SuperLuna! Challenge: And the Winner is…

SuperLuna! Challenge: And the Winner is…

The ‘supermoon’ on 26th May was the closest Full Moon of this year. To mark the occasion, Edu INAF and Europlanet challenged the public to observe and portray our satellite. Participants in the SuperLuna Challenge were given free range to use their creativity to represent the Moon in its different phases through photos, videos, drawings.

Federica Duras of INAF says, “In fact, the over 40 works submitted, together with those collected through social media, give a multifaceted portrait of the Moon, many of which were shown during the live event in May of “Il cielo in salotto”. We’ve seen the Moon peeping shyly out from the dark foliage of the trees of Wales, soaring scarlet above the towers of a medieval castle in the Roman skies, or sleeping under the wing of Venus in a colorful Virginia sunset. Thank you to all participants for having been able to respond to such a challenging test combining science and art and encouraged us to keep our noses up, to admire, once again, the many faces of the Queen of the Night.”

The winning image comes from Vicenza, Italy, from the balcony of Roberto Vaccaro’s home.

April 2021 Superluna. Credit: Roberto Vaccaro
April 2021 Superluna. Credit: Roberto Vaccaro

Four works also deserve a special mention:

The work of the students of the school Fabio Filzi (Laives, Italy) who, with the guidance of their teachers, took a beautiful photo emphasising the lunar seas and craters.

The stunning and extremely realistic Moon in black and white pencil sketch by Mary McIntyre:

Moon Phase Diagram - in Pastel Sketches by Mary McIntyre

This drawing by William is made up in red, yellow and bright as the Sun. (SuperBright Moon. Credit: William Rizzi).


The Supermoon drawn by Elisa and her little brother Francesco has a Supersister with whom to play at piercing the darkness. (Super Luna con mantello e Superluna in compagnia. Credit: Elisa e Francesco Oliverio).

Luca Nardi Interviewed Roberto Vaccaro about how he achieved his winning photo:

Roberto Vacarro, winner of the SuperLuna Challenge
Roberto Vacarro, winner of the SuperLuna Challenge

Roberto Vaccaro, congratulations on your amazing photograph of the Moon. Where did you take it from?

Thank you very much, the news of the prize was really a surprise! I took this photo from the terrace of my house: fortunately in order to shoot the Moon, especially when it is so bright, there is no need to move to isolated locations in search of dark skies.

And what instruments did you use?

I used a Newtonian telescope with 130mm aperture and 900mm focal length. I then connected a direct-focus mirrorless camera, so that the telescope acted as a lens for the camera itself. For the image I used the high-resolution method (which is used to shoot celestial bodies such as the Moon and planets) creating a video in 4K, from which I then extracted the individual frames. Next, I overlapped them with a processing program to eliminate noise and the distortions due to atmospheric turbulence: so I got the final image!

Was it more or less difficult to take a picture of the Supermoon compared to a normal Full Moon?

It is not more difficult, because the Full Moon is always extremely bright. However, for this reason a little care is needed because there is the risk of overexposing the photo (making it too bright), thus reducing the contrast effect of the lunar seas (which are the darkest regions of the Moon) and the details of the craters.

How was your passion for astrophotography born?

I have always been fascinated by astronomy and observations with a telescope, but my passion for astrophotography was born because I wanted to see celestial objects (such as nebulae and galaxies) that cannot be seen with a simple observation with the naked eye since they are too dim. They can reveal all their beauty thanks to a telescope, a camera and sufficiently long exposure time.

See Italian article on Edu INAF

#InspiredByOtherWorlds arts contest FAQs

InspiredByOtherWorlds arts contest FAQs

Who can enter?

The competition is open to all space enthusiasts, including children, members of the public, schools and clubs, as well as professional or amateur planetary scientists with a passion for the arts.

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Is there a specific topic or subject area?

The theme for 2021 is “Ingenuity”. You can demonstrate your own ingenuity in how you interpret planets, moons, asteroids, comets, meteorites or exoplanets as single or multiple destinations for your creative journey, or show us how ingenious missions to explore planets have inspired you.

