Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Saving Cassini - ESA and NASA in 1994

In June 1994, as a result of threatened cuts during Dan Goldin's tenure as NASA administrator, our epic mission to the Saturn system was under extreme threat of cancellation.  The background to these decisions is covered in Michael Meltzer's excellent book, but I'd always heard of the striking letter sent directly to Vice President Al Gore (i.e., bypassing Goldin) from ESA's Director General, Jean-Marie Luton.  I managed to track this letter down in an appendix to a 1998 book from the National Academic Press on U.S.-European Collaboration In Space Science, and it's reproduced here.  Further background can be found in the NASA in the World book.

Letter from the European Space Agency to the Vice President of the United States, June 13, 1994

european space agency

agence spatiale européenne

D.SCI/RMB/db/3948

Paris, 13 JUNE 1994

Jean-Marie Luton
Director General

The Honorable Albert Gore, Jr.
Vice President of the United States
Old Executive Office Building
Washington, DC 20501
USA

Dear Mr. Vice President,

I have recently received a number of disturbing reports that suggest that the continuation of the joint U.S./European CASSINI mission could be threatened by ongoing Congressional deliberations on NASA's FY95 Appropriations Bill.

I am aware that the House version of the Bill, as marked up by the House VA-HUD and Independent Agencies Subcommittee on June 9, retains the necessary funding for NASA's portion of the mission. However, I am also aware that the House Subcommittee's Senate counterpart is faced with a more stringent budget allocation. I am told that the Subcommittee Chair, Senator Mikuiski, has indicated that without an increase in said allocation, termination of a major NASA programme would have to be contemplated, with specific reference being made to the CASSINI mission.

In the field of space science, CASSINI is the most significant planetary mission presently being undertaken by either the European Space Agency (ESA) or NASA, involving the exploration of Saturn, the most complex planet in the solar system and of its Moon, Titan. It is expected to provide at least a ten-fold increase in our knowledge of both bodies as compared to NASA's highly successful Voyager mission.

In making the commitment to participate with the U.S. in 1989, ESA oriented its overall space science programme in order to select this cooperative project, rather than opt for one of a number of purely European alternatives that were proposed at the same time. This decision was taken on the basis of scientific merit and in the belief that the cooperation would be of major benefit to both the U.S. and European scientific communities as well as the international science community in general. Over the past five years, while ESA's Long-Term Space Plan has been forced to undergo a series of significant revisions, driven primarily by our own budget limitations, the Member States have maintained a full commitment to the space science portion of the plan, of which CASSINI is an essential component.

To date, the Member State governments of ESA have committed around $300 Million to our portion of the mission (the Huygens Probe that will descend into the atmosphere of Saturn's Moon Titan, and several elements of the Saturn Orbiter Payload), of which two-thirds have already been spent, and have committed to a further expenditure of around $100 Million to see the mission through to completion. These figures do not include the approximately $100 Million contribution of Italy via a NASA/Italian Space Agency bilateral agreement.

The HUYGENS programme has been in the hardware phase for the past four years, with probe delivery to NASA due to take place in two years time. The hardware integration and testing phase started in early May this year.

The CASSINI mission has generated intense interest in Europe, both within the scientific and engineering community and from the public at large. Approximately 900 European scientists and engineers are working on the programme with more than 30 European institutes and universities involved in the preparation of CASSINI/HUYGENS science.

Europe therefore views any prospect of a unilateral withdrawal from the cooperation on the part of the United States as totally unacceptable. Such an action would call into question the reliability of the U.S. as a partner in any future major scientific and technological cooperation.

I urge the Administration to take all necessary steps to ensure that the U.S. commitment to this important cooperative programme is maintained so that we shall be able to look forward to many more years of fruitful cooperation in the field of space science.

Respectfully,

J.M. Luton

Monday, 26 June 2017

Wilton Exoplanet Fellowships at Leicester

A recent advertisement to come and join our team in exoplanet science at Leicester!  In particular, if you're interested in the characterisation of exoplanetary atmospheres via spectral inversion techniques, please do get in touch.

Exoplanetary research is one of the most rapidly developing fields in modern science, with the discovery of thousands of worlds beyond the confines of our own Solar System.  Drawing upon the breadth of expertise in the Physics and Astronomy Department of the University of Leicester, the Exoplanet Research Team is involved in a wide-ranging scientific programme at the forefront of this field.

