At 04:25 UTC this morning, BepiColombo made its closest approach to Earth at a low altitude of 12,700 km. This was its first and only flyby of Earth. BepiColombo, the first ESA mission to Mercury, will make a series of nine gravity-assist manoeuvres to reach its final destination. The next two flybys will be of Venus in October 2020 and August 2021.
Below are images of the flyby submitted by observers around the world for the BepiColombo Earth Flyby Photo Competition. The closing date for the competition is Sunday 19 April – 23:59 CEST.
Submitted images and videos with their full descriptions:
Credit: Kiso Observatory, UTokyo Location of image or observation: Kiso, Nagano, Japan ( 137°37″31’5 [E], 35°47″50’0 [N], Altitude: 1132m ) Time of image or observation: 2020:04:10 20:56 – 21:08 (JST) Time zone: JST (UTC+9) YouTube About your image or observation: This image was taken by the wide-field CMOS camera Tomo-e Gozen on 1.0-m Kiso Schmidt telescope without a wavelength-selective filter with a 12-min exposure from 11:56 on Apr. 10th 2020 (UT). The field-of view is 31.7′ x 17.8′. The center of the image is located at (RA, Dec) = (9:42:23, -0:13:26). North is up.
Credit: Alain Maury, Jean Marc Mari and Joaquin Fabrega Location: IAU site number W94, or close to 22°57’09.8” South and 68°10’48.7” West Time zone : Right now UT-4h (winter time) The video is made mostly from individual frames taken with a 40cm telescope. I also included some of the ESA images because I thought they are quite impressive.
Credit: Northolt Branch Observatories Location: 51.554679, -0.372070 Time: 10-04-2020 21:13 UTC Time Zone: British Summer Time (GMT+1) We used the observatories 0.25m Ritchey-Chretien and QHY42 CMOS camera to obtain astrometry on BepiColombo before it left the vicinity of Earth. A piece of space debris also passes through the field of view. We identified it as INSAT 2D, a defunct geostationary satellite.
Official Kick-off for the Europlanet Telescope Network
The Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure (RI) not only builds on but also extends the ambitious programme of its predecessor project Europlanet 2020 RI. The establishment of a network of small telescope facilities within Europe and beyond is one of these new activities that will be carried out within the course of the project.
To achieve this goal, a new Work Package, called “NA2 – Coordination of Ground-based Observations” was set-up, which officially started its activity on March 30, 2020, with a full-day virtual Kick-Off Meeting. The web-conference was attended by 37 participants representing Europlanet 2024 RI and the Work Package team but also a diverse set of different telescope facilities from all over Europe.
Besides introducing these observatories, the main goal of the kick-off meeting was to discuss the aims and goals of NA2 for the upcoming four project years. These contain the development of a central website for observational alerts and the organization of coordinated compaigns, amateur training workshops, and the establishment of the Europlanet Telescope Network itself. But besides building a network, NA2 will also provide a broad set of support and funding opportunities such as supporting:
scientists or amateurs who want to observe at specific facilities,
observatories who observe in coordinated observation campaigns
workshops for the organisation of such campaigns.
An unbureaucratic application system through which researchers will be able to apply for funding will be set-up by the team of NA2 and its Scientific Advisory Panel and is expected to go online in May 2020.
While the current Europlanet Telescope Network comprises about 20 different facilities, this number is going to be expanded during the course of the project. We are not a closed club – any observatory that wants to join is highly welcome to get involved in the Europlanet Telescope Network!
Manuel Scherf, the Work Package Leader of the NA2 Europlanet Telescope Network said, “The NA2 Kick-Off Meeting was a successful starting point of a new and exciting activity. Let’s together take this opportunity to build a new network, bringing in new communities and fostering the coordination of ground-based observation campaigns in Europe and beyond.“
If you are interested to become part of the Europlanet Telescope Network, feel free to contact Manuel Scherf: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spot BepiColombo during its ‘goodbye flyby’ – Share your pictures and you could win a prize
On 10 April, BepiColombo will be visible to amateur and professional astronomers during its first – and only – Earth flyby, as the spacecraft makes its way to Mercury, the innermost planet of the Solar System.The best place to spot it is the Southern Hemisphere, but observers in southern locations of the Northern Hemisphere might also catch a parting view of the spacecraft.
By the time of the flyby, BepiColombo will have travelled almost 1.4 billion km – roughly nine times the distance between Earth and the Sun – since the European-Japanese mission was launched in October 2018. Yet, passing over at an altitude of just 12 700 km, it will come within just a couple of thousand kilometres of our planet’s exosphere, the outermost layer of the atmosphere, providing us with the last chance to say hello – and goodbye.
