An Asteroid For Samantha

Are you an amateur astronomer, a professional or a simple sky enthusiast? Get involved with An Asteroid for Samantha, the astro-photography campaign dedicated to the return to orbit, in 2022, of Samantha Cristoforetti.

Edu INAF, in collaboration with the Italian Association for Astronautics and Space, the Astronomical Observatory of the Autonomous Region of Valle d’Aosta and with the support of the Italian Amateur Astronomers Union, invites you to hunt 15006 Samcristoforetti, the main belt asteroid dedicated to Samantha, take a picture and share it with the Edu INAF editorial team. Your image, along with the others that will arrive, will be given as a gift to Samantha to accompany her on her journey to the International Space Station!

Use the hashtags of the event #UnAsteroidePerSamantha #Samcristoforetti #AnAsteroidForSamantha.

More information here.

Call for a PostDoc Research Fellowship on the analysis of Mars Oxia Planum @INAF-IAPS (Rome)

The INAF-Institute for Space Astrophysics and Planetology (Rome, Italy) is seeking applicants for onePostdoctoral Research Fellowship” in the context of the research project “Analysis of Oxia Planum from remote sensing data and terrestrial laboratory analogs of Mars and Ceres”.

Deadline: 22 January 2021.

The grant is based on the project “EXOMARS Ma_MISS” and “DAWN” and will be carried out under the scientific supervision of dr. Maria Cristina De Sanctis and dr. Francesca Altieri.

The expected start date is April 2021, with a duration of 12 months and the potential of renewal for further two years.

The successful candidate is expected to work on the data analysis of the Oxia Planum site and on laboratory activities for the preparation and characterization of analogs of Ceres and Mars.

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

The great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn: the Italian eye

A few days ago, on December 21st, the entire world has raised its eyes to the sky to admire the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, popularly and somewhat erroneously known as the “Christmas Star”. For this particular occasion, which will not occur until the year 2080, in Italy, some headquarters from the Italian National Institute for Astrophysics (INAF) have joined forces and carried out live, on EduINAF‘s Facebook and YouTube channels, the event “Jupiter and Saturn: the meeting of the giants”.

What made last Monday a remarkable astronomical event was indeed the positions of these two planets: although being aligned in the sky about once every 20 years, it’s been nearly 400 years since Jupiter and Saturn passed this close to each other in the sky, and nearly 800 years since this alignment occurred at night, allowing nearly everyone around the world to see this “great conjunction”. The previous one was on July 16, 1623. However, on that occurrence the two planets were too close to the Sun to be easily observed. We must go back to the late Middle Ages, precisely to March 4, 1226, to find a celestial event of similar magnitude, potentially visible in the terrestrial skies.

During the italian streaming, aired on the 21st on EduINAF’s main social channels from 5pm to 7 pm, astronomers from the INAF guided the audience (of over 10000 people) through the live observations of the planetary conjunction seen by the various italian observatories involved (Roma, Trieste and Palermo) also showing images collected in the previous days both from Italy and other telescopes in the world. The experience was made even more interesting by the insights the astronomers gave about the most recent discoveries in the field of planetary physics and the relevance of this celestial event, exceptionally occurred on the day of the winter solstice.

An image taken from the Rapid Eye Mount Telescope (La Silla Observatory-Chile), used during the italian streaming to show the “Great Conjunction” event of Jupiter and Saturn in the sky on Dec. 21st.

If you missed it and you want to discover more and more about this fascinating encounter of giants, you can look to this gallery of images and watch the recording of the streaming (available in italian) here.

Italy Homeplate

The Europlanet Italy Hub

The Italy Hub was established in October 2018 to promote planetary science and related fields for the benefit of the Italian and European community, within the new Europlanet Society.

Italy is partner of the Europlanet Society collaborating with many different activities and also hosting the Italian Regional Hub of Europlanet.