Winton Philanthropies (www.winton.com/philanthropies/the-winton-exoplanet-fellowship) have recently announced a number of new exoplanet fellowships to be held at a university within the UK.

We therefore invite applications from young scientists with PhDs (obtained by September 30th, 2017) and no more than 5 years’ postdoctoral experience (exceptions will be made for periods of extended leave), to apply to join the exoplanetary research team at the University of Leicester.

The University of Leicester has 7 academic members of staff (2 of whom hold ERC consolidator grants), 4 postdoctoral researchers and 10 PhD students working in fields related to exoplanetary science. We are one of the founding members of  the Next Generation Transit Survey (NGTS), and are part of the JWST MIRI instrument team. Our expertise includes planet formation and migration, protoplanetary discs and dynamics of planetary systems, the detection and characterisation of exoplanets using photometry, characterisation of exoplanet atmospheres via spectral inversion; and aurora and magnetic fields.

To apply, please send Sarah Casewell (slc25@le.ac.uk) a pdf by Friday 21 July, containing:


  1. Curriculum Vitae 
  2. 1 page concise research proposal indicating how your research aims complement and extend the existing exoplanetary research at Leicester and identifies one or more suitable academic hosts.
  3. Publication list


Each institution may only submit 2 candidates, and we will invite our selected applicants to make a full proposal at the start of August, with the final submission date of September 1st, 2017. Candidates will not be permitted to participate in multiple applications with different institutions and must be in a position to hold the Fellowship at a UK university.  In October 2017 Winton Philanthropies will announce awardees and the fellowships must commence within six months of the award.

Research topics include:


  • Formation and evolution of exoplanets looking in particular at how protoplanetary discs shape young planetary systems. (contact: Dr Richard Alexander PI of the ERC Consolidator Grant project "Building planetary systems: linking architectures with formation (BuildingPlanS)”).
  • Brown Dwarf observations and theory, in particular irradiated brown dwarfs (contact: Dr. Sarah Casewell)
  • Numerical simulations exploring the dynamics of protoplanetary discs, and how planets form and evolve within them (contact: Dr. Chris Nixon)
  • Planets around white dwarfs (contact: Dr Matt Burleigh)
  • Detection and Characterisation of exoplanets using photometry, particularly using NGTS. (contact: Dr Mike Goad, Dr Matt Burleigh).
  • Exoplanet atmospheres characterisation:  Inversion of spectroscopy from exoplanet transits and directly-imaged worlds to characterise their thermal structure, global composition and aerosol properties (contact:  Dr Leigh Fletcher)
  • Exoplanetary Magnetospheres and Aurorae (contact: Dr Jonathan Nichols)
  • Gravitational Instability theory of planet formation and super-migration of planets from ~ 100 au down to 0.1 au, including population synthesis models for the upcoming PLATO mission (contact: Prof. Sergei Nayakshin).



Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Advanced Study Projects at Leicester

In their fourth year of undergraduate studies, Leicester's Physics and Astronomy students undertake a supervised reading project with an academic supervisor, helping them to develop critical evaluation skills for assessing scientific literature.  As planetary atmospheres is a relatively new discipline for Leicester, I've been offering a range of topics that take the students from Earth-based phenomena to my own work in solar system science.  Some of the projects on offer are listed below.

Climate Oscillations in Earth’s Atmosphere
Our planet’s atmosphere exhibits cycles of activity that operate over annual and multi-year timescales.  Prominent examples include the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), the Madden-Julian Oscillation (MJO), the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO, which helps to modulate the weather patterns over the British Isles), and the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation (QBO) in the equatorial stratosphere.  These atmospheric cycles have only been identified by long-term tracking of meteorological phenomena, such as patterns or rainfall or sea-surface temperatures.  The underlying causes of some of these oscillations remain poorly understood, but there is evidence of connectivity, via teleconnections, between the different cycles.  This project will review the variety of long-term climate cycles, connections to anthropogenic climate change, and implications for cyclic activity on other worlds in our solar system.  You will gain an understanding of the forces influencing UK weather patterns, and the implications for global climate of disruptions to these delicate atmospheric balances.

