Report from the EPSC-DPS Allyship meeting at EPSC 2020

At Virtual EPSC 2020, the Europlanet Society Diversity Committee announced that it is planning to initiate a new working group for all planetary scientists that would act as an ally to others in less privileged situations. Based on the DPS Allyship meetings organized in the US in the past, the Diversity Committee organized an EPSC-DPS Allyship Splinter Meeting to discuss about strategies developed in the past within DPS, the different “target groups” that need allies, and the possible differences there between US and Europe. They also talked about what specific actions potential allies could take, and what guidance or suggestions could be forwarded to organizations, networks and communities and possible actions to conduct in such organizational frameworks. This splinter meeting was specifically targeting individuals who identify with privileged groups (e.g., men, straight, white, able-bodied, or cis-gendered) to be more aware and proactive in support of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

The vice chair of the Diversity Committee, Lena Noack, opened the meeting and summarized the previous activities of the Committee, which was so far mostly focussing on gender equality, inclusion of early-career scientists, and inclusion of east-/central-European countries. Other diversity topics such as the unfair treatment of people of color were so far not studied in sufficient detail. On the other hand, members of the Diversity Committee also realized that none of them has had any much experience with the topic so far, and are thus a bit behind the curve on issues surrounding initiatives like BlackLivesMatter, Strike4BlackLives, or ShutdownSTEM. To address potential next steps to take within the Europlanet Society, the Committee decided to found a European version of the DPS Allyship Group at EPSC, after a successful DPS Allyship splinter meeting organized in Geneva at EPSC-DPS2019 (see this blog post). The first tasks of the new European working group will be to initiate itself and to recruit members that can share with us their experiences, expectations and hopes.

After the introduction explaining the purpose of the splinter meeting, a discussion started between several participants from EPSC, members of the Diversity Committee, and colleagues from DPS organizing the DPS Allyship meetings and being proactive in the PCCS of DPS – all in all 24 participants joined for the splinter meeting. The discussion quickly turned to the question if an “Allyship group” would indeed be the right name for such a work group. At what level should anyone “claim” to be an ally? It is one thing to have an allyship with underrepresented groups as a goal, but the wording of being an ally (or pursuing an allyship) somewhat implies putting oneself into the spotlight, and not the actual activities and goals in mind. In addition, the new work group that is initiated by the Diversity Committee should include not only potential “allies”, but especially members of underrepresented groups. However, some of the splinter meeting participants expressed concerns that it is always more difficult to stand up for oneself instead of for others. Those from underrepresented groups should stand up and share their voice, but it should not be their task to correct unfair treatment by privileged groups. Here a parallel can be drawn to the goal of strengthening the voice of underrepresented European countries in European activities and networks – western Europeans for example tend to lead scientific debates and aim for coordination of larger projects; often not sufficiently ensuring that others are equally involved in discussions and enabled to feed into processes and decisions.

Within the Europlanet Society, for this reason a Regional Hub structure was initiated, where countries involved in Europlanet are divided into 10 Hubs (Benelux, Central Europe, France, Germany, Ireland & UK, Italy, Northern Europe, Southeast Europe, Spain & Portugal, and Switzerland). Each hub has a representative in the different committees of the Society (including a Diversity Officer, an Outreach Officer, an Industry Officer and an Early Career Officer). This means that the Diversity Committee is well represented with respect to European nationalities, but not yet that well with respect to other aspects such as gender, people of color, ethnic backgrounds, or sexual orientation.

The Diversity Committee feeds directly into the Europlanet Society Executive Board. The Europlanet Society has as a main rule to reach everybody while focussing on diversity, instead of being a top-down organisation, but especially with respect to reaching diverse members and participants at EPSC, we still feel that we are lacking the right tools for that.

Our American colleagues mentioned at that point of our discussion, that in DPS, every 10 years a decadal survey is implemented on where the planetary society should go, including papers for example also on diversity and representation. These and similar articles give several recommendations of how we can strengthen diversity and equality in planetary sciences. In that regard it also became increasingly common in the US to provide a diversity and inclusivity statement when applying for faculty positions – an approach that is still rather rare in most European countries or networks. It was suggested that a survey within the Europlanet Society could help us gain more information on the different issues concerning equality, diversity and inclusivity in Europe in comparison to the US. 

A big challenge in that regard for the diversity committee, is related to statistics. We do not have data and information related to sexual orientation, age, gender etc from some European countries. However, from this year onwards the EPSC has started taking the demographic information in the registration form on a voluntary basis. One of the participants suggested to start involving hub leads and members of the regional committee to take statistics from their regions. This will help the committee to get more information from all over Europe.   

