Europlanet 2020 RI – First Year Highlights
September 9, 2016

Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure (RI) is one year old!  We’ve been busy over the last twelve months. Here are some of the highlights from our first year of activities:

Access to planetary analogue sites and facilities

  • Europlanet researchers visited the Danakil Depression in Ethiopia to characterise the site’s geology, mineralogy and biology. The site, which hosts at least three extreme ecosystems, has the potential to help us understand how life might arise on other planets and moons. Europlanet 2020 RI will fund external researchers to visit the site through its transnational access programme from 2018.
  • Europlanet researchers have also been preparing a second analogue field site at Tirez Lake in Spain. This environment provides an excellent analogue for chloride and sulphate deposits on Mars. Tírez has also been proposed as a terrestrial analogue of Europa’s ocean, based on the hydrogeochemical characteristics of the lagoon and its similarity with spectral data from Europa’s surface.
  • Europlanet’s Transnational Access programme provides funding for teams of researchers to visit field sites and world-class facilities across Europe. Visits completed during year 1 of the project include:
    • Researchers from LATMOS, France, visited the Mars-like environment at Rio Tinto in Spain. They collected mineral samples to explore how dust particles resulting from the weathering of rocks can affect the Martian atmosphere.
    • Researchers from the Institut für Planetologie in Münster, Germany and the Open University, UK, visited the Ibn Battuta Field Centre in Morocco. They deployed weather stations to gather meteorological signatures of wind-generated vortices to help them interpret the behaviour of  Martian dust devils.
    • Researchers from the University of Münster visited the Petrology-Mineralogy Characterisation Facility (PMCF) at the Natural History Museum in London to look for evidence of supernovae dust in meteorites.
    • Reserachers from the Open University visited DLR’s Planetary Emissivity Laboratory in Berlin to study how thermal alteration affects the surfaces of the type of asteroids that are the targets of the Dawn, Hayabusa-2 and OSIRIS-REx space missions.
    • Four teams of researchers visited the Interactive Microbiome Research Group at the Medical University of Graz. Projects included the study of bacterial colonies from the Mars500 habitat and astrobiologically significant samples collected from the Santa Cesarea Caves in Italy.
    • Three teams of researchers visited the Planetary Environoment Facilitiest the University of Aarhus in Denmark with experiments relating to carbon dioxide ice, volcanic plumes on Mars and the DREAMS experiment on the ExoMars Schiaparelli lander.
    • Researchers from the Laboratoire de Planetologie in Nantes, France, visted the Open University’s Large Mars Chamber Facility to investigate how sediment could be transported in water flows under Mars temperature and pressure conditions.

Virtual Access

  • Significant progress has been made in the development of Europlanet’s VESPA virtual observatory.
    • The new search interface is now online, which allows scientists direct access to all connected databases. Users can retrieve data files based on location, time, observing conditions, viewing geometry, etc, and can view and analyse data online with virtual observatory tools.
    • 25 data services are now connected to VESPA, covering all aspects of planetary science, including surfaces, atmospheres, plasma, small bodies, exoplanets, etc. including the Encyclopedia of Exoplanets in Paris Observatory (which had ~ 250,000 visit in 2016) and amateur observations of Jupiter (RadioJove).
    • The VESPA Data Access Protocol (EPN-TAP v. 2)  has been adopted by ESA to provide access to its Planetary Science Archive and is being studied by NASA and other space agencies.
  • Development is well underway for Europlanet’s new virtual access facility, ‘Planetary Space Weather Services’. This will offer five ‘toolkits’ that will extend our understanding and prediction tools for space weather to the other planets in our Solar System and the spacecraft that voyage through it. It will also provide an ‘diary’ for predicting and detecting events like meteor showers and impacts.
    • The first two prototypes of 12 tools under development are now available: the propagation tool and the space weather prediction tool, which now covers multiple planets (Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn) and spacecraft (Rosetta, Juno and Maven).

Networking Activities

  • Europlanet 2020 RI has held 9 scientific workshops to date, with topics including Mars 3D visualisation tools, cartography and GIS foresight, ground-based observation by professional and amateur astronomers in support of Juno and ground-based observations of 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko
  • We funded six expert exchanges, including researchers from CIEUTEC in Portugal visiting Jacobs University Bremen to develop a data model for the morphology and mineralogy of Martian dunes; researchers from the Finnish Meteorological Institute visiting Aarhus University in Denmark to develop planetary atmospheric instrumentation; and researchers from the J. Heyrovsky Institute of Physical Chemistry in the Czech Republic visiting the Open Univeristy, UK, to carry out a spectroscopic investigation of the chemical and physical effects on minerals of impact events.
  • We held a dinner debate in the European Parliament to discuss the impact of the EU on planetary science. We’ve also submitted evidence to parliamentary inquiries, been invited to the Welsh Assembly and held more than 20 one-to-one briefings with Members of the European Parliament.
  • We’ve issued 15 press releases, held outreach training and best practice workshops, made a splash at the EuroScience Open Forum, released our first videos, and relaunched our online and social media presence.

We have a lot planned for the next 12 months and look forward to sharing it with you!