Suggested Reading:
El Nino’s Extended Family:  From NASA’s Earth Observatory: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/Features/Oscillations/
NOAA Website on El Nino and El Nina https://www.climate.gov/enso
North Atlantic Oscillation from UK Met Office: http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/learning/learn-about-the-weather/north-atlantic-oscillation


Alien Skies:  Clouds from Ice Giants to Hot Jupiters
The bewildering variety of planetary environments discovered in the past two decades have provided an extreme test of our understanding of planetary atmospheric chemistry and cloud formation.  Models of planetary clouds are required to explain what the skies might look like on a hot roasting Jupiter, orbiting so close to its star that the temperatures soar to 3000K, and what they might be like on the coldest ice giant like Uranus or Neptune, at a frigid 50K.  This project will introduce you to the physics and chemistry of cloud formation, showing how condensation is influenced by the availability of volatile species and the temperature structure of an atmosphere.  It will take you from familiar clouds of water, to methane raindrops and hazes of iron and titanium.  We’ll conduct a thought experiment for how Jupiter’s cloud structure would change if it migrated inwards, closer and closer to the Sun, and use this to predict what the spectra of exoplanets might look like.

Suggested Reading:
Fletcher et al., 2014, Exploring the Diversity of Jupiter-Class Planets, https://arxiv.org/abs/1403.4436
Sanchez-Lavega et al., 2004, Clouds in planetary atmospheres: A useful application of the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/243492714
Marley et al., 2013, Clouds and Hazes in Exoplanet Atmospheres, https://arxiv.org/abs/1301.5627

To the Surface of Europa
The next decade will see two ambitious missions providing new, close-in reconnaissance of Jupiter’s most enigmatic moon, Europa.  Europe’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) will conduct two close flybys of Europa, whereas NASA’s Europa Clipper will swing by more than 45 times.  These missions will pave the way for future landings on the surface, and will assess the capability of the Europan surface to host life.  This project will review our current understanding of the surface composition of Europa, its relation to the deep water-ice interior and the action of irradiation of surface materials.  You will look at the evidence for and against different surface acids, sulphates and salts, and their implications for the habitability of the surface.  You will develop an understanding of planetary ice spectroscopy, and the difficulties associated with distinguishing a unique composition from remote planetary measurements.  You will also assess the technological challenges associated with a mission to Jupiter’s moons, both in terms of available power, the harsh radiation environment, and the descent and landing concepts.

Suggested reading:
JUICE Red Book study report: http://sci.esa.int/juice/54994-juice-definition-study-report/
Greeley et al., 2004, The Geology of Europa (Chapter 15 of Jupiter. The planet, satellites and magnetosphere), http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2004jpsm.book..329G
Phillips and Pappalardo, 2014, Europa Clipper Mission Concept, EOS 95, p165-167, http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2014EOSTr..95..165P

Anatomy of a Storm: From Earth to the Giant Planets
Planetary atmospheres serve as global-scale conveyor belts for heat, redistributing energy around the globe and influencing the pattern of weather and seasons.  On the giant planets, thundercloud systems produce lighting 10000x more intense than on Earth, and yet the same physics governs the formation of storm systems on all of the planets in our solar system, albeit under very different environmental conditions.  On Earth and on the giant planets, moist convection driven by the condensation of water (and the release of latent heat) controls this atmospheric heat engine, and shapes the appearance of a planet's atmosphere.  This project will compare and contrast evolving storm systems on terrestrial worlds and giant planets, identifying common processes and key differences between each world.  In particular, you will explore recent planetary-scale events (such as the disappearance and reappearance of Jupiter’s broad dark belts and the eruption of seasonal, globe-encircling storms on Saturn) and the importance of continuous versus triggered convective activity in planetary atmospheres.  You will develop an understanding of how satellite imaging and spectroscopy, either from Earth-orbiting satellites or planetary spaceprobes, contribute to our understanding of storm anatomy, and consider future measurement techniques to explore planetary atmospheric processes.

Suggested reading:
Introduction to Planetary Atmospheres, Agustin Sanchez-Lavega, CRC Press, 2011.
Dynamics of Jupiter’s Atmosphere, http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2004jpsm.book..105I
Cloud Dynamics, Robert Houze, Academic Press, 1993.

Realm of the Giants: Influence of Migration
The formation of the four giant planets shaped the architecture of our entire planetary system, both by providing the bombardment that delivered water and organic materials to our forming planet, and by shielding us from further cataclysmic impacts.  Recent simulations of planetary dynamics suggest that giant planets, once formed in the cold outer solar system beyond the snow line, migrate inwards towards the host star.  You will explore the consequences for such an inward motion, both in terms of the chemical and climatic conditions on the giant planets themselves (e.g., the evaporation of cloud decks) as they evolve the ‘hot Jupiters’, and on the evolution of forming terrestrial worlds.  This will help you to understand the key differences in the atmospheric structure of the four giant planets and, potentially, the hypothesised Planet Nine.  You will also investigate why the inward migration of Jupiter was halted, and outward migration began (the Grand Tack hypothesis), and the implications of this for the evolution of our planetary system.