Similarly, instead of trying to build a basis for a stronger allyship, it might be beneficial to first bring the attention of the group to specific experiences of individuals. 

In that direction, a group of early- to mid-career professionals from Europe started a new project a few years ago called “Did this really happen?”, collecting stories about discriminating behaviour in the scientific world (focussing mostly but not exclusively on gender-related incidents) and transforming them into easy-to-grasp cartoons. We could try to support this group by actively searching for similar examples of bad behaviour observed by privileged individuals, exclusion in work places or meetings, and other incidents that would need our attention. Such data would also help the Diversity Committee or the new working group to work on new policies and tasks.

From past experience and discussions (in European networks, but also within the DPS allyship group), different recommendations for both individuals and institutions were already suggested:

  • Organize bystander trainings and implicit bias tests and/or trainings at institutes and conferences
  • Write recommendation letters without gender-blended usage (some suggestions can be found here)
  • Nominate candidates from different backgrounds for awards (could be accomplished as a group work, for example from such an allyship working group)
  • Pass on opportunities (seminars, invited talks, etc.) to under-represented colleagues
  • Keep the discussion alive on how to increase diversity, equity and inclusion, and share material and ideas with as many people as possibly
  • Create specific ressources pages (from seminar pages to larger networks such as AGU)
  • Write descriptions and requirements for prizes and positions in a way that they do not exclude any groups
  • Formalize the review process for prize nominations and selections

The splinter meeting ended with an euphoric group planning to continue to meet at a regular basis throughout the year in a virtual meeting, discuss the current state of the situation, while inviting and engaging individuals from underrepresented groups to build up a strong network, from which something like an allyship group can indeed be built from. 

In contrast to a statement that one of our splinter meeting participants was recently told — “Allyship costs if you’re doing it right” — a true allyship should be a natural behaviour towards anyone coming from a less privileged group and should not be seen as an additional workload (or worse) to increase your competition. In the end, it is up to those of us that identify with the standard privileged groups (e.g., men, straight, white, able-bodied, or cis-gendered) that are the ones that have to become more active and involved!

Are you interested in becoming involved in the discussion group that will meet virtually at a regular basis to discuss different diversity, equality and inclusivity issues, recommendations, allyship approaches, or want to share your experiences? Then please get in contact with diversity@europlanet-society.org.

Age-old debate on Saturn’s rings reignited

Age-old debate on Saturn’s rings reignited

A team of researchers has reignited the debate about the age of Saturn’s rings with a study that dates the rings as most likely to have formed early in the Solar System. 

In a paper published today in Nature Astronomy and presented at the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 in Geneva, the authors suggest that processes that preferentially eject dusty and organic material out of Saturn’s rings could make the rings look much younger than they actually are.

Cassini’s dive through the rings during the mission’s Grand Finale in 2017 provided data that was interpreted as evidence that Saturn’s rings formed just a few tens of millions of years ago, around the time that dinosaurs walked the Earth. Gravity measurements taken during the dive gave a more accurate estimate of the mass of the rings, which are made up of more than 95% water ice and less than 5% rocks, organic materials and metals. The mass estimate was then used to work out how long the pristine ice of the rings would need to be exposed to dust and micrometeorites to reach the level of other ‘pollutants’ that we see today. 

For many, this resolved the mystery of the age of the rings. However, Aurelien Crida, lead author of the new study, believes that the debate is not yet settled.

“We can’t directly measure the age of Saturn’s rings like the rings on a tree-stump, so we have to deduce their age from other properties like mass and chemical composition. Recent studies have made assumptions that the dust flow is constant, the mass of the rings is constant, and that the rings retain all the pollution material that they receive. However, there is still a lot of uncertainty about all these points and, when taken with other results from the Cassini mission, we believe that there is a strong case that the rings are much, much older,” said Dr Crida, of the Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur, CNRS.

Crida and colleagues argue that the mass measured during the Cassini mission finale is in extraordinarily good agreement with models of the dynamical evolution of massive rings dating back to the primordial Solar System. 

The rings are made of particles and blocks ranging in size from metres down to micrometres. Viscous interactions between the blocks cause the rings to spread out and carry material away like a conveyor-belt. This leads to mass loss from the innermost edge, where particles fall into the planet, and from the outer edge, where material crosses the outer boundary into a region where moonlets and satellites start to form. 

