GeoLog

European Space Agency

Union-wide events at EGU 2018

Union-wide events at EGU 2018

Wondering what to expect at the General Assembly this year? Here are some of the highlights:

Union Symposia (US)

For events which will have general appeal, regardless of your field of research, look no further than the Union Symposia. The very first session, organized in collaboration with the European and American space agencies (ESA and NASA) will highlight observation missions focused on Earth and other planetary bodies, as well as discuss the challenges of organising future missions in an international framework.

Following this session will be Union Symposia 1: Past achievements and future challenges for the Geosciences, co-sponsored by the American Geophysical Union. The Union Symposia on Wednesday will reflect on the fifty years of international ocean drilling. Thursday’s session will then feature reports on the Cassini mission and future perspectives for the exploration of the outer solar system.

And finally, Union Symposia 5 on Friday will cover Scientific research in a changing European Union: where we stand and what we aim for. Panelists will explore some of the challenges and potential threats to academics in the EU and how these issues can be addressed and overcome. The session will also outline some of the advantages of the EU, funding programmes that are currently provided and how the European Union can continue to develop and nurture its researchers.

Great Debates (GDB)
This year we’re holding four Great Debates! The topics covered this year are varied, from Natural versus anthropogenic threats for life on Earth to Low-risk geo-engineering: are techniques available now? The role of scientists in policy-making is another hot topic on the Great Debate agenda, with one debate dedicated to the subject on whether to be hands on or hands off in the political sphere. Continuing with the success of last year’s Early Career Scientist (ECS) Great Debate, the 2018 General Assembly invites participants to join a round-table discussion where everyone will be given the opportunity to discuss this year’s chosen topic: “Should early career scientists use time developing transferrable skills?” Whether you are in Vienna or elsewhere, be sure to follow and join in the debates using #EGU18GDB on twitter.

Educational & Outreach Symposia (EOS)
Educational and Outreach Symposia are sessions dedicated to all things education and outreach, and include the Geosciences Information for Teachers (GIFT) workshop, a long-running event for high school teachers that helps shorten the time between discovery and textbook.

Medal Lectures and Lectures organized by related scientific societies (ML, LRS)
There will be 3 lectures organized by related scientific societies as well as a grand total of 46 Medal Lectures this year!

Meet EGU (EGU)
Meet EGU does exactly what it says on the tin – these sessions are a great opportunity to get to know your division president and early career representative, put faces to names and find out what’s going on in the Union.

Townhall and Splinter Meetings (TSM)
Townhall Meetings allow participants to take part in a lot of open discussion. This year’s meetings cover a huge variety of topics, from a general discussion of the use of preprints and preprint servers like EarthArXiv, through to a talk on how geoscientists should address urbanisation. Like Townhall Meetings, Splinter Meetings are organised by participants, but they are typically smaller and can be either public or by invitation only.

The EGU General Assembly is taking place in Vienna, Austria from 8 to 13 April. Check out the full session programme on the General Assembly website.

Union-wide events at EGU 2017

Union-wide events at EGU 2017

Wondering what to expect at the General Assembly this year? Here are some of the highlights:

Union Symposia (US)

For events which will have general appeal, regardless of your field of research, look no further than the Union Symposia.  In particular, if you want to stand up for science at a time when (some) politics seems at odds with science, come along to Union Symposia 3, Make Facts Great Again. An impressive panel composed of Christine McEntee (AGU Executive Director), Sir David King (Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK Government 2000–2007), Christiana Figueres (Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 2010–2016) and Heike Langenberg (Nature Geoscience Chief Editor) will discuss what can scientists do to further the progress of scientific research and ensure mainstream scientific views are accepted and taken seriously by policymakers and the public.

The very first of the Union Symposia, organized in collaboration with the European and maerica space agencies (ESA and NASA) will highlight Earth observation missions and there will be talks on ESA’s and NASA’s planetary and space programmers. On Wednesday, scientists from different fields will come together to explore the key role plants play in the climate system in Union Symposia 1: Vegetation-climate interactions across time scales Finally, there’s the EGU Awards Ceremony – set to celebrate excellent research and achievement in the Earth, planetary and space sciences.