Suggested reading:
The Grand Tack Hypothesis, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grand_tack_hypothesis
Diversity of Jupiter-Class planets, http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2014arXiv1403.4436F
Planetary Sciences, de Pater and Lissauer, http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2015plsc.book.....D


Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Uranus from Hubble

Whoever said that Uranus was the boring planet?  Here is Erich Karkoschka's time-lapse movie of Uranus over four years between 1994 and 1998 from the Hubble Space Telescope, as the south pole swings out of view and we head towards the 2007 equinox.  You can see considerable activity in the northern hemisphere as it becomes visible later in the sequence, and the dance of the satellites in the plane of the sky due to Uranus' weird axial tilt.  This movie was first published back in 1999
(http://hubblesite.org/video/175/news_release/1999-11).




Friday, 7 April 2017

Scientific Engagement in the Age of Social Media

The Royal Society asked me to contribute a blog post to their Inside Science blog, covering my use of social media to engage with the public.  You can find the Royal Society version here:

https://blogs.royalsociety.org/inside-science/2017/04/06/scientific-engagement-in-the-age-of-social-media/

Dr. Leigh Fletcher is a University Research Fellow at the University of Leicester specialising in the exploration of the extreme weather and climate on planets throughout our Solar System.  In this blog post, he reflects on the use of social media and blogging to rapidly engage with a wide, international audience in his research.

Like it or loath it, social media has radically altered the ways in which we communicate with others, receive and interact with news stories, and form opinions about the world around us.  Today, eleven years after Twitter first exploded onto the scene, introducing tweets, hashtags and RTs into our vocabulary, we cannot even conceive of a news story not being disseminated instantaneously around our ever-shrinking planet.  Like many young scientists, I had always used traditional methods of engaging with the public – visiting schools to run demos; giving lectures to public societies; writing articles for newspapers and websites, and so on.  But suddenly blogging (and Twitter’s own micro-blogging in 140 characters) gave me a voice to immediately connect with that audience.  Let’s be clear – there’s no substitute to face-to-face engagement, but these digital communications allow me to reach a far wider and more diverse audience than I could otherwise.  And it has had other scientific benefits, as you’ll see below.

Engagement with “Impact”



I was given somewhat of an unfair head start with Twitter.  I’d signed up out of curiosity in May 2009, while I was a postdoc working at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and I was travelling out to a conference in Kyoto.  Part of my job was to run regular observing programmes of Jupiter and Saturn from the telescopes in Hawaii.  Sounds wonderful, until you realise that I was doing most of this remotely from a darkened office in the middle of the night, with lots of coffee and the odd chocolate hobnob for company.  Then, in July 2009, we started to hear whispers that Jupiter had been dealt a bruising blow by a passing comet or asteroid.  I was on the observatory that night, and started to ‘live tweet’ what we were seeing, in a chain of 140-character tweets.  Faster than any news service, people were learning about this huge impact (which left a scar on Jupiter that was the size of the Pacific ocean) in real time – and the more retweets I got, the more exciting I found it.  It brought me to the attention of regular news services, who would then contact me for comments.  Where there were misunderstandings, I could correct them immediately.  Where there were questions, I could try to answer directly.  And when I didn’t know the answer, it was fine to be honest and admit it – it was all part of the fun!

That was eight years ago, and it’s true to say that not everyone is able to have the same ‘right place, right time’ experience with social media.  But I continued to tweet.  I’d share links to news stories related to my field (giant planet atmospheres), providing brief commentaries on what I thought about the work.  I’d share pictures and photographs of the planets, sometimes including raw data to show the process of acquiring, reducing and analysing astronomical data.  I’d describe what I was working on, to show the daily life of a research scientist.  I’d use Twitter to advertise public appearances, to engage with reporters, to update people on the missions and telescope observations that I was involved in.  I’d write lay summaries of my scientific articles for my blog, and post links to them on Twitter.  And whenever I had an important appearance coming up (like TV or radio), I’d write a blogpost to get all my ideas in order to anticipate the questions.  I’d never ever ever share what I’d had for breakfast.   And that meant that people ‘following’ my tweets would know what they were getting – a microchannel for news and insights about the exploration of the giant planets.  And a direct line to me, as a scientist.

