Mars has been reshaped by volcanism throughout its history. The range of observed volcanic landforms shows that effusive and explosive eruptions have occurred, albeit unevenly in time and space.

In this paper:

  • We present an overview of explosive volcanism on Mars.
  • Evidence for explosive volcanism is less common than for effusive activity.
  • Still indications of explosive volcanism have been identified at various sites.
  • Explosive edifices are often different in shapes from their terrestrial analogues.
  • Explosive eruptions on Mars would behave differently from those on Earth.
  • ()

Read the paper>>

Read paper of the month>>

Go back to the Europlanet Central Europe Hub>>

Inspiring Stories – #PlanetaryScience4All: A Video Contest for Virtual Science Communication

Inspiring Stories – #PlanetaryScience4All: A Video Contest for Virtual Science Communication

In this EPEC Inspiring Outreach Story, Melissa Mirino (doctoral candidate at The Open University and of the Chair EPEC Communications Working Group) shares how the extraordinary experiences of 2020 inspired her to launch a contest to bring together the early career community. This story is an extract from the first Issue of the Europlanet magazine.

The year 2020 will be always remembered as a year of isolation, disruption of the normal daily activities, and in extreme cases a year of loss. However, during this period we all did our best to find alternative solutions to carry on with our lives, jobs and activities and remain positive and connected with each other using the current available technologies. Research and academia have not been an exception. Both the Europlanet Society and the Europlanet Early Career Network (EPEC) did their best to remain active, and to guarantee the usual sharing of ideas and scientific results by transforming the EPSC 2020 Conference into a virtual meeting. 

As Chair of the EPEC Communications Working Group, I wanted to create an activity that could combine the EPEC goal of supporting early careers, our working group’s aim of communication, and the need to transform face-to-face activities into a shareable, interactive and online form to support the EPSC2020 virtual meeting. The idea of a video contest came to mind. This format is already considered by many universities as a good way to train and challenge students in science communication. Since the main subject of EPSC is planetary science, the topic of the video contest was easy to identify. With support from the EPSC2020 Outreach and Europlanet Communications teams, and many months of planning, creating and sharing the new activity, the #PlanetaryScience4All video contest became a reality. #PlanetaryScience4All challenges early career students to present their research in four minutes to a non-expert audience. 

The first edition (2020) of the contest was open to Ph.D. candidates involved in planetary science studies, asking them to explain their Ph.D. research using any type of creative video format (Lego movies, drawing, PowerPoint, storytelling, etc.). The videos were judged based on criteria of scientific content, communication skills, and creativity by a panel of experts from the Europlanet Community. All the contestants and their videos were featured in live sessions during EPSC2020, promoted on YouTube, and shared widely on social media. The winning video was highlighted through the Europlanet website and newsletters, and it has also been used for EPEC outreach activities. The winner of the 2020 edition, Grace Richards, received free registration to this year’s EPSC2021 meeting. Recently, Grace and Gloria Tognon, another contestant, have also joined the EPEC Communications Working Group to support our activities. Based on the success of the 2020 competition, I feel confident that #PlanetaryScience4All will become a traditional part of EPSC. 

The second edition is now open, this year welcoming Bachelor’s and Master’s students, as well as PhD candidates working on a thesis related to planetary science.

For more information FAQs, flyers, and the submission form visit:

Videos from the 2020 #PlanetaryScience4All contest can be found at: playlist?list=PLPXeplhp1d00fmFd9vYXirNt_gyZrKOPA. The first Europlanet Magazine issue is available at:

Oldest fossils of methane-cycling microbes expand frontiers of habitability on early Earth

Oldest fossils of methane-cycling microbes expand frontiers of habitability on early Earth 


A team of international researchers, led by the University of Bologna, has discovered the fossilised remains of methane-cycling microbes that lived in a hydrothermal system beneath the sea floor 3.42 billion years ago. 

The microfossils are the oldest evidence for this type of life and expand the frontiers of potentially habitable environments on the early Earth, as well as other planets such as Mars. 

The study, published today in the journal Science Advances, analysed microfossil specimens in two thin layers within a rock collected from the Barberton Greenstone Belt in South Africa. This region, near the border with Eswatini and Mozambique, contains some of the oldest and best-preserved sedimentary rocks found on our planet. 

The microfossils have a carbon-rich outer sheath and a chemically and structurally distinct core, consistent with a cell wall or membrane around intracellular or cytoplasmic matter.

Prof Barbara Cavalazzi, the lead author of the study, said: “We found exceptionally well-preserved evidence of fossilised microbes that appear to have flourished along the walls of cavities created by warm water from hydrothermal systems a few meters below the sea floor. Sub-surface habitats, heated by volcanic activity, are likely to have hosted some of Earth’s earliest microbial ecosystems and this is the oldest example that we have found to date.”

The interaction of cooler sea-water with warmer subsurface hydrothermal fluids would have created a rich chemical soup, with variations in conditions leading to multiple potential micro-habitats. The clusters of filaments were found at the tips of pointed hollows in the walls of the cavity, whereas the individual filaments were spread across the cavity floor.