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Is there an age limit?

The competition is open to space and planetary enthusiasts of all ages.

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How can I submit my artwork?

To enter the contest, fill in the submission form. In the form, you will be asked to upload your photo or provide link to your video on YouTube or Vimeo. Make sure that the link to your video is working and is accessible to external people or your submission will not be evaluated.

If you want to submit storytelling or poetry, send a photo or image with the text, or make a short video of you performing your work or reading it with accompanying visuals.

You have the option to provide a pseudonym if you would like your artwork to be credited to another name (for instance your social media handle) when displayed online or in our gallery.

The videos and images may be shared in Europlanet outreach activities aimed at the general public and schools and via our social media channels.

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How long should the video be?

Videos can be any length up to a maximum of 10 minutes. Longer videos will not be eligible. 

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Is there a file size limit of the photos?

The submission form allows a maximum 10 MB file size to be uploaded. If your art requires a larger file size, please email for further instructions before submitting the form.

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Which file formats will be accepted?

For photo submissions, JPG, GIF (including animated GIF) or PNG formats are accepted. For video artworks, you will need to upload your video file to a sharing platform (Youtube, Vimeo, etc) so we recommend that you use a format accepted by the majority of platforms (the most common formats are .AVI and .MP4). This link has useful information on preparing videos to share on social media.

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Are there any specific requirements for the content?

If you are using illustrations that you have not created yourself you must check that you have the necessary permissions and include the correct credits. There are no fixed templates, so be creative!

Choose a good title for your artwork to help us understand your inspirations and make your submission stand out.

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How do I make a video?

You can use whatever device you have available to record your video – your phone, your laptop, a camera… it’s up to you.  You can edit, adapt and add as many (or few) effects as you wish.

You can find details of some tools for recording and editing videos here.

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Are there prizes?

1st, 2nd and 3rd place and People’s Choice winners in youth and adult categories will receive an EPSC2021 goody bag. We are also offering a prize for the winning entry by a school class.

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When is the deadline?

The deadline for the competition 6 September 2021. Late submissions will not be accepted.

We will show the submitted artwork during the Europlanet Society Congress 2021 (#EPSC2021) from 13-24 September 2021 and announce the winners in a special session during the virtual conference.

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Who is going to judge the artworks?

All artworks will be accessible through a dedicated online gallery on the Europlanet website. All artworks submitted will be considered by a panel of planetary scientists and artists. (Depending on entry numbers we may split into age/topic/type categories.)  We will evaluate the submissions in each particular category according to the following criteria: inspiring idea, performance, original content and clarity. 

Prizes will be awarded to 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners. There will also be “People’s Choice” winners from a public vote, which will run from 8-22 September.

All participants will be named Europlanet Participating Artists and featured on our website.

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Why participate?

Art is meant to inspire. Art is meant to be shared. Art allows us to go beyond our limits. Planetary science takes us beyond the limits of our world. This year’s theme is “Ingenuity”. Let your imagination take us on a voyage through our Solar System and planets around distant stars! Show us how you have been inspired to create drawings, storytelling, pictures, videos, models, craft works or art installations at home. Get creative with InspiredByOtherWorlds!

Submit your artwork now!

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ESPAS (European Strategy and Policy Analysis System)

ESPAS (European Strategy and Policy Analysis System)

ESPAS is an inter-institutional collaboration among the officials of the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Council of the EU, and the European External Action Service, with the support of the Committee of the Regions and of the European Economic and Social Committee, which monitors global trends and offers strategic foresight to the EU’s decision-makers.

For information and resources, check the ESPAS website.

Science for Policy Handbook

Science for Policy Handbook

The Joint Research Centre (JRC), European Commission’s science and knowledge service with a mission to bring science and knowledge into EU policy making, has made available the Science for Policy Handbook. The handbook is dedicated to researchers and research organisations aiming to achieve policy impact, and provides advice on how to bring science to the attention of policymakers, not just in the EU context.
The book is available on this site, which also provides useful information and material on related topics, such as Evidence-Informed Policy and Science Diplomacy.