This is the first of a series of nine gravity-assist manoeuvres that the spacecraft will use to reach its final destination. The next two flybys will see BepiColombo proceed towards Venus in October 2020 and August 2021, respectively, followed by six flybys of Mercury itself to further adjust the trajectory. Eventually, the mission’s two science orbiters – ESA’s Mercury Planetary Orbiter and Mio, the Mercury Magnetospheric Orbiter of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) – will separate from the Mercury Transfer Module in late 2025 and start their scientific operations at Mercury in early 2026.
Say goodbye to BepiColombo
BepiColombo will make its closest Earth approach at 05:24:58 BST (06:24:58 CEST) on 10 April 2020 as it crosses the sky from East to West. The spacecraft will not be visible to the naked eye, but observers with access to a small telescope, binoculars or a camera might be able to catch the Mercury explorer as it bids farewell to our home planet.
“The flyby has an emotional effect,” says Johannes Benkhoff, BepiColombo Project Scientist. “It’s the last time that we can see the spacecraft from Earth, so we are inviting amateur and professional astronomers to observe it before it goes.”
The scheduled flyby takes place as billions of people across the world face an exceptional situation caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which limits human movement and therefore also the access to many professional telescopes. Amateur astronomers in suitable locations, far from large cities, can contribute from their home terrace or garden.
“BepiColombo should be visible with a small telescope, accessible to amateur astronomers in the Southern Hemisphere or in southern parts of the Northern Hemisphere,” adds Joe Zender, BepiColombo Deputy Project Scientist.
“If you live in southern Europe – south of Rome or Madrid, for example – you might be able to glimpse it for a moment, and the further south you are, the longer you should be able to see it. If something appears as a moving star in the field of view of your telescope or camera, that will be Bepi.”
The planets Jupiter, Saturn and Mars – visible to the naked eye – will also be in the sky in the early hours of 10 April, providing an interesting configuration for astro-photographers. Unfortunately, another bright source will be in the sky too, the Moon, making BepiColombo more challenging to observe.
“BepiColombo will be also visible from Japan in the late hours of 10 April, as it moves away from our planet,” says Go Murakami, BepiColombo Project Scientist at JAXA. “The conditions are not the best but some professional observatories will try to observe it, along with amateur astronomers.”
Besides their symbolic value, the observations will be useful for scientists to calibrate some of the onboard instruments and check their science operations tools.
You can compute your own plot of BepiColombo’s motion across the sky for your location, by adding your latitude and longitude in this tool developed by a team of BepiColombo scientists from the National Institute for Astrophysics in Italy: https://bepicolombo.iaps.inaf.it.
Under all circumstances, please remember to obey the appropriate social distancing rules and regulations of the country you reside in.
For anyone at northern latitudes or without access to telescopes and binoculars, follow @BepiColombo, @esascience and @esaoperations on Twitter for live updates. The three spacecraft modules also have personalised accounts (@ESA_Bepi, @JAXA_MMO, and @ESA_MTM) that you may follow for extra content and a unique take on the mission.
Around closest approach, BepiColombo will have a magnitude of 8, meaning that it will not be visible to the naked eye (the faintest sources in the sky visible to the naked eye have a magnitude of 6, with lower magnitude values indicating brighter objects).
Covid-19 – Impacts on Europlanet Society and Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure
Europlanet is monitoring the global Covid-19 outbreak, with the aim of supporting international efforts to slow the spread of the virus and ensure the safety of individuals and communities.
08 May – new update onEuroplanet Science Congress (EPSC) 2020: EPSC2020 will be held as a virtual meeting. Full details of the format of the meeting and the relaunch of abstract submission will be announced before the end of May here and on the EPSC2020 website.
Europlanet Society Executive Office and Europlanet 2024 RI Office: The teams in both Europlanet Offices are working remotely and will endeavour to respond to any queries you may have about the impact of Covid-19 on the Europlanet Society or Europlanet 2024 RI.
Europlanet 2024 RI Transnational Access Call for Applications: The first Call for Applications has now closed. The time period during which the TA visits can be undertaken has been extended to the end of 2021.
Europlanet Society Committee Funding Scheme: The review panel will take into account the possibility of timelines in submitted proposals changing due to Covid-19. Results will be announced by the end of May.
Europlanet Early Careers (EPEC) Annual Week 2020: The EPEC Annual Week has been postponed from June 2020.