More massive rings spread more rapidly and lose mass faster. The models show that whatever the initial mass of the rings, there is a tendency for the rings to converge on a mass measured by Cassini after around 4 billion years, matching the timescale of the formation of the Solar System.

“From our present understanding of the viscosity of the rings, the mass measured during the Cassini Grand Finale would be the natural product of several billion years of evolution, which is appealing. Admittedly, nothing forbids the rings from having been formed very recently with this precise mass and having barely evolved since. However, that would be quite a coincidence,” said Dr Crida.

Co-author Hsiang-Wen Hsu was part of a team that announced results in October 2018 from Cassini’s Cosmic Dust Analyzer, which showed 600 kilogrammes of silicate grains fall on Saturn from the rings every second. Other studies using data from the Cassini Ion and Neutral Mass Spectrometer have shown the presence of organic molecules in Saturn’s upper atmosphere that are thought to derive from the rings. 

Dr Hsu, of the Laboratory for Space and Atmospheric Physics at Boulder, Colorado, said: “These results suggest that the rings are ‘cleaning’ themselves of pollutants. The nature of this potential ring-cleaning process is still mysterious. However, our study shows that the exposure age is not necessarily linked to the formation age, thus the rings may appear artificially young.” 

Images

The Saturn’s rings.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/pia14943-full.jpg
An image of Saturn taken by Cassini.
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute
www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/pia12567-1600.jpg

Further information

Are Saturn’s rings actually young? Aurélien Crida, Sébastien Charnoz, Hsiang-Wen Hsu, and Luke Dones, EPSC-DPS 2019. 

meetingorganizer.copernicus.org/EPSC-DPS2019/EPSC-DPS2019-783-1.pdf

Are Saturn’s rings actually young? Crida, Charnoz, Hsu, Dones, Nature Astronomy, 876, 2019.

www.nature.com/articles/s41550-019-0876-y

Science Contacts

Aurélien Crida
Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur 
Nice, France
Email: crida@oca.eu

Media contact

Marc Fulconis
Observatoire de la Côte d’Azur
Nice, France
marc.fulconis@oca.eu

Anita Heward
EPSC Press Officer
+44 7756 034243
epsc-dps-press@europlanet-society.org

Livia Giacomini
EPSC Press Officer
epsc-dps-press@europlanet-society.org

Adriana Postiglione
EPSC Press Officer
epsc-dps-press@europlanet-society.org 

Notes for Editors

EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019

The 2019 Joint Meeting (www.epsc-dps2019.eu) of the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) of the Europlanet Society and the Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS) of the American Astronomical Society (AAS) will take place at the Centre International de Conférences de Genève (CICG), Geneva, Switzerland, from Sunday 15 to Friday 20 September 2019. More than 1950 abstracts have been submitted and over 1500 planetary scientists from Europe, the US and around the world are expected to attend the meeting, making it one of the largest gatherings of planetary scientists held in Europe to date.

The EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 will be the third time that EPSC and the DPS Annual Meeting have been held together.

Follow: @europlanetmedia #EPSCDPS2019

Europlanet

The Europlanet Society, launched in September 2018, is an organization for individual and corporate members to promote the advancement of planetary science and related fields in Europe. The Society provides 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 Society is the parent organisation of the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC).

Europlanet Society website: www.europlanet-society.org

EPSC-DPSC 2019 Joint Meeting 2019 website: www.epsc-dps2019.eu

DPS

The Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS), founded in 1968, is the largest special-interest Division of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). Members of the DPS study the bodies of our own solar system, from planets and moons to comets and asteroids, and all other solar-system objects and processes. With the discovery that planets exist around other stars, the DPS has expanded its scope to include the study of extrasolar planetary systems as well.

The AAS, established in 1899, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. The membership (approx. 7,500) also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising contemporary astronomy. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe, which it achieves through publishing, meeting organization, education and outreach, and training and professional development.

3D models of Mars to aid Rosalind Franklin rover in her quest for ancient life

3D models of Mars to aid Rosalind Franklin rover in her quest for ancient life

Scientists at TU Dortmund University have generated high-accuracy 3D models of terrain within the landing ellipse of the ESA/Roscosmos ExoMars rover, Rosalind Franklin. The Digital Terrain Models (DTMs) have a resolution of about 25 cm per pixel and will help scientists to understand the geography and geological characteristics of the region and to plan the path of the rover around the site.