Contact Us

First successful observations at the Europlanet Telescope Network

Europlanet 2024 RI logo

First successful observations at the Europlanet Telescope Network

One month after the first projects to observe at the Europlanet Telescope Network were granted in December, the first successful observations took place in January at the Moletai Observatoria in Lithuania.

The project “Reducing the selection effects in asteroid spins, shapes, and thermal parameters” is a long-term project aiming at determining physical parameters like spin, 3D shape, size, and thermal inertia of numerous asteroids that have been omitted by most of  the previous studies. Their slow rotation and small amplitudes of brightness variations make them difficult targets for photometric observations, thus creating an observing selection effect.

Through coordinated observations from multiple sites, the project is gradually decreasing bias. This results in detailed spin and shape models based on high-quality photometric datasets of these asteroids observed at various viewing geometries.

Additionally, the models are being scaled in size down to 5% precision by thermophysical modelling with infrared data obtained from space, and fitting the shape models to stellar occultations by asteroids (Marciniak et al. 2018, and 2019: Astronomy Astrophys. 610, A7; and 625, A139). The new photometric observations, as shown in the image, gathered recently at Moletai Observatory, complemented with data from other sites, will result in fully covered lightcurves for five asteroids with rotation periods up to 38 hours, and should soon lead to the determination of spin and shape models of these challenging targets.

While this project already successfully observed its targets, further observations at the Europlanet Telescope Network are soon to come. Additionally, the second Science Advisory Board meeting was already taking place at the end of January to evaluate three more projects that want to exploit the small telescopes network. While the decision on the funding of these proposals will be announced soon, we are in the meantime inviting interested observers to apply with their project to the NA2 Call for Observations at the Europlanet Telescope Network.

Illustration showing how the 58 km sized asteroid Ljuba changes its position relative to stars within 5 hours. The images were obtained on the 35/51 cm telescope at the Moletai Observatory of Vilnius University in 2021.

Further information can be found directly at the call website.

Back to Europlanet 2024 RI Homepage

#InspiredByOtherWorlds Virtual Award Ceremony

#InspiredByOtherWorlds Virtual Award Ceremony

The #InspiredByOtherWorlds Arts Contest has received 72 submissions artworks from artists, planetologists, space enthusiasts, and children from Europe, Asia, the US, and South America. This contest led the imagination of our participants on a voyage through our Solar System and planets around distant stars.

We are excited to announce its virtual award ceremony that will gather all participants and will share their inspiring artworks. At the ceremony 1st, 2nd and 3rd prizes in Youth and Adult Categories, and three Public’s Vote Youth, Adult and Overall prizes will be given. You can see all the artworks in the gallery.       

The ceremony will be held virtually on the 22nd of December 2020 at 16.00 CET. If you are not a participant but you want to attend the virtual meeting and learn who the winners are, you can contact us (stavro.ivanovski <at> to get the details of the meeting. 

Details of the winners will be published on the main contest webpage.

Amateur observations to support Parker Solar Probe flyby of Venus

Amateur observations to support Parker Solar Probe flyby of Venus

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe will flyby Venus on 11th July 2020. The mission will obtain observations of Venus that will be coordinated with the Akatsuki mission (JAXA), currently in a long eliptic orbit around the planet.

Scientists studying Venus have requested amateur observers to help by providing ground-based data on Venus’s atmosphere to put the mission data into context. This event will be followed up with a campaign of observations in July, August and October in support of the ESA/JAXA BepiColombo Mission, which will flyby Venus in October 2020.

The Europlanet Telescope Network is supporting a campaign to provide amateur support for these flybys and we are actively requesting Venus observations from the amateur community. 

See the Venus amateur campaign at:

EPEC-EPSC 2020 video contest launched

Calling all PhD students – showcase your research in #PlanetaryScience4All video contest

The Europlanet Early Career (EPEC) Communication working group is giving all PhD students involved in planetary science the opportunity to showcase their research through a 4-minute video contest called #PlanetaryScience4All.