Chemical analysis shows that the filaments include most of the major elements needed for life. The concentrations of nickel in organic compounds provide further evidence of primordial metabolisms and are consistent with nickel-content found in modern microbes, known as Archaea prokaryotes, that live in the absence of oxygen and use methane for their metabolism.

“Although we know that Archaea prokaryotes can be fossilised, we have extremely limited direct examples. Our findings could extend the record of Archaea fossils for the first time into the era when life first emerged on Earth,” said Prof Cavalazzi. 

She added: “As we also find similar environments on Mars, the study also has implications for astrobiology and the chances of finding life beyond Earth.”

‘‘Cellular remains in a ~3.42 billion-year-old subseafloor hydrothermal environment’, B. Cavalazzi (Università di Bologna, Italy/ University of Johannesburg, South Africa), L. Lemelle (LGL-TPE, ENS de Lyon, Université de Lyon, CNRS, France), A. Simionovici (ISTerre, University of Grenoble-Alpes, CNRS, France), S.L. Cady (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, USA), M.J. Russell (Università degli Studi di Torino, Italy), E. Bailo (WITec GmbH, Germany), R. Canteri (Fondazione Bruno Kessler, Italy), E. Enrico (Istituto Nazionale di Ricerca Metrologica, Italy), A. Manceau (ISTerre, University of Grenoble-Alpes, CNRS, France), A. Maris (Università di Bologna, Italy), M. Salomé (European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, France), E. Thomassot (Université  de Lorraine, CNRS, CRPG, France), N. Bouden (Université  de Lorraine, CNRS, CRPG, France), R. Tucoulou (European Synchrotron Radiation Facility, France), A. Hofmann (University of Johannesburg, South Africa), Science Advances, 2021.

The research was carried out with the support of Europlanet 2024 RI, which received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 programme (Grant No 871149).


1) Image of the locality of the study area in the Barberton Greenstone Belt in South Africa. Credit: A. Hofmann.
1) Image of the locality of the study area in the Barberton Greenstone Belt in South Africa. Credit: A. Hofmann.

2) Image of the outcrop from which the rock sample was taken in the Barberton Greenstone Belt in South Africa. Credit: Cavalazzi et al.
2) Image of the outcrop from which the rock sample was taken in the Barberton Greenstone Belt in South Africa. Credit: Cavalazzi et al.

3) Optical microscope image of the filamentous microfossils. Credit: B. Cavalazzi.
3) Optical microscope image of the filamentous microfossils. Credit: B. Cavalazzi.

4) Raman spectra image of filamentous microfossils in boxed area in Image 3. The turquoise and blue show the carbonaceous matter associated with the filaments. Credit: Cavalazzi et al.

Science Contact

Barbara Cavalazzi
University of Bologna

Media Contacts

Matteo Benni
Ufficio Stampa
Università di Bologna
+39 051 20 99327
+39 338 7866108

Anita Heward
Press Officer
Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure
+44 7756 034243

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:

Europlanet Society website:   

Follow on Twitter via @europlanetmedia

About University of Bologna

The University of Bologna has very ancient origins: founded in 1088 it is considered the first University of the Western World. It counts over 87,000 students, 232 degree programs, 84 of which are international, distributed over 5 Campus: Bologna, Cesena, Forlì, Ravenna and Rimini.

It has 32 Departments, 48 PhD courses, 53 Postgraduate Schools, 86 first and second level Masters and an average of 11,000 research products per year. The University of Bologna is among the first universities in Europe for the number of students participating in exchange programs, both outgoing and incoming.

EPSC2021: aperte le domande per richiedere il rimborso della quota di partecipazione

Entro il 23 Luglio 2021 è possibile applicare per richiedere il rimborso della quota di iscrizione al congresso EPSC2021 (nel caso di registrazione anticipata), nonché della quota per l’Abstract Processing Fee.

Possono richiedere il rimborso:
-professionisti a inizio carriera (entro 7 anni dall’ultima laurea)
-studenti di dottorato
-astronomi amatoriali
-ricercatori da Paesi sotto-rappresentati

E’ necessario che i candidati abbiano un abstract accettato per per la conferenza (per presentazione orale o poster).

Per applicare è sufficiente compilare il form online. I candidati prescelti riceveranno comunicazione nella settimana del 26 luglio, per consentire loro di registrarsi prima della scadenza della quota di registrazione anticipata del 3 agosto.

Worskshop virtuale “Ricerca & Sviluppi Tecnologici per In-Situ Resources Utilization”

L’Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI) chiama la comunità scientifica e industriale nazionale a presentare, in un evento interamente virtuale, lo stato dell’arte delle proprie attività di ricerca e sviluppo di tecnologie per lo sfruttamento delle risorse in situ (ISRU) su Luna, Marte ed asteroidi. L’appuntamento è per il 6 Ottobre 2021 al workshop “Ricerca & Sviluppi Tecnologici per In-Situ Resources Utilization”.