Great Debates (GDB)
This year we’re holding not one, not two, but six Great Debates! The topics covered this year are varied, from: Arctic environmental change: global opportunities and threats (organized with AGU), through to whether 2 degrees is possible without relying on carbon storage and capture? Scientific publishing is also hot on the Great Debate agenda, with two debates dedicated to the subject, including the very first early career scientist (ECS) specific Great Debate: Should early career scientists be judged by their publication record? A set of group debates.  Discussions also explore the Earth’s deep past (Great Debate on Great Extinctions) and the planet’s future (transition to next generation cities and planet Earth future).  Whether you are in Vienna or elsewhere, be sure to follow and join in the debates using #EGU17GDB on twitter.

Educational & Outreach Symposia (EOS)
Educational and Outreach Symposia are sessions dedicated to all things education and outreach, and include the Geosciences Information for Teachers (GIFT) workshop, a long-running event for high school teachers that helps shorten the time between discovery and textbook.

Medal Lectures and Lectures organized by related scientific societies (ML, LRS)
There will be five Lectures organized by related scientific societies as well as a grand total of 45 Medal Lectures this year!

Meet EGU (EGU)
Meet EGU does exactly what it says on the tin – these sessions are a great opportunity to get to know your division president and early career representative, put faces to names and find out what’s going on in the Union.

Townhall Meetings (TM)
Townhall Meetings allow participants to take part in a lot of open discussion. This year’s meetings cover a huge variety of topics, from a discussion, moderated by ESA’s Director of Earth Observation Programmes, on how space data impacts EGU participants, through to questioning the formalizatin of the “Anthropocene” and how the interconnection between Open Access, Open Data and Free Open Source Software can be improved to develop the Open Science movement.

Splinter Meetings (SPM)
Like Townhall Meetings, Splinter Meetings are organised by participants, but they are typically smaller and can be either public or by invitation only.

The EGU General Assembly is taking place in Vienna, Austria from 23 to 28 April. Check out the full session programme on the General Assembly website.

GeoTalk: Matt Taylor of ESA’s Rosetta mission

GeoTalk: Matt Taylor of ESA’s Rosetta mission

In November 2014, space exploration history was made. Millions of kilometres away, orbiting a piece of ice and rock, the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Rosetta mission sent its probe Philae to become the first spacecraft to soft-land on a comet.

rosetta_tweet1

After the tense 7-hour wait that followed the separation from the main orbiter, a tweet confirmed that the little lander had successfully completed the first part of its mission. Following a 10-year journey through space, on the back of the Rosetta spacecraft, Philae had successfully touched down on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko.

Tweet_rosetta

The story of Rosetta and Philae will go down in the history books, like others before it, and ignite the imagination of children and adults alike, for whom space is the ultimate frontier.

These great stories of space exploration have inspired the 2016 Geosciences Information For Teachers (GIFT) workshop: The Solar System and Beyond, which took place during the EGU General Assembly in Vienna. The symposium combined presentations on current research by leading scientists with hands-on activities presented by science educators for 80 teachers from 20 different countries.

The keynote lecture was given by Matt Taylor, the Rosetta Project Scientist at ESA, who told the remarkable story of Rosetta and its companion, Philae. I was lucky to catch up with Matt during the conference and we spoke about the GIFT workshop, science fiction, and life after Rosetta (with the mission end now confirmed for September 2016).

 

Matt, thank you for talking to me today. Before we get stuck into details about the Rosetta mission and your time at the conference, could you tell our readers a bit more about your role as project scientist for the mission?

I basically act as a link between the scientific community and ESA. There are many instruments on board Rosetta and Philae, with each of their operations being coordinated by a lead scientist. With such a mix of instruments, all pointing in different directions and with different goals, it’s up to me to coordinate the work of the lead scientists and ensure that we get everything we need to do, done. I try to make sure everyone is happy, or unhappy, as the case may be!

I also provide outreach support for the mission, by giving public lectures and taking part in projects such as the GIFT workshop here at EGU 2016.

The aim of the GIFT workshops is to spread first-hand scientific information to science teachers which they can then use in the classroom to inspire their students and engage them with science. Often, outreach efforts are directed towards the students themselves, so why do you think it is important to inspire teachers about science too?

Matt Taylor speaking at the 2016 General Assembly. Credit: Laura Roberts/EGU

Matt Taylor speaking at the 2016 General Assembly. Credit: Laura Roberts/EGU

It is fundamentally important. Teachers are the ones who really engage school children with a subject. But to do that, it is important to equip them with the right tools, while at the same time trying to engage and inspire them too. That way they can take those tools back to the classroom.

