Skip to main content

EUROPLANET 2020 Research Infrastructure

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - EPN2020-RI (EUROPLANET 2020 Research Infrastructure)

Reporting period: 2018-09-01 to 2019-08-31

Planetary science focuses on the study of the bodies in our Solar System and of those around other stars. It is an interdisciplinary field of research that covers astronomy and geophysics, robotic and human exploration of other planets, as well as the search for extra-terrestrial life. Europe hosts one of the largest international communities of planetary scientists, with over 800 tenured academics and around 3000-4000 young researchers in more than 200 research groups/institutions, spread across nearly all of Europe’s national states. The Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure (EPN2020-RI) has supported and enhanced world-leading planetary research to create a larger, stronger and more collaborative pan-European planetary community. The project has engaged a wide range of stakeholders (including scientists, but also policy makers, industry, amateur astronomers and the public) to inform them of the achievements, ambition and opportunities of European planetary research. EPN2020-RI was coordinated by the Open University, UK, and had 34 beneficiary institutions from 20 European countries and more than 150 participating individuals. (See end of RP3 for publishable final report)
At the end of the third reporting period (RP3), the EPN2020-RI programmes (Transnational Access (TA), a Virtual Access (VA), Joint Research Activities (JRA) and Networking Activities (NA)) all delivered services to the community as planned.
EPN2020-RI’s TA programme offered free access to laboratory facilities and field sites tailored to planetary research. Travel and local accommodation costs were supported for researchers to visit a facility for an approved time period. EPN2020-RI’s JRA programme added upgraded laboratory facilities and two new field sites (Lake Tirez, Spain, as a Martian analogue and Dallol in the Danakil Depression, Ethiopia, as an analogue of Venus and the early Earth) to the TA programme. The full suite of TA facilities offered by EPN2020-RI included:

• Planetary Field Analogues - 5 terrestrial field sites (the Danakil Depression (Ethiopia), Rio Tinto and Lake Tirez (Spain), Ibn Battuta (Morocco) and Iceland) that provide realistic analogues of planetary surfaces.
• The Distributed Planetary Simulation Facility - 7 laboratory facilities that simulate conditions found in atmospheres and on surfaces of planetary objects, and allow characterisation of mineral samples and biological samples with astrobiological relevance.
• The Distributed Sample Analysis Facility - 4 laboratories for the analysis of meteorites and sample returns.

EPN2020-RI approved 320 TA applications enabling 194 visits to take place. Research projects have included:

• A study of how dust devil activity varies through the day in the Mars-like conditions of the Moroccan desert.
• A project to isolate extremophiles in the Lake Tirez system that can survive in conditions similar to briny water on Jupiter´s Moon, Europa and chloride deposits found in the Southern highlands of Mars.
• Simulations of the formation and evolution of CO2 ice crystals in the martian polar regions.
• An investigation of the morphology and context of the earliest traces of life on Earth in early Archaean rocks from South America and Western Australia.
• A study of the fate of carbon during the formation of the Earth’s core by measuring the abundance of carbon in silicate/metallic phases of samples at extreme pressure and temperature conditions.
The Planetary Space Weather Service (PSWS) VA programme developed 12 services in 5 toolkits for tracking planetary or solar events through the Solar System to assist researchers and industry planning for space missions:
The Virtual European Solar and Planetary Access (VESPA) VA developed a Virtual Observatory for planetary science, offering diverse datasets, visualisation and analysis/modelling tools for comparing and understanding planetary environments. At the end of the project, VESPA had 52 tools available, surpassing the upper limit of 50 estimated in the project proposal. A further 12 services are currently being reviewed ( thus VESPA will continue to be added to and enhanced beyond the lifetime of EPN2020-RI.

EPN2020-RI’s NAs have hosted or co-hosted 84 scientific and industrial foresight workshops, attended by 3462 participants, and have supported 8 summer schools. Special efforts have been made to build capacity in the European planetary science community, with targeted engagement programmes aimed at under-represented member states, early career researchers, amateur astronomers, and industry.

EPN2020-RI NAs have provided a forum for coordinated feedback into consultation processes by policy makers, e.g. for discussions on Horizon Europe, and have held an exhibition, two dinner debates and multiple one-to-one briefings with Members of the European Parliament.

Results from EPN2020-RI have been successfully disseminated through the Europlanet Media Centre and social media channels. The Europlanet Media Centre has issued 81 press releases on outputs of the project and
New facilities developed through EPN2020-RI have supported Europe in taking a leading role in the analysis of extraterrestrial material from future major international sample return missions. The new analogue field sites at Lake Tirez and the Danakil Depression have expanded the range of realistic planetary environments available for research and in-situ tests of instrumentation for the next generation of space exploration missions.

PSWS has broken new ground in understanding how space weather affects several regions in the Solar System and VESPA has established itself as the leading Virtual Observatory for planetary science. ESA has implemented a test of VESPA’s “EPN-TAP” access protocols on the Planetary Science Archive (PSA). The PSA includes 6 million files from 30 years of planetary science missions in Europe, and VESPA now provides access to around 18.3 million files, including historical collections starting in 1890.

EPN2020-RI has built a more politically aware community of researchers and effective dissemination channels to highlight results of European researchers. It has supported expansion and capacity-building in the planetary science community and has created a sustainable legacy through the launch of the Europlanet Society in 2018.

Overall, EPN2020-RI has directly supported the research of hundreds of scientists through TAs and attracted several thousand online users through its VA programmes. Workshops, meetings and conferences organised through EPN2020-RI have been attended by over 8000 researchers, while many thousands more members of the public have been engaged through EPN2020-RI outreach programmes, and millions worldwide through media coverage of planetary activities related to Europlanet. EPN2020-RI has thus delivered the advanced infrastructure that the European planetary sciences community needs to retain its position as a global leader in space exploration.
Clare Moody MEP opening the 8th EIS Exhibition, with exhibits provided by EPN2020-RI. Credit:EPN2020
Europlanet RPIF Training Workshop. (C) UCL 2016
Collecting samples from copper-rich pools of water between sulphate deposits.Credit: EPN2020/F.Gomez
Europlanet TA3 Facility:Radiogenic and non-traditional stable isotope facility.Credit:VU Univ. (AMS)