Networking in the Twittersphere

But one of the most unexpected benefits of Twitter (at least back in 2009), was the world of communication it opened up with my fellow researchers.  Today, there’s a huge active community of planetary science tweeps (i.e., people who tweet).  This online community has been wonderful – sharing ideas, helping each other out, providing advice, and just providing an avenue to vent about things that aren’t going right.  This is real-life academia, and a much truer reflection of a life in research than anything I’ve seen elsewhere.  It’s opened my eyes to the struggles and challenges faced by minorities, and to my own biases in thinking.  As much as any academic conference that I’ve been able to attend, it’s shown me what others in my field are working on, what they’re struggling with, and how they’re approaching new problems.  And when these tweeps do find themselves on the same continent and timezone, there’ll almost certainly be a tweetup (i.e., social meeting) of like-minded people.  We’ve even started putting our twitter handles (i.e., @LeighFletcher) on our conference name badges, and in our conference slides, so that the conversation can continue long after the face-to-face meeting is over.

So, as a scientist, I have certainly benefitted enormously from this instantaneous communication – a connection with my peers that I wouldn’t have otherwise, and something that wasn’t happening only a decade ago.  When I can’t go to a conference, I’ll follow the twitter feed from my network.  When I’m waiting with baited breath for news to break, I’ll follow the twitter hashtag.  When I want to share something exciting I’m working on, I’ll craft it into 140 characters.

But what about the public?  What do they get from following scientists on twitter?  Well, just think back to whenever you’ve been ‘lucky’ enough to have your work featured in the news – were you frustrated that your words were simplified?  Shortened?  The emphasis was in exactly the wrong place, twisting your words?  Well, if you were frustrated, imagine how it feels to be a layperson trying to make sense of what you’ve done and why.  They’re having to see it through the filter of the media which, as we all know, are biased to whatever sells papers and prone to alternative facts.  Twitter gives scientists a genuine voice - an opportunity to engage, share and explain – and in my experience, the public enjoys having this direct, virtual access to experts.  It shows us to be human and fallible, but passionate and excited to have the opportunity to do this work.  I can think of no better way to be an ambassador for science and technology.








Thursday, 30 March 2017

ERC-Funded Postdoc in our Team

Advertising the first ERC-funded postdoctoral position in Leicester's Planetary Atmospheres team - please do get in touch with any queries!


Postdoctoral Research Associate in Giant Planet Atmospheres
Physics and Astronomy Department, University of Leicester
Salary Grade 7 - £32,958 to £38,183 per annum
Full-time open-ended contract subject to external fixed-term funding.
Full Details: goo.gl/DVpnWe

Ref: SEN00830

The Physics and Astronomy Department at the University of Leicester wishes to appoint a postdoctoral researcher to undertake a programme of original research in the field of giant planet atmospheric science, utilising remote sensing data from a range of space- and ground-based observatories.  You will join a planetary science team addressing the aims of a grant awarded by the European Research Council (ERC) to Dr. Leigh Fletcher.  The appointment will initially be for a period of up to four years.

The “GIANTCLIMES” programme seeks to study the climates of the four giant planets over large spans of time, allowing us to investigate cycles of meteorology, circulation, and chemical processes shaping the environments on these worlds.  Inversions of planetary spectra, from the ultraviolet to the microwave, will be used to reconstruct these atmospheres in three dimensions to explore their temporal variability and the processes coupling different atmospheric regimes. You will analyse subsets of data from Juno, Cassini, Spitzer and the James Webb Space Telescope (among others), complemented by observations from Earth-based facilities.  We are therefore particularly interested in candidates with a background in planetary atmospheres and spectroscopic modelling techniques, but all applicants with a strong background in planetary science are encouraged to apply.

You will be expected to carry out independent and collaborative research for this project and to disseminate the results to the international scientific community.  There will be significant opportunities to collaborate within Leicester’s Planetary Science team (whose existing research includes planetary magnetospheres, ionospheres, atmospheres and surface science), Earth Observation group, and with an international team specialising in radiative transfer and spectral inversion for planetary atmospheres.