La partecipazione è libera, ma è necessario registrarsi entro il 10 settembre 2021 attraverso il modulo online.

Le proposte e gli interventi possono riguardare uno dei seguenti argomenti:

Acquisizione, preparazione, classificazione delle risorse

• Tecnologie per la produzione di consumabili (es. acqua, ossigeno, propellenti)

• Tecnologie per la produzione di risorse per manufacturing

• Generazione e storage di potenza in-situ

• Estrazione e storage materiale per sample return mission

• Facility per testing e validazione a terra di tecnologie

Ulteriori informazioni sul workshop nella brochure di presentazione.

Call for a PostDoc Research Fellowship on EXOMARS/Ma_MISS, DAWN, ROSETTA/VIRTIS

The INAF-Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology (Rome, Italy) is seeking applicants for one “Postdoctoral Research Fellowship” in the context of the research project “Modelling of surfaces of solid bodies of the Solar System and comparison with data from space probes and terrestrial analogues in the laboratory”.

Deadline30 June 2021.

The grant is based on the project “EXOMARS Ma_MISS”, “DAWN” and “Rosetta/VIRTIS” and will be carried out under the scientific supervision of dr. Maria Cristina De Sanctis and dr. Fabrizio Capaccioni.

The expected start date is September 2021, with a duration of 12 months and the potential of renewal.

The successful candidate is expected to work on the surface and subsurface modelling; data analysis from space instrumentation (VIR instruments on DAWN, Ma_Miss on ExoMars 2022, VIRTIS on Rosetta) and laboratory data analysis (analogous materials and meteorites).

More information with the complete description of the position and the documents to fill out here.

Il Cielo in salotto: superLuna!

Wednesday 26 May, starting at 21:30, the largest and most spectacular full moon of the year will be the main character of the first episode of the new EduINAF’s format “Il cielo in salotto“.
Meaning “the sky in your living room”, it aims at bringing science and astronomy closer to the public with live astronomical observations. For this specific occasion, the supermoon will be observed, weather permitting, by the astronomers of some INAF Observatories scattered throughout Italy, (Trieste, Asiago, Rome and Palermo). To comment on the beauties of the sky, Sandro Bardelli, from Bologna, will be our guide on this journey on the Moon, between astronomical curiosities and the latest scientific missions and discoveries, accompanied by guests such as Maria Cristina De Sanctis and Francesca Altieri, researchers at the INAF IAPS in Rome, the geologist Matteo Massironi of the University of Padua, Caterina Boccato, in charge of the INAF Teaching and Outreach, Simone Iovenitti, PhD student at INAF and University of Milan and together with many other partners and guests who will help us to look at the Moon with new eyes.

Special guest of the evening is Samantha Cristoforetti, who will tell us, in a video, her point of view on the Moon and its exploration, and who will receive as a gift the collective portrait of the asteroid 15006 Samcristoforetti made as a tribute to our astronaut in the recent astrophotography challenge, organised by EduINAF in collaboration with the community of italian amateurs.

The appointment is on the EduINAF’s YouTube channel: go here to find all the information!

Happy SuperLuna!

View the recording:

Europlanet 2024 RI has supported the SuperLuna! campaign. Europlanet 2024 RI has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 871149.

From Italy to Mars through Rio Tinto

From Italy to Mars through Rio Tinto

The second call for applications for the Europlanet 2024 RI Transnational Access (TA) programme returned a positive response to the Ma_Miss (Mars Multispectral Imager for Subsurface Studies) team for a geological and spectroscopic field analysis campaign at the Rio Tinto site in Spain.
The main objective of the project is to collect spectral data and samples useful for testing the ExoMars2022/Ma_MISS spectrometer. Ma_MISS is the miniaturized visible and near-infrared (VIS-NIR) spectrometer, integrated into the drilling system of the ESA ExoMars/2022 Rosalind Franklin rover, dedicated to the Martian subsurface exploration.
The Rio Tinto represents an example of how life can adapt to extreme environments: this may give us clues as to what kind of life may have once developed on Mars” says Marco Ferrari from the INAF/IAPS in Rome, “and scientific results from previous work with other drilling equipment and scientific instruments show that the Rio Tinto site has ideal mineralogical/biological characteristics to test the Ma_MISS spectrometer also in the context of Oxia Planum, the selected landing site of the ExoMars/2022 mission“.

During the field campaign, the team plans to perform a series of VIS-NIR measurements collecting a representative sample of each mineral that will be subsequently measured with the breadboard Ma_MISS at the INAF/IAPS laboratory. All the efforts focused on any spectral signature related to the presence of biomarkers in the collected data with the aim of understanding whether the Ma_MISS instrument can be of any help in detecting traces of life in the Martian subsurface, which is one of the main scientific objectives of the ExoMars/2022 mission.

The findings of this study will be published in peer-reviewed journals and presented at major planetary science-related international congresses, as well as during scientific public outreach events.

We can’t wait to find out more!