Europlanet 2024 RI: Where possible, meetings and workshops are being held virtually. Other events and programmes requiring travel will be delayed until a time when it is safe for them to go ahead. If severe restrictions continue into autumn 2020, many deliverables and activities of the project will be disrupted. The Europlanet 2024 RI Management team will continue to monitor the changing situation and revise plans where necessary to maximise support for the community over the duration of the project, while ensuring the safety of those involved.
For the sixth interview in our series of Motivational Journeys, we talk to Dr Murthy Gudipati, an astrochemist working at NASA JPL-Caltech.
Dr. Murthy Gudipati’s research focuses on understanding the physics and chemistry of interstellar and Solar System ices through laboratory simulations, observations and instrumentation or simply evolution of ices in the Universe. Originally from a small village in southern India, Dr Gudipati tells us about the journey that his career has taken him on.
His key pieces of advice include to be resilient, think out of the box, keep reprioritising your activities and make sure that you have back-up plans.
EPSC2020 will take place at the Palacio de Congresos de Granada, Granada, Spain, from 27 September to 2 October 2020.
The Europlanet Science Congress (formerly the European Planetary Science Congress) is the annual meeting place of the Europlanet Society. With a track record of 14 years and regularly attracting around 1000 participants, the Europlanet Science Congress is the largest planetary science meeting in Europe. It covers the entire range of planetary sciences with an extensive mix of presentations and workshops while providing a unique space for networking and exchange of experiences.
The current list of sessions is organised around the following Programme Groups:
For the fifth interview in our series of Motivational Journeys, we talk to Dr Athena Coustenis, Director of Research with the National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) of France, working at Paris Observatory in Meudon, specialising in Planetology.
Athena’s research focuses on planetary atmospheres and surfaces, with an emphasis on outer Solar System bodies – in particular icy moons like Titan, Enceladus, Ganymede and Europa that have a high astrobiological potential. She is Co-Investigator of three of the instruments (CIRS, HASI, DISR) aboard the Cassini/Huygens space mission to Saturn and Titan and is a member of the Science Working Team and Co-I of the JANUS camera for the JUICE mission to Jupiter’s icy moons.
In this interview, Athena tells us about how she managed to study two degrees at a time – in English literature and astronomy – and excel in both.
Post-doctoral position at the Early Life traces and Evolution-Astrobiology labororatory (University of Liège)
In the frame of the FNRS project “Life in Archean coastal environments” and the ICDP project BASE “Barberton Archean Surface Environments”, we are looking for a postdoctoral researcher with experience and interest in:
Astrobiology, Geobiology and Paleobiology (traces of life, microfossils, microbial mats)
Analyses of organics and minerals using light and electron microscopy (TEM), and Raman and FTIR micro-spectroscopy
Fieldwork and/or drill core sampling
In-situ analyses of C and N stable isotopes
Analyses using SR-XRF and SR-XANES
The project aims to characterize the past
morphological and geochemical traces of early life preserved in fresh pristine
cores drilled in the 3.2 Ga Moodies Group, Barberton Greenstone Belt, South
Africa, the oldest best preserved siliciclastic succession preserving coastal
sediments, from marine to terrestrial environments. The expected outcomes include
a better understanding of early Earth habitability and evolution of the early
microbial biosphere in coastal siliciclastic ecosystems, as well as a
refinement of biogenicity criteria and fossilization (taphonomic) processes.
This approach is also relevant to refine strategies for the detection of
possible fossil life traces on early Mars during the ESA EXOMARS 2020 mission,
which will use similar instruments in a siliciclastic setting on Mars (Oxia
planum, with 4 Ga bedded clay-rich sediments in channels and plain), but also for
the future NASA Mars 2020 sample return mission that will allow geochemical
analyzes on Earth in clean labs.
Candidates should have a PhD degree in
sciences, preferably in geosciences, biology and/or analytical chemistry. The
ideal candidates will show scientific curiosity, ability to work in collaboration,
and interests in early life evolution and astrobiology. The working language is
English. The fellowship is competitive and allows comfortable living in
Belgium. The fellowship will be exempted from taxes but subject to the employee
social security. The researcher will be based in the laboratory Early Life
traces and Evolution-Astrobiology at the University of Liège (promotor Prof E
Javaux), and will also work in collaboration with the Laboratoire G-Time at the
Université Libre de Bruxelles (co-promotor Prof V Debaille) and with the
international teams of the ICDP BASE project. Appointment is for 1 year,
renewable up to 2 times (3 years in total) depending on results and progress.