The deadline for submissions is 31 August 2020. All the videos submitted will be shown during a dedicated session during the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2020, which is being held as a virtual meeting for the first time from 21 September – 9 October. The winner will be announced at the end of the virtual conference.

The winner of the competion will receive a free registration for EPSC 2021, which will be held Helsinki, Finland, from 19-24 September 2021. The winning video will be also shared via the Europlanet website, newsletters and social media and will be used to inspire young people in future EPEC outreach activities.

Find out more.

More about Outreach at EPSC 2020

Inspiring Stories – Studying Alien Worlds Through ORBYTS

Studying Alien Worlds Through ORBYTS

In this EPEC Inspiring Outreach Story, Dr Billy Edwards, Twinkle Project Scientist and Research Associate on the Ariel space mission, describes how he is bringing cutting-edge exoplanet research into UK classrooms.

Last year I became involved in the Original Research by Young Twinkle Students (ORBYTS) programme. This educational scheme aims to allow secondary school pupils to work on new, exciting research linked to the Twinkle Space Mission under the tuition of PhD students and other young scientists ( To achieve this, ORBYTS connects science researchers with secondary schools, where, through fortnightly school visits over an academic year, the students are taught undergraduate-level physics. These classes allow the researchers to engage students with the subjects they themselves are studying. The ultimate goal of this project is to give students the opportunity to use this new knowledge to contribute towards publishable research. 

The core idea is that pupils get hands on experience of scientific research and work closely with young scientists. By bringing together schools and researchers, the programme aims to not only improve student aspirations and scientific literacy, but also help to address diversity challenges by dispelling harmful stereotypes, challenging any preconceptions about who can become a scientist and I found the relative informality of the classes to a powerful way of connecting with the students. While projects have been run on a number of topics, mine focused on one of the core science targets for the Twinkle mission: exoplanets.

We currently know of over 4000 planets, which orbit stars other than our Sun. These range from small, cool rocky worlds such as those in the TRAPPIST-1 system to massive, hot gaseous planets such as WASP-76 b where it is thought to rain iron. However, while we have had some tentative insights, much about these alien worlds remains a mystery. Future space-based telescopes, such as the James Webb Space Telescope, Twinkle and Ariel will use spectroscopy to study their atmospheres, detecting the molecules present to give us a deep understanding of the planet. 

However, in recent years, a problem has begun to develop. With so many known planets, keeping track of the exact time at which they are going to transit has become harder and harder. In the coming years, this is only going to get more difficult as surveys such TESS, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, will find thousands more exoplanets. The only way to keep the ephemerides of these planets fresh is to frequently re-observe them and this will require an increasing amount of telescope time.

In this project, we used a robotic ground-based telescope network to observe planets which had high uncertainties in their orbital parameters. The students were given free rein to choose the planets they wished to observe and then planned the observations before reducing and analysing the subsequent data. However, given the expected number of planet discoveries, professional telescope networks may not be enough to keep the transit times fresh.

Luckily, help is at hand in the form of citizen astronomers. As many of these planets are around bright stars, even modest telescopes can capture the transit event and in recent years the number of citizen astronomers contributing light curves has increased drastically. As part of this ORBYTS project we also analysed data obtained by a number of citizen astronomers and contributing to the ExoClock initiative ( The students approached the project with real enthusiasm, analysing the transits of several planets. This work was recently published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS) with all the students and citizen astronomers as authors. 

For me, this programme was challenging but extremely rewarding. Teaching your first class is always a scary moment, even when it is on a topic you know well. However, the classes soon became the highlight of my week and, as the programme progressed, the increased participation and engagement by the students was hugely gratifying. While they may not all become astrophysicists, it is my hope that this project has inspired them to embark on scientific careers or, at the very least, to make them consider their place in the universe.