Applications:
In addition to the online application form, applicants are requested to provide:  [1] a CV and publication list; [2] academic references covering your research career to date; [3] a cover letter detailing how your prior experience and future research aims are commensurate with the broad aims of the programme outlined above.  Full details on how to apply can be found here: goo.gl/DVpnWe

Informal enquiries are welcome and should be made to Dr. Leigh Fletcher on leigh.fletcher@le.ac.uk

The closing date for this post is midnight on 5 April 2017.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Vice Chair of COSPAR Sub-Commission B5

I received an email this morning from Aaron Janofsky, Associate Director of the COSPAR Secretariat, confirming that I have been elected as the Vice Chair of COSPAR Sub-Commission B5 (Outer Planets and their Satellites).  Linda Spilker, Cassini's Project Scientist and Chair of this Sub-Commission, had first asked me about this at the Division of Planetary Sciences meeting last October, but I'm delighted to be helping out with COSPAR for the next three years (2016-2020).


The International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), now the International Council for Science, established its Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) during an international meeting in London in 1958. COSPAR's first Space Science Symposium was organised in Nice in January 1960.  From the COSPAR website:

"COSPAR's objectives are to promote on an international level scientific research in space, with emphasis on the exchange of results, information and opinions, and to provide a forum, open to all scientists, for the discussion of problems that may affect scientific space research. These objectives are achieved through the organisation of Scientific Assemblies, publications and other means."

There are eight scientific commissions.  I am now a member of Scientific Commission B: Space Studies of the Earth-Moon System, Planets, and Small Bodies of the Solar System.  This covers "the planetary bodies of the solar system (including the Earth), especially evolutionary, dynamic and structural aspects; planetary atmospheres are included insofar as these are essential attributes of their main body; smaller bodies, including satellites, planetary rings, asteroids, comets, meteorites, and cosmic dust."  It consists of five sub-commissions:

  • B1: Small Bodies
  • B2:  International Coordination of Space Techniques for Geodesy
  • B3: The Moon
  • B4: Terrestrial Planets
  • B5:  Outer Planets and Satellites

COSPAR Scientific Assemblies are held every two years (even numbered years). These events attract currently between 2000 and 3000 participants.  The 42nd Assembly will be held 14 - 22 July 2018 in Pasadena, California, and I've been helping to organise the giant planet sessions.  Previous assemblies during my academic career have included:

2016 - Istanbul, Turkey - sadly cancelled at short notice, so I didn't get to visit Istanbul.
2014 - Moscow, Russia
2012 - Mysore, India
2010 - Bremen, Germany - my second COSPAR meeting.
2008 - Montréal, Canada
2006 - Beijing, China - my first experience of COSPAR as an ESA-sponsored student.

Exciting times ahead!

Friday, 17 March 2017

JUICE Moves into Phase C

Some excellent news to round the week off - the JUICE mission has passed its PDR (Preliminary Design Review), which means that the mission can officially move from Phase B2 (the preliminary definition phase, where we've been ever since mission adoption in November 2014) into Phase C (the detailed definition phase).  This is a pretty important milestone in the life cycle of a mission, which proceeds throughout this whole implementation phase (B2/C/D/E1).  Phase D is the qualification and production phase, and Phase E1 is the start of the utilisation phase.  The most exciting thing is that the main contractor, Airbus DS, can begin building the prototypes.


From the ESA website:

JUICE will be equipped with 10 state-of-the-art instruments, including cameras, an ice-penetrating radar, an altimeter, radio-science experiments, and sensors to monitor the magnetic fields and charged particles in the Jovian system.

In order to ensure it can address these goals in the challenging Jovian environment, the spacecraft's design has to meet stringent requirements.

An important milestone was reached earlier this month, when the preliminary design of JUICE and its interfaces with the scientific instruments and the ground stations were fixed, which will now allow a prototype spacecraft to be built for rigorous testing.

The review also confirmed that the 5.3 tonne spacecraft will be compatible with its Ariane 5 launcher. Operating in the outer Solar System, far from the Sun, means that JUICE needs a large solar array: two wings of five panels each are foreseen, which will cover a total surface area of nearly 100 m², capable of providing 820 W at Jupiter by the end of the mission.

After launch, JUICE will make five gravity-assist flybys in total: one each at Mars and Venus, and three at Earth, to set it on course for Jupiter. Its solar panels will have to cope with a range of temperatures such that when it is flying closer to the Sun during the Venus flyby, the solar wings will be tilted to avoid excessive temperatures damaging the solar cells.