The researcher in “international mobility” shall not have resided or
carried out his/her main activity (job, studies…) in Belgium for more than 24
months during the last 3 years directly before the first stay as a Postdoctoral
fellow. The first hiring period shall start at the latest exactly 6 years after
obtaining the academic degree of doctor, after defense of a PhD thesis. The
maximum period of time mentioned above is extended for one additional year per
childbirth and/or adoption occurring after obtaining the PhD.
To apply, send your CV with a motivation letter in English, clearly indicating which of the skills above you have to offer (plus 2 potential referees) to the promotor of the project Emmanuelle Javaux (ej.javaux[at]uliege.be), before March 15th 2020. The position starts in July 2020 but the starting date can be adapted.
The second ‘Afar Desert Class’ will take place on 10th February 2020 at Hamed’Ela, Afar, Ethiopia. The class aims to engage children and the community from the village nearest to the Dallol planetary analogue field site. Through a playtime program, they will discover what the amazing environments of the Afar Desert and the Dallol volcano have to offer. To find out more, read this interview with Barbara Cavalazzi following the first ‘Afar Desert Class’ in February 2019.
Images from the first Afar Desert School in February 2019.
During two days, representatives of the European Commission, the European Parliament, national governments, the European space agencies, the scientific world and industries met in Brussels to discuss space-related subjects, covering areas like space for prosperity and sustainability, science and innovation, digitisation and connectivity, Space for society and economy. The plenary discussions and high level constructive debates were followed by a thousand participants representing stakeholders from the space sector and beyond.
J. Borrell, Vice-President of the European Commission, gave an enlightening speech on space as the new geopolitical frontier, considering that several countries around the world now have created space defence agencies. Mr. Borrell urged Europe to take actions to strengthen the collaborative aspects of space and to secure European access to space. He introduced also the “3Cs” related to space:
Congested (i.e. more and more people dealing with space, not only space agencies but also private companies; the number of satellites is growing with larger constellations with smaller life time; the augmented risk with the increasing space debris)
Contested (legal space is not yet official)
Competitive (i.e. the digital economy, broad security, research competitiveness). In the following days most of the discussions and debates developed these issues further, providing insights and points of view from different stakeholders.
Another idea largely shared through the speakers was cooperation and collaboration, culminating with the motto “United Space in Europe” of J.D. Wörner, Director General of the European Space Agency. Indeed the sole answer to the rising number of conflicts, to climate changes, is to unite forces – research, industry, policy makers – to raise the general public awareness and to propose new ways of using and sharing space resources. The talk of M. Vestager, Executive Vice-President of the EC was remarkable, insisting on the need for Europe to be proud of its achievements of which the citizens are not always aware, although space is now impacting more and more their every day life.
Artificial intelligence and big data were mentioned a lot, linked to the accrued number of data which request different and new ways for their interpretation. Security was also a major topic addressed during the two days: security and safety for the citizens, data and communication; but also secured access to space for Europe, which needs to be independent of the other main space actors like China and the US.
Another new aspect which was discussed at length, concerned the legal framework related to space which is still quite ill-defined. It is noteworthy that Luxembourg is the first European country that has voted a specific law to allow industrial organisations to possess, use and commercialise any space resources. This is a change of paradigm in the definition of space missions: today resources have to be processed on Earth and brought to space to support missions, so why not use the resources space can offer us?
The difficulty of having all European partners acting as one has been recognised by many, with a clear wish to be more transparent and faster in the decision making, and more efficient in investing in risky and disruptive projects.
The Europlanet Science Congress 2020 (EPSC2020) will take place at the Palacio de Congresos de Granada, Granada, Spain, from 27 September to 2 October 2020.
The Europlanet Science Congress (formerly the European Planetary Science Congress) is the annual meeting place of the Europlanet Society. With a track record of 14 years and regularly attracting around 1000 participants, the Europlanet Science Congress is the largest planetary science meeting in Europe. It covers the entire range of planetary sciences with an extensive mix of talks, workshops and poster sessions while providing a unique space for networking and exchange of experiences.
The success of this meeting is founded on the excellence of its sessions and conveners. So, we encourage you to make session proposals on the conference website by 12th February 2020.
The meeting will cover the whole scope of planetary science and you can propose sessions for the following programme groups:
For the fourth interview in our series of Motivational Journeys, we talk to Dr. Linda Spilker of NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
Linda is the Cassini Project Scientist at JPL. She was inspired by the Gemini and Apollo mission during her early childhood to pursue a career in astronomy. When she joined JPL, she had the opportunity to work on the Voyager mission from its early phases. For her, the mission was like reliving her childhood days, when she used to look tiny Jupiter and Saturn through her telescope. She was one of the first people to look the images of these planets closely. Her piece of advice for early career would be: “Try as many things as you can through your career and find your passion through it.”