To increase the accuracy of the models, the team has developed an innovative technique that integrates atmospheric data into the digitally-generated scenes. The models will be presented by Kay Wohlfarth at the EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting 2019 in Geneva on Monday 16 September.

The DTMs are based on high-resolution imagery of Mars from the HiRISE instrument on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. HiRISE imagery has been widely applied to the classic stereo method of combining two images taken from slightly different angles to create a 3D picture of the landscape. However, conventional stereo techniques have limitations when applied to the featureless, homogeneous regions that characterise many dusty and sandy planetary surfaces, including the rover’s landing site. 

Oxia Planum, the landing site chosen by ESA’s ExoMars Landing Site Selection Working Group for Rosalind Franklin, is comparatively flat to minimise the risk of a hard landing and to ensure accessibility for the rover to carry out its mission. The region contains clay minerals and structures from ancient river beds that may bear hints of past traces of life.

To enhance the DTM, the team from TU Dortmund University has applied a technique called ‘Shape from Shading’ in which the intensity of reflected light in the image is translated into information on surface slopes. This slope data is integrated into the stereo imagery, giving an improved estimate of the 3D surface and achieving the best resolution possible in the reconstructed landscape. 

Kay Wohlfarth explained: “With the technique, even small-scale details such as dune ripples inside craters and rough bedrock can be reproduced.”

Marcel Hess, first author of the study, said: “We have taken special care over the interaction between light and the martian surface. Areas that are tilted towards the Sun appear brighter and areas that are facing away appear darker. Our approach uses a joint reflectance and atmospheric model that incorporates reflection by the surface as well as atmospheric effects that diffuse and scatter light.” 

The Rosalind Franklin ExoMars rover will carry a suite of scientific instruments to analyse rocks and the surface environment at Oxia Planum. To look beneath the surface, it carries a drill that will retrieve samples and deliver them to an onboard laboratory designed to detect biosignatures, as well as instruments to probe the subsurface water content. The mission will launch in the summer of 2020 on a Russian Proton-M launcher and arrive at Mars in March 2021.

ESA ExoMars pages: www.esa.int/exomars

Images

Rendered view of a small region revealing small details. Credit: Credit: TU Dortmund/NASAJPL-Caltech
www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/ROI1.png
Rendered view of a small region revealing small details.
Credit: TU Dortmund/NASAJPL-Caltech
https://www.europlanet-society.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/ROI2.png

Video

A video of the Digital Elevation Model of the landing site can be found at: https://youtu.be/L0HgyyqbsPg

Scientific Contact

Marcel Hess
Image Analysis Group 
TU Dortmund University
Germany
marcel.hess@tu-dortmund.de

Kay Wohlfarth
Image Analysis Group
TU Dortmund University
Germany
kay.wohlfarth@tu-dortmund.de

Christian Wöhler
Image Analysis Group 
TU Dortmund
Germany
christian.woehler@tu-dortmund.de

Ottaviano Ruesch 
European Space Agency 
Noordwijk 
The Netherlands 
ottaviano.ruesch@esa.int 

Media Contact

Anita Heward
EPSC Press Officer
+44 7756 034243
anita.heward@europlanet-eu.org
epsc-dps-press@europlanet-society.org

Livia Giacomini 
EPSC Press Officer
epsc-dps-press@europlanet-society.org 

Adriana Postiglione 
EPSC Press Officer
epsc-dps-press@europlanet-society.org

Shantanu Naidu
DPS Press Officer
dpspress@aas.org 

During the meeting, the EPSC-DPS Press Office can be contacted on +41 22 791 9617.

Further Information

Europlanet 

The Europlanet Society, launched in September 2018, is an organization for individual and corporate members to promote the advancement of planetary science and related fields in Europe. The Society provides 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 Society is the parent organisation of the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC).

Europlanet Society website: www.europlanet-society.org

EPSC-DPSC 2019 Joint Meeting 2019 website: www.epsc-dps2019.eu

DPS

The Division for Planetary Sciences (DPS), founded in 1968, is the largest special-interest Division of the American Astronomical Society (AAS). Members of the DPS study the bodies of our own solar system, from planets and moons to comets and asteroids, and all other solar-system objects and processes. With the discovery that planets exist around other stars, the DPS has expanded its scope to include the study of extrasolar planetary systems as well.

The AAS, established in 1899, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. The membership (approx. 7,500) also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising contemporary astronomy. The mission of the AAS is to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe, which it achieves through publishing, meeting organization, education and outreach, and training and professional development.

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