Posted: 11 November, 2008
Hosted by University College London, home of the UK’s only NASA Regional Planetary Imaging Facility (RPIF), the UK Planetary Forum’s (UKPF) annual meeting for early career scientists brought together PhD students, post-doctoral researchers, lecturers and professionals from all aspects of astronomy and space science to share and discuss their research ideas.
The UK Planetary Forum’s meeting is in its sixth year and is designed to enable early career scientists to meet people in the same field and hone presentation skills, as well as offer the chance to explore collaborations with fellow researchers and universities. This year, 80 percent of the audience was made up from PhD and Post-Doc students, with interested undergraduate students, lecturers and professionals making up the difference.
“The UKPF meeting sucessfully provided an opportunity to learn about the diversity of planetary science research in the UK and for early career scientists to socialise with each other. It was an interesting and fun day,” says Katie Joy, chair of the UKPF.
Students at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory are using the Cassini spacecraft to study the interaction of Saturn’s inner moons with high energy particles trapped in the giant planet’s radiation belts, to learn about the magnetospheric dynamics of the Saturn system. Image: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.
The meeting opened with a plenary lecture from Dr Tom Pike of Imperial College London, who discussed his involvement with the microscope station that is included in the Phoenix payload. Astronomy Now’s Website Editor Emily Baldwin caught up with Dr Pike after his talk to discuss some of the findings of the successful Phoenix mission and plans for the future exploration of Mars. A video interview will be posted here shortly.
Following Pike’s lecture, twenty oral presentations by PhD students and Post Doctoral Research Assistants were made throughout the day, covering a wide range of topics from the cosmochemistry of meteorites to planetary atmospheres, observational astronomy and astrobiology. A substantial portion of talks were dedicated to Mars science, from meteorites to Mars habitability; a special report is featured here.
The audience also learnt of student internships and projects, including the Lunar Planetary Institute’s three month summer programme, of which Shoshana Weider of the joint UCL/Birkbeck Department of Earth Sciences won a scholarship to attend, to help NASA plan its initiative to return humans to the Moon by 2020. Weider described NASA’s report ‘The Scientific Context for Exploration of the Moon’ which outlines a set of science priorities that should be achieved through future exploration of the Moon. The concepts deal with all aspects of the Moon from its history and evolution, internal structure and geochemistry to surface conditions and impact craters. Weider’s role, along with four other graduate student interns, was to evaluate the best lunar landing sites and to look in detail at the impact cratering record of the Moon.
The Moon is still a hot topic for PhD student research, especially since NASA have vowed to return humans to its surface by 2020. Image: NASA.
Tim Tomkinson of the Open University described another Moon-related student project: the European Student Moon Orbiter (ESMO), which is hoped to be the first European student mission to the Moon, planned for launch in 2011/2012. Tomkinson described the Open University’s role of working on the BioLEx payload (Biological Lunar Experiment), which is an instrument designed to study the effect of the space environment on microbial growth. The different environments encountered in the spacecraft’s transit from the Earth to the Moon through the high radiation Van Allen belts offer varying scenarios regarding the spacecraft’s exposure to radiation, microgravity and temperature gradients and gives a valuable opportunity to study how the combination of all these factors can influence the growth patterns of a living organism. The project is voluntary and conducted alongside PhD students’ research.
Other talks included discussion on warped accretion discs in binary star systems, Saturn’s magnetic field, the state of Venus’ ionosphere and the characterisation of near Earth asteroids for a sample return mission. Details of all talks can be downloaded from the UKPF website. Details of UCL’s RPIF facility can be found here.