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

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:


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

Manuel Scherf
Space Research Institute
Austrian Academy of Sciences
Graz, Austria

Gražina Tautvaišienė
Institute of Theoretical Physics and Astronomy
Vilnius University
Vilnius, Lithuania

Ricardo Hueso Alonso
Escuela Técnica Superior de Ingeniería
Universidad del País Vasco/Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea

Media Contact
Anita Heward
Europlanet Media Centre
Tel: +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

EPSC2020 goes virtual!

EPSC2020 goes virtual!

Abstract deadline: 24 June 2020, 13:00 CEST.

In light of the global Covid-19 pandemic, EPSC2020 will be held as a virtual meeting.

The Scientific Organising Committee of the EPSC2020 invites all planetary scientists to participate in the congress, submit contributions to the topical sessions and share their research with colleagues and friends.

EPSC2020 is the first time that EPSC has been held as a virtual meeting. We believe that virtual meetings are likely to play an increasingly important role in supporting our community, widening participation from under-represented groups and tackling the global challenge of climate change. EPSC2020 is an opportunity for us to be creative in developing innovative and supplementary ways for our community to interact. For details of the planned format for the EPSC2020 virtual meeting, please see:

The meeting will consist of oral and poster sessions. The current list of sessions is organised around the following Programme Groups:

  • Terrestrial Planets (TP)
  • Outer Planet Systems (OPS)
  • Missions, Instrumentation, Techniques, Modelling (MITM)
  • Small Bodies (comets, KBOs, rings, asteroids, meteorites, dust) (SB)
  • Exoplanets and Origins of Planetary Systems (EXO)
  • Outreach, Diversity, Amateur Astronomy (ODAA)

Please browse the list of sessions and identify the session that most closely matches your area of interest; your abstract can be submitted directly to that session.

Find out more about:

Information on participation fees, a separate online request form for splinter meetings & workshops, as well as tutorials and tools for the online presentations will be available soon on the meeting website.

We look forward to welcoming you to the virtual EPSC2020 in September.

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.


About the European Astrobiology Institute

About the editor, Julie Nováková

Strangest of All at the European Astrobiology Institute


Strangest of All Book Cover

Motivational Journeys – Carol Raymond

Motivational Journeys – Carol Raymond

For the final interview in our series of Motivational Journeys, we talk to Dr. Carol Raymond, Manager of JPL’s Small Bodies Program.

Dr Raymond started out studying started out studying geology and geophysics and joined JPL in 1990. She has served as Deputy Principal Investigator (PI) on the NASA Dawn Discovery Mission to Vesta and Ceres, two protoplanets in the Main Asteroid Belt, and as Dawn’s PI for the second extended mission.

In this interview, she tells us how her key piece of advice has been to stay flexible in following the path of your interest, and shares the positive experience of how collaborative teamwork can make great things can happen.

Watch all the interviews in our series of Motivational Journeys.

Martian mud flows like lava

Martian mud flows like lava

An investigation of how mud flows at very low temperatures and under the reduced atmospheric pressure of Mars, undertaken through a Europlanet 2020 RI Transnational Access visit, has been published in the journal Nature Geoscience.  Research carried out at the Open University’s Mars Chamber in 2018 has shown that mud flowing under martian conditions behaves in a similar way to lava in volcanic areas of Hawaii or Iceland.

Water-rich mud was poured over a cold sandy surface in hostile, Mars-like conditions, with multiple cameras capturing the results. The experiments revealed that the instability of water within the mud changes the way the mud flows on Mars, compared to on Earth.

Liquid mud spills from ruptures in the frozen muddy crust, then refreezes to form “lobes”. The findings suggests that martian mud volcanoes may be substantially different in shape and look very different from their terrestrial equivalents. This work has wide implications for understanding cryovolcanism on icy bodies in the Solar System.

Lead author of the study, Dr. Petr Brož from the Institute of Geophysics of the Czech Academy of Sciences, said, “This is a very exciting and unexpected result. We have a tendency to expect that geological processes, like mud movement, would be operating elsewhere in the Solar system in a similar fashion as on Earth. Our experiments clearly show that, in reality, this simple process would be very different on Mars.”