2019 has been another packed year for Europlanet, with the first anniversary of the launch of the Europlanet Society, the first elections of the Society’s Executive Board, the completion of the Europlanet 2020 RI project and preparations for a new, bigger and more comprehensive research infrastructure. Here, the outreach team has chosen its highlights from the past 12 months.
December – Launch of Cheops
This December, the planetary science community has welcomed a new chapter in exoplanet research with the launch of the Cheops mission. Cheops, the Characterising Exoplanet Satellite, is a space-based telescope dedicated to observing exoplanets as they transit in front of their host stars in order to measure their density and find out more about the planet’s composition and internal structure. The mission is a partnership between ESA and Switzerland, with involvement from 10 ESA Member States. If you would like to find out more about the mission, you can catch up on a pre-launch press briefing with the Cheops team at the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 in Geneva back in September.
November – Motivational Journeys
This autumn, the Diversity Working Group of our EPEC Early Career network launched a new monthly video series of ‘Motivational Journeys’. In this series, EPEC has interviewed experienced scientists from various backgrounds and asked them to share personal stories about their early days, their motivation and their strategies for success. The videos are released monthly on the Europlanet Society website and you can watch all the videos on our YouTube playlist.
October – Welcome to our newly elected Europlanet Society Executive Board
In October, the newly elected Europlanet Society Executive Board met for the first time. The Executive Board is responsible for overseeing the governance of the Society and consists of the five officers of the Europlanet Society (President, two Vice-Presidents, Secretary and Treasurer) and six other members.
The current members of the Executive Board of the Europlanet Society have been elected during the Europlanet General Assembly at the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 in Geneva. You can find out more about them here.
September – EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019
The 2019 Joint Meeting (www.epsc-dps2019.eu) of the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) and the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) took place at the Centre International de Conférences de Genève (CICG), Geneva, Switzerland, from Sunday 15 to Friday 20 September 2019. The 2019 Joint Meeting was the biggest to to date with 1731 attendees, beating the records of 1532 participants in Nantes in 2011 and 1437 in Pasadena in 2016.
A total of 1938 presentations were scheduled at the meeting, including 1062 orals and 876 posters in 58 sessions, plus 39 splinter workshops and 16 community events. As well as almost 1000 European and over 600 US participants, we welcomed over 90 attendees from Asia as well as researchers from Africa, Australia, Canada, Central and South America.
August – Europlanet 2020 RI project comes to a successful conclusion
August brought to an end the highly successful Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure (RI) project. From 1 September 2015 until 31st August 2019, Europlanet 2020 RI received €9.95 million funding under the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme to implement an advanced research infrastructure for planetary science. Europlanet 2020 RI was coordinated by the Open University, UK, with 34 beneficiary institutions from 20 European countries. The project had significant achievements:
Europlanet 2020 RI provided access to the world’s largest coordinated collection of planetary simulation and analysis facilities. Over the five calls issued by Europlanet 2020 RI, in excess of 1480 access days were provided to the five field sites and 11 laboratory facilities.
Over 50 planetary datasets and 18.3 million data products are now accessible through the VESPA (Virtual European Solar and Planetary Access) Virtual Observatory developed through Europlanet 2020 RI. . Planetary Space Weather Service (PSWS) toolkits created to track planetary or solar events through the Solar System have attracted over 15,000 users from academia and industry worldwide.
84 workshops and training sessions organised during Europlanet 2020 RI have been attended by more than 3,000 researchers, industrial representatives, outreach professionals, teachers and policy makers.
To read more about the outcomes of Europlanet 2020 RI, see the Final Report.
July – 2nd Planetary Mapping and Virtual Observatory Workshop
One of the final highlights of the Europlanet 2020 RI project was the 2nd Planetary Mapping and Virtual Observatory Workshop, which took place in July 2019. The workshop aimed to bring together the geologic, geospatial and VO communities at European scale to progress knowledge, tools and standards for mapping the Solar System. The programme included updates on VESPA, PLANMAP and Data / science infrastructures (OneGeology, INSPIRE, EPOS), as well as lightning talks, tutorials and hackathons. If you missed it, you can find all the presentations and livestreams of the lightning talks online.
June – Apollo 50, Summer Schools and Regional Hub meeting
Europlanet marked the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing with events to support its Regional Hub network and early career researchers.