Know more about the Europlanet Society>>

Italy participates as a beneficiary of the Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure (RI) project (here the Italian webpage related to the project) with different institutions:
INAF (Istituto Nazionale di Astrofisica)
Universita Degli Studi Gabriele D’annunzio di Chieti-Pescara
Università di Bologna
University of Padova

Members of the Committee of the Italy Hub:

  • Chair: Stavro Ivanovski (INAF- OATS)
  • Vice Chair: Alice Lucchetti (INAF-OAPD)
  • Advisor: Maria Cristina De Sanctis (INAF-IAPS)
  • Industry Officer: Vacant
  • Outreach Officers: Livia Giacomini (INAF) and Federica Duras (INAF)
  • Diversity Officer: Vacant
  • Early Career Officer: Giovanni Munaretto (INAF-OAPD)

EPEC Profiles – Melissa Mirino

EPEC Profiles – Melissa Mirino

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

Melissa Mirino is chair of the EPEC Communications Working Group
Melissa Mirino is the current Chair of the Europlanet Early Career Network

Melissa Mirino is the current Chair of the Europlanet Early Career Network.

Melissa Mirino is currently a Postdoctoral researcher at University of Padova, in Italy, where she started to be involved with the ESA-JAXA BepiColombo mission in 2022 by collaborating with the team of SIMBIO-SYS instrument and the BepiColombo Surface and Composition Working Group. Her current project is focused on characterising the different aspects of the candidate sources of later volcanism by studying the variation in tectonic regime linked to formation and later-reactivation of basins structures.

She obtained her PhD in the field of planetary science at the Open University (UK). For her doctoral dissertation, she studied ancient river systems on Mars called inverted channels.  

Since she was an undergraduate student at the University of Rome 3, Melissa’s main research interests have focused on the application of remote sensing in the geological study of rocky bodies in the Solar System. After pursuing her Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Geology, she took up many opportunities to study abroad, winning several scholarships and travel grants. As a result, she has collaborated with local and international research institutes and universities to develop projects in the field of planetary science. 

Melissa has worked with several kinds of datasets from the ESA Mars-Express, NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) and NASA Dawn missions, analysing features on Mars, Vesta and Ceres in collaboration with the Italian institute INAF-IAPS and Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany. In 2017 she took part in an internship at the European Space Agency (ESA/ESTEC) to work with both radar and spectral data from the North Polar Cap on Mars. 

Melissa has also collaborated in international projects related to:

  • Astronaut Analogue Simulations (in collaboration with ESA, the Space Generation Advisory Council and Lunares).
  • A stratospheric balloon project (promoted by the International Space University and the University of South Australia)
  • Rover trials (as part of the OU team and Exo-fit simulation in support of the Exo-Mars rover mission).
Melissa Mirino. Credit: Maciej Urbanowicz

Melissa has a personal interest in inspiring the next generation to pursue careers in science. As an undergraduate student she worked in a museum and planetarium located in Rome (Museo Geopaleontologico Ardito Desio, Italy) and in Trento (MuSe, Museo delle scienze, Italy) to engage students with topics related to geology and astronomy. She worked as PhD tutor for the Brilliant Club, an award-winning charity that works with schools and universities across the UK to increase the number of pupils from under-represented backgrounds progressing to leading universities. As a PhD tutor, she developed and delivered tutorials about planetary geology (see Europlanet Inspiring Story-April 2021). 

She was part of the organising team for the Space Rendezvous in Rome to organise informal meetings to discuss space-related topics with space enthusiasts (see Europlanet Inspiring Story – July 2019). She also acted as Co-Chair of the Communications Working Group (from 2018 to 2023). Currently, she is supporting EPEC’s activities as the Chair of the Europlanet Early Career Network.

“It is an honour for me to be the new Chair of the EPEC Network. EPEC is allowing me to collaborate with other enthusiastic space professionals. This experience enables me to improve both my communication and leadership skills. This is a great experience to create something new in support of all Early Career space scientists.

Melissa Mirino

More info about Melissa Mirino:


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

Inspiring Stories – A Space Rendezvous in Rome

Inspiring Stories – A Space Rendezvous in Rome

In this EPEC Inspiring Outreach Story, Melissa Mirino from the Open University in the UK, tells us how she is helping to organise meetings where the public can meet planetary scientists!

Space Rendezvous Rome official logo

In February 2018, during the lunch of the first SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch, a group of space enthusiasts joined an informal meeting in Paris to talking about their passion for space and their personal experiences.

After this event the group of young scientists realised that space enthusiasts from their neighborhood were lacking opportunities to informally discuss their passion for space. This was the start of the Space Rendezvous Project which is running in many cities all over Europe. I had the amazing opportunity to be one of the founders of Space Rendezvous in Rome which is now supported by the Space Generation Advisory Council and Woman in Aerospace Europe.