The spacecraft's main engine will be used to enter orbit around the giant planet, and later around Jupiter's largest moon, Ganymede. As such, the engine design has also been critically reviewed at this stage.

Special measures will allow JUICE to cope with the extremely harsh radiation that it must endure for several years around Jupiter. This means careful selection of components and materials, as well as radiation shielding.

One particularly important topic is JUICE's electromagnetic 'cleanliness'. Because a key goal is to monitor the magnetic fields and charged particles at Jupiter, it is imperative that any electromagnetic fields generated by the spacecraft itself do not interfere with the sensitive scientific measurements. This will be achieved by the careful design of the solar array electrical architecture, the power distribution unit, and the reaction wheels – a type of flywheel that stabilises the attitude.

The review also ensured that JUICE will meet strict planetary protection guidelines, because it is imperative to minimise the risk that the potentially habitable ocean moons, particularly Europa, might be contaminated by viruses, bacteria or spores carried by the spacecraft from Earth. Therefore, mission plans ensure that JUICE will not crash into Europa, on a timescale of hundreds of years.

"The spacecraft design has been extensively and positively reviewed, and confirmed to address the many critical mission requirements," says Giuseppe Sarri, JUICE Project Manager. "So far we are on schedule, and are delighted to begin the development stage of this ambitious large-class mission."
ESA's industrial partners, led by Airbus, now have the go-ahead to start building the prototype spacecraft units that will subjected to tough tests to simulate the conditions expected during launch, as well as the extreme range of environmental conditions.

Once the design is proved beyond doubt, the flight model – the one that will actually go into space – will be built.

TEXES on Gemini North: Blazing Jupiter!

All of this week the TEXES team has been out on Mauna Kea running a programme of observations that included ten hours of time scanning Jupiter's tropics.  I proposed this to solve a key issue that we have - TEXES has provided fantastic spectral maps from the IRTF but with a limited spatial resolution from the 3-m primary mirror, whereas VISIR on the VLT (among others) provides superb imaging at high spatial resolution, but without decent spectroscopy.  By moving TEXES to Gemini-North for this special run, we were able to get the best of both worlds.

Sadly neither I nor the Leicester team could join them this time, but Tommy Greathouse, Glenn Orton, James Sinclair and Rohini Giles were sending me nearly continuous updates, and provided the data in a raw form on Tuesday morning.  I processed the spectral data into a map at just one wavelength (1165 cm-1, which senses deep temperatures and jovian aerosols, and always contains a lot of structure) to share in the Gemini e-cast.  There's also a nifty 3-colour image, generated from three wavelengths in the same spectral setting, which we'll be using in a future GeminiFocus magazine.  Needless to say, we're all pretty delighted with these data - the highest spatial-resolution spectral map of Jupiter ever acquired, period.  This is going to keep us going for years.

TEXES Gemini and Jupiter:

To truly understand the atmospheric phenomena at work in Jupiter, we must investigate three different domains - spatial, temporal, and spectral.  Past investigations have allowed us to target one of these domains, but today we are able to explore all three by combining the Gemini observatory, the TEXES spectrograph and the worldwide campaign of Earth-based support for NASA’s Juno mission.  This three-colour map reveals Jupiter’s weather layer near 8.6 microns, where Jupiter’s spectrum is governed by temperatures, cloud opacity, and gaseous species like deuterated methane and phosphine. The map was constructed from spectral scans over two nights (March 12th-13th 2017), and represents the highest spatial resolution ever achieved by the TEXES instrument.  Every pixel in this map represents a spectrum of Jupiter.  Red colours use a wavelength that senses deep, warm temperatures at the cloud tops; blue colours sense cooler temperatures at higher altitudes near the tropopause, and green colours sense an intermediate altitude.  The equatorial zone and the Great Red Spot in the bottom right are cold and dark at all three wavelengths.  The turbulent wake to the west of the Great Red Spot is darker (cooler) and distinct from the rest of Jupiter’s South Equatorial Belt.  An outbreak of dark, cold and cloudy plumes can be seen in the southern belt near 270W.  Finally, the pattern of cold, cloudy plumes (dark) and warm, bright hotspots (white) can be seen encircling the planet near latitude 7N, on the edge of Jupiter’s Northern Equatorial Belt.


Credit:  TEXES team & L.N. Fletcher/University of Leicester, UK.


From the Gemini e-cast #93 (March 16th 2017)

TEXES, the visiting high-