From 3-5 June, 23 representatives of Europlanet 2020 RI, the Europlanet Society, the Regional Hubs and the planetary science community met in Budapest to develop a strategy for the coming year in widening participation in under-represented states, building links with industry and developing a strong planetary science community supported by the Regional Hubs. Outcomes of the meeting included a successful submission for a session at the EuroScience Open Forum (ESOF) 2020 in Trieste, plans for a systematic demographic survey of the community, and a coordinated Hub presence at the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 in Geneva.
From 11-21 June, Europlanet 2020 RI welcomed 21 students, early career researchers and amateur astronomers to a summer school at the Molėtai Astronomical Observatory in Lithuania. The 2019 course was the 20th anniversary of the inaugural summer school organised by the University of Vilnius at MAO and the third time that it has been supported by Europlanet 2020 RI. A priority for Europlanet is to support planetary science in under-represented states, so we were particularly delighted that the class of 2019 included students from Albania, Armenia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Georgia, Lithuania, Poland, Turkey and Romania, as well as Austria, France, Ireland, Italy, Norway, Spain, Vietnam and the UK.
May – 2nd EPEC Annual Week
The 2nd EPEC (Europlanet Early Career network) Annual Week was held at the University of Lisbon, Portugal from 20th-24th May 2019. 44 early career professionals from all over the world and across the Europlanet community gathered to discuss current and future space activities in Europe. The workshop brought together experts and young professionals to share their ideas and experiences about research, outreach and future goals, in an effort to promote international collaboration and increase the interest of younger generations in science. The talks given during the workshop covered several topics related to careers in space science, as well as science policy and future space research.
The 3rd EPEC Annual Week will take place in Padova, Italy, in 2020. Look out for details on the EPEC news pages of the Europlanet Society website.
April – Europlanet Prize for Public Engagement Announced
In April, the 2019 Europlanet Prize for Public Engagement with Planetary Science was awarded to Dr Amelia Ortiz-Gil in recognition of her pioneering work in developing educational and outreach resources for people with a range of physical and cognitive special needs.
Dr Ortiz-Gil has more than 15 years’ experience working in outreach at the University of Valencia (Spain), and has led numerous initiatives to promote accessibility in astronomy, including the development of tactile 3D planetary globes of the Moon, Mars and Venus.
March – Planning for the future with the world’s largest collection of planetary simulation and analytical facilities
In March 2019, a consortium of 56 beneficiaries submitted a bid to the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme proposing a new, upgraded research infrastructure (RI) to support planetary science in Europe. The Europlanet 2024 RI project was selected in August 2019 and the consortium is currently in preparation of the Grant Agreement with the EC.
Europlanet 2024 RI represents a step-change in ambition for planetary science worldwide. The project will provide access to 31 Transnational Access facilities on five continents and four Virtual Access services linking over 100 data services and catalogues. Innovations include the establishment of a ground-based observation network to support space-based missions, the launch of an interactive mapping service to provide virtual exploration of planetary surfaces, and the development of machine learning tools for data mining to fully exploit and analyse planetary data sets.
We look forward to starting this adventurous project in the spring of 2020!
February – Afar Desert Class
In February, Barbara Cavalazzi from the University of Bologna led the first ‘Afar Desert Class’, a learning experience supported by Europlanet 2020 RI for elementary and middle school students of the village located nearest to the Danakil Depression planetary analogue field site. The course took place from February 23rd to 25th and involved 60 children from the Hamed’Ela elementary school, their six teachers and many members of the community of the village. Teachers learned about the geological peculiarities of their region, and children were taken out to the site to discover what their region means from a scientific and geological point of view.
January – EPEC warms up winter with new series of Inspiring Outreach Stories
In January, Europlanet’s EPEC network kicked off an inspiring New Year with a series of stories by Early Career researchers telling us about their outreach activities. The stories are published monthly and you can find the complete archive on the EPEC Outreach Working Group page.
Europlanet 2020 RI Case Study – Isotope analysis for rare samples
Innovation has been a major part of the Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure (RI), particularly in its programme of Joint Research Activities. In the first two years of the project, Europlanet 2020 RI carried out a rigorous evaluation of the performance of 1013 Ohm amplifiers developed together with ThermoFisher for use in isotopic analysis of rare planetary samples, such as meteorites or materials retured by missions.
This work has resulted in a tenfold improvement in precision over conventional resistors, enabling significantly smaller sample sizes to be analysed.