Title image credit: P. Broz.

Europlanet Telescope Network issues 1st alert – A new north polar spot in Saturn

Europlanet Telescope Network issues 1st Alert – A new north polar spot in Saturn

On 30th March 2020, amateur astronomer Andy Casely from Australia obtained images of the planet Saturn that showed the presence of a white spot at Saturn’s North polar latitudes, just on the edge of the famous Saturn’s hexagon.

An observational alert was released through the PVOL data service provided by Europlanet 20204 Research Infrastructure (RI) and the HST-Jupiter e-mail list, both followed by many amateur astronomers and planetary scientists.

Since then, the spot has been observed several times allowing its scientific study. This bright spot has developed two years after the eruption of several convective storms in Saturn at the same latitude (Sánchez-Lavega et al., Nature Astronomy, 2020) and the new possible storm is a surprise that shows the importance of amateur observations in the monitoring of the atmospheres of the planets and in the discovery of new phenomenon.

The Europlanet 2024 RI’s new Europlanet Telescope Network will work continuously in cooperation with amateur astronomers to provide an observational alert for unexpected astronomical events that could be followed quickly through a world-class collaboration.

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).

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

Call for Nominations of Paolo Farinella Prize 2020 now open

Call for Nominations of Paolo Farinella Prize 2020 now open


To honor 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 one of the fields of interest of Paolo, which spanned from planetary sciences to space geodesy, fundamental physics, science popularization, security in space, weapons control and disarmament.

The prize was proposed during the “International Workshop on Paolo Farinella, the scientist and the man“, held in Pisa in 2010, and the 2020 edition is supported by the Europlanet Society.

The tenth Paolo Farinella Prize will be awarded to a young scientist with outstanding contributions in the field of planetary science concerning “Structure, Physics and Dynamics of Giant Planets”, including work on the composition, atmospheric dynamics, and interior structure of giant planets inside or outside of our solar system. The award winner will be honoured during the Europlanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2020. It will also honor the outstanding scientific contributions of Adam Showman (1968-2020) who had accepted to be a member of the prize committee and passed away unexpectedly twenty years after Paolo Farinella. 

For the 10th “Paolo Farinella” Prize the terms and rules are as follows:

  1. A competition is announced to award the “Paolo Farinella” Prize for the year 2020. The prize consists of a plate, a certificate and the amount of 1500 €. The winner is expected to give a Prize lecture during EPSC 2020.
  2. The winner will be selected on the basis of his/her overall research results in the field of “Structure, Physics and Dynamics of Giant Planets”. 
  3. Nominations must be sent by email to the following addresses:, and, using the downloadable form** DEADLINE EXTENDED TO 1 JUNE**
  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, on May 15, 2020. 
  5. The winner of the prize will be selected before June 20 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 will be entitled to autonomously consider other candidates.

Previous recipients of the “Paolo Farinella Prize” were:

  • 2011: William F. Bottke, for his contribution to the field of “Physics and dynamics of small solar system bodies” 
  • 2012: John Chambers, for his contribution to the field of “Formation and early evolution of the solar system 
  • 2013: Patrick Michel, for his contribution to the field of ” Collisional processes in the Solar System”
  • 2014: David Vokrouhlicky, for his contribution to the field of “Non gravitational forces in the Solar System”
  • 2015: Nicolas Biver, for his contribution to the field of “Dynamics and physics of comets
  • 2016: Kleomenis Tsiganis, for his contribution to the field of “Applications of celestial mechanics to the natural bodies of our solar system”.
  • 2017: Simone Marchi, for his contribution to the field of “Physics and dynamics of the inner planets of the solar system and their satellites
  • 2018: Francis Nimmo, for his contribution to the field of “Giant planets satellite systems
  • 2019: Scott Sheppard and Chad Trujillo, jointly, for their contribution to the field of “The Trans-Neptunian Population