Truth be told, I find it inspiring talking to teachers. After the lecture today I was struck by how motivated and engaged the teachers participating in the GIFT workshop are! One of the teachers, who teaches science at a city school, told me how good it was for them to see science in action [at the conference] and be exposed to STEM subjects.

 

And what is it about space, do you think, that captures so many people’s imagination and is such a great tool to engage the masses with science?

Space has that ‘WOW’ factor. Yet it is also relatable because you can look up and perceive it through the night sky.

Then there is that adventurous aspect to it. It’s the going out there and exploring the unknown. It makes us appreciate we are so tiny and really draws on the idea of ‘where do we come from?’

It is to do with how you package it, and science fiction helps really helps with that. Take the Star Trek films.

And pictures really help. Images allow you to put science ideas across very easily and in a very engaging way – and space gives us a lot of incredible images to work with.

Comet 67P on 14 March 2015 – taken by the NavCam. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

Comet 67P on 14 March 2015 – taken by the NavCam. Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

There is no doubt that the Rosetta mission caught the attention of the media and public alike! So let’s talk about it a little bit more. What about the mission, would you say is, scientifically speaking, the most exciting?

Comets are the building blocks of life. Studying them has a real connection to the bigger picture stuff: where do we come from, how did the solar system form? For me, the findings of the mission contributing to that has to be the most exciting part.

And on a personal level, what is it like working on the mission and why is it exciting?

It’s, actually, just a normal job.

Day to day the work can be quite boring. A lot of my time is spent coordinating projects, going to meetings… same as anyone else. It’s when I give talks and take part in outreach events such as the ones here at the General Assembly that I am reminded about how cool this mission really is.

Recently, I’ve been excited to work on the final trajectory scenario and deciding how are we going to ‘end’ Rosetta.

Not so cool, are the conspiracy theories and being trolled on twitter, repeatedly, about whether Philae actually ever landed on comet 67P.

You mention the end of Rosetta, what is next for the mission?

The mission will end, operationally, in September. After that we’ll be focusing 100% on the science including ensuring all the data from the mission is in the best format for future scientists. There will be findings coming out of the mission for some time yet! In fact, school students now will be able to work on Rosetta data in graduate school! That’s how important and groundbreaking this mission is.

And once the mission is over, what is next for you?

Chances are I’ll be allocated to another mission, but that will depend on what the science community are pushing for [in terms of new missions] currently and whether my expertise are a good fit.

It’s unlikely I’ll work on something as big as Rosetta again. Funding for space missions is allocated well in advance and there is nothing in the pipe-line on the scale of Rosetta.

But I’m ok with that. I’m actually looking forward to a quieter life. Working on Rosetta has meant letting a few things go by the way side and I’ll now have time to start exercising and looking after my health a little more!

Even though there won’t be another Rosetta, which upcoming missions do you think are ones to watch?

I, personally, don’t think there is anything like Rosetta coming up soon. Rosetta has lots of elements that make it so attractive: the science is exciting, it takes us to the limits of space exploration, it was the first known comet and yet before we got there we had no idea what 67P looked like….

That said there are some exciting missions coming up: JUICE – JUpiter ICy moons Explorer – which is headed to Jupiter in 2022 and will study the gas giant and three of its icy moons. It gets there in

Matt is a self-confessed metal head. Credit: Matt Taylor

Matt is a self-confessed metal head. Credit: Matt Taylor

2030 – the year I’m due to retire!

I’ll also be keeping my eye on BepiColombo, ESA’s first mission to Mercury, and the Solar Orbiter, which will make the closest approach, ever, to the Sun and study solar wind.

I thought we could finish the interview on a light note. In the past I’ve asked scientists I’ve interviewed to come up with a brand new chemical element. If you could invent an element, what would it be and what would it do?

It would have to be Limenium – after Lemmy, frontman of the rock band Motörhead. It would allow you to exude rock & roll!

[As well as being a physicist, Matt is a self-confessed metal head, so much so he was recently awarded the Spirit of the Hammer of the Golden Gods].

 

Interview by Laura Roberts Artal, EGU Communications Officer

 

Further reading:

  • The Rosetta Blog: For all the science prior to and after the comet landing.
  • Find out more about the Rosetta mission: http://rosetta.esa.int/
  • DLR, the German space agency, played a major role in building the Philae lander and runs the lander control centre.
  • The Philae Blog: to recap exciting moments of the little lander’s mission.
  • Ambition, the film: a short science fiction film that tells the story of comet-chasing spacecraft Rosetta