ThermoFisher has released the 1013 Ohm resistors as a commercial product applied to a wide variety of instrumentation. The 1013 Ohm amplifiers have been installed at both the Vrie University Amsterdam (VUA) and the Centre de Recherches Pétrographiques et Géochimiques (CRPG), and were used in Transnational Access (TA) visits supported through Europlanet 2020 RI between 2017 and 2019.
This ground breaking technology has opened up new frontiers across the spectrum of analytical chemistry, with potential applications for a very broad range of non-planetary users for whom sample size is a key issue, e.g. in “non-destructive” analysis of archaeological and art objects.
As an example, an interdisciplinary study of tiny mineral inclusions in diamonds published in Nature Communications by VUA in 2017 discovered that the diamonds were geologically “young”. The results showed that certain volcanic events on Earth may still be able to create super-heated conditions previously thought to have only existed early in the planet’s history before it cooled. These findings have implications for diamond prospecting.
The team at VUA is currently working with Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner to use isotopic analysis to assist in the identification of human remains for undocumented border crossers who do not survive the journey between Mexico and the United States. In 2017, researchers from the University of Oxford were awarded funding to apply micro-analytical techniques to museum quality artefacts to determine their place of origin (provenance).
Collaborations with ThermoFisher will be ongoing beyond the Europlanet 2020 RI project to develop further improvements in the technology. Practical applications of the analysis of small samples and the work is expected to open up new areas of research in planetary science and other disciplines.
Find out more about the outcomes of Europlanet 2020 RI in the Final Report.
Europlanet 2020 RI has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 654208.
The report concludes that Europlanet 2020 RI, which ran from 1st September 2015 until 31st August, has produced a step-change in research in Europe by providing the largest open access research infrastructure for planetary science in the world. The project has established the structures for longer term collaborations both within the European community and between Europe and international partners. In December 2018, the European Commission recognised Europlanet 2020 RI as a Horizon 2020 success story.
Overall, Europlanet 2020 RI has had major impacts for the community:
Europe’s planetary simulation and analytical facilities have been upgraded through the JRA programme and the Transnational Access programme has led to the publication of high-impact research.
Europlanet’s Virtual Access activities, VESPA and PSWS, have evolved into mature, well-used facilities with protocols and tools that have become standards in the worldwide Virtual Observatory communities.
Networking activities have been effective in disseminating the outputs of the project and developing capacity in under-represented states within the European Research Area and beyond.
The procedures implemented and lessons learned during the project have enabled Europlanet to refine the mechanisms and protocols necessary to enable mobilisation and collaboration within the planetary community and to maximise the impact of European talent and facilities .
Over the coming weeks, the Europlanet Society website will highlight some of the case studies from the report demonstrating how the Europlanet 2020 RI project has been working towards the strategic objectives for a research infrastructure (defined by the OECD):
Be a national or world leading scientific research infrastructure and an enabling facility to support science.
Be an enabling facility to support innovation.
Become integrated in a regional cluster/in regional strategies/Be a hub to facilitate regional collaborations.
Promote education outreach and knowledge transfer.
Provide scientific support to public policies.
Provide high quality scientific data and associated services.
Assume social responsibility towards society.
Europlanet 2020 RI’s legacy, supported within the sustainable framework of the new Europlanet Society, will provide a solid foundation for a European planetary research infrastructure for decades to come.
Europlanet 2020 RI received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 654208.
For the second interview in our series of Motivational Journeys, we talk to Dr Thérèse Encrenaz of CNRS/Observatoire de Paris.
Thérèse Encrenaz studied astronomy/astrophysics and has been involved in various missions including Vega 1 & 2 to Comet Halley, Galileo to Jupiter, the Phobos and Mars Express missions to Mars, Venus Express to Venus, Rosetta to Comet 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko. Challenges during the early stage of her career made her push the boundaries and motivated her to work harder. In this interview in our series of Motivational Journeys, Thérèse shares her experiences and tells us how she has managed her work-life balance.
Timeanddate.com has produced this animation to show when and where the transit of Mercury will be visible:
What’s it all about?
Mercury is a fascinating planet and the target of the European Space Agency’s mission, BepiColombo, which launched in October 2018 and will arrive at Mercury on 5th December 2025. In the run-up to the last transit of Mercury in 2016, we invited European scientists that study the innermost planet or whose research relates to transits to contribute guest features about their work and to participate in a series of webinars.
Report by Victoria Pearson, Chair of the Europlanet Society Diversity Committee.
The members of the Diversity Committee have focused their attentions lately on the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019. Prior to the conference they worked closely with PCCS (their DPS equivalents) to identify further good practices that could be adopted at the conference.