Our rendezvous in Rome are providing an opportunity for undergraduates, Ph.D. students, and space enthusiasts without any limit of age or expertise, to discuss about topics and news related with the Space sector and Planetary Science.

So those who are interested in space exploration can be inspired from people already involved in the space research and possibly follow their examples in the future. Professionals have the opportunity to share their work and their knowledge with the attendees. In this context, professionals can also get fresh, innovative and sometimes crazy ideas for future research projects or developments

In May 2019, we decided to make our rendezvous a bit different, and dedicated it to Space Art. We thought about the best way to inspire the younger generation to be more involved in our work, and decided to let them be the main characters of the art competition. We asked them to choose a title and give an explanation about what inspired them about Space. As you can see from the examples below, the results were amazing:

By organising these meetings I have learned a lot: how to manage a meeting, and cooperate within an international team. Other members of my group are from all over Europe and around the world, so we have various backgrounds and diverse work habits. I have also had a valuable lesson in science communication, both in the real and virtual world as we are promoting our actions on social media. We are also having fun organising games and deciding what the event topic will be each month. It is challenging, but one of the rewards is the great chance to network with others interested in space around Rome area. I would therefore recommend young professionals to find out if Space Rendezvous is happening in their city, and if not to take the initiative and become one of the founders in their area. From personal experience I can assure you that it will be very rewarding and super fun. 

If you find yourself in Rome, join our meetings for an interesting chat and a good pizza! Visit our official facebook page @Spacerendezvousrome and discover the upcoming topic of the month. New volunteers and sponsors who would like to support our activities are welcome! So if you are interested please contact me at: All participant cities host their Space Rendezvous on the final Thursdays of each month.

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

Inspiring stories – Back home, back in time

Inspiring stories – Back home, back in time

In the third of our Early Career Inspiring Outreach Stories, Erica Luzzi of Jacobs University Bremen shares her impressions of revisiting her old school.

A very long time has passed since the last time I was in my old school. That’s where I decided to start my outreach experience. As a sensitive person, I just thought that feeling at home would have relieved some of the pressure, helping me to actually reach the kids I was there for.

Just walking through those corridors, I realised how much I missed that place. I remembered the dreams of becoming someone one day, with something to say to the world. I remembered the infinite mornings sitting behind that desk, no clue what the future might be.

And then, I finally came back as an adult. As a scientist. Some of my former professors were still there, calling me “colleague”: it blew my mind. The awe I had back then for those figures who looked invincible. And now, they just look to me as they really are: humans. Frustrated, sad, disappointed, tired. Even the rooms that were looking so big to me, in that moment appeared to be the smallest place on Earth. Everything changes once you grow up, but some things don’t: some of us, are still dreamers.

My presentation for the kids was: “Planetary geology: how, where and why”. While I was telling them that I was happy to be back in my hometown and at my old school, they looked at me like an alien. They were wondering,  whispering to each other: “Is it possible to become a planetary scientist coming from here?”.

I reassured them, the answer was yes. They had the power to become whatever they wanted. In their smiles, full of hope and joy, I recognised my own dreams and my own innocence.

I asked them to interrupt me whenever they wanted to ask questions, express their curiosities, and not feel ashamed and embarrassed. And, against my expectations, they responded so actively to my presentation, that they had no idea how much it meant to me. They were not only asking silly questions just to show the professors they were involved in the presentation, they were really curious, smart and  aware. I have always had doubts about the next generation: I guess it is typical to believe that the good values of the old times are gone forever.  Somehow I was scared by the lack of interest and curiosity, I thought that since they were born in a society were everything is immediate – every piece of information, every human contact – they would not know the patience, the perseverance, the preciousness of waiting even for a small result. But I was wrong. Those kids showed me how passionate they are and mostly, how they are naturally provided with the logical and intellectual means to process the inputs coming from the outside.

They kept the discussion alive for the entire hour of the presentation, feeding it with their curiosity, facts they knew, looking for confrontation, even challenging my knowledge sometimes.

When I was leaving, their smiles were a testament to an unexpected gratitude. They filled my heart, they really did.

This outreach experience was my first one and I am glad I took the chance to let this happen. Now I know, there is something noble that makes us even richer than improving our scientific knowledge: spread it, make it a property of those who have an entire future to build with the eyes still full of hope. Make them participate to human progress, because they are our future, and it is way much brighter that we could possibly expect.

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