A number of measures were put in place. These included:
revising the existing Code of Conduct to ensure it included expectations about professional conduct;
revising the guidelines for conveners to ensure diversity was considered when selecting presenters;
adapting the chair guidelines to include consideration of professional behaviour and access for all participants;
supporting the development of an incident reporting system for use by attendees.
At the conference, the Committee showcased the “Did this really happen?” cartoons and pronoun pins at the Committee’s booth, and hosted the – now annual – diversity keynote lecture, delivered this year by Nadar Haghigipour (University of Hawaii-Manoa).
The Diversity Committee and PCCS jointly convened the “Diversity and inclusiveness in planetary sciences” session. The Committee also supported the Allyship discussion meeting and the “Women in Planetary science Discussion Hour”, and with EPEC recorded a series of interviews to showcase diverse careers in planetary science.
The Committee is now reviewing feedback from the conference. We and welcome any additional contributions from the community so that EPSC 2020 and other Society meetings can build on the success of the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019.
Impacts of Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure
As we prepare to submit the final report for Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructre (RI), which ran from 1st September 2015 – 31st August 2019, we look back at some of the achievements and outcomes.
What was Europlanet 2020 RI?
Europlanet received €9.95 million funding under the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme to implement an advanced research infrastructure for planetary science. Europlanet 2020 RI was coordinated by the Open University, UK, with 34 beneficiary institutions from 20 European countries.
As a mature service, Europlanet 2020 RI placed particular emphasis on widening the participation of previously under-represented research communities and stakeholders, including the newer EU Member States.
Europlanet 2020 RI has provided:
• Free transnational access to world-class laboratory facilities that simulate conditions found on planetary bodies, as well as analogue fields sites for Mars, Europa and Titan. • Virtual access to the diverse datasets and visualisation tools needed for comparing and understanding planetary environments in the Solar System and beyond. • Networking activities, including meetings, workshops and personnel exchanges, to strengthen the community, develop industry-academic collaboration, discuss the latest scientific results, and set the strategy and goals for planetary science in Europe for decades to come. • Outreach and education programmes to engage Europe’s citizens, teachers, students and policy makers with cutting-edge planetary science and exploration.
Transnational Access impacts:
The 5 calls for Transnational Access generated 320 applications and 195 completed visits to facilities
Over 1400 days of access were provided to state-of-the-art planetary laboratory facilities and field sites, resulting in high impact publications, including in the Nature and Science family of journals.
Europlanet 2020 RI assembled the world’s largest coordinated collection of planetary simulation and analysis facilities.
Sample return handling protocols and ultra-sensitive isotopic analysis techniques have been augmented through Europlanet 2020 RI.
Capabilities have been extended at the Wind Tunnel Simulators at Aarhus for simulations under Mars and Titan environmental conditions with funding from through Europlanet 2020 RI.
New spectro-goniometers have been developed at Grenoble with improved sensitivity down to very low albedos and the ability to measure small samples such as rare meteorites.
DLR’s high temperature chamber has been upgraded; it is now the only facility worldwide capable of performing spectral measurements of Venus surface analogues at realistic surface temperatures.
The Danakil Depression has been characterised as a terrestrial analogue for extreme hydrothermal environments on Mars, Venus, Io and Ganymede.
1013 Ohm resistors validated within Europlanet 2020 RI have been released by ThermoFisher as a commercial product, opening up new potential applications for a very broad range of planetary and non-planetary users.
Virtual Access Impacts:
Over 50 planetary datasets are now accessible through the VESPA (Virtual European Solar and Planetary Access) virtual observatory developed through Europlanet 2020 RI. http://vespa.obspm.fr/
The Europlanet Table Access Protocol (EPN-TAP) developed for VESPA has been adopted as standard by the International Planetary Data Alliance and ESA’s Planetary Science Archive.
Planetary Space Weather Service (PSWS) toolkits created to track planetary or solar events through the Solar System have attracted over 15,000 users from academia and industry worldwide.
Networking Activity Impacts:
84 workshops and training sessions organised during Europlanet 2020 RI have been attended by more than 3,000 researchers, industrial representatives, outreach professionals, teachers and policy makers.
Over 1,200 EU companies have been identified with an interest in provision of solutions or services to planetary scientists, or with an interest in recruiting planetary graduates.
Thousands of media stories on planetary results have been generated around the world.
More than 130,000 Euros of seed-funding from Europlanet 2020 RI has supported outreach projects across Europe.
Europlanet 2024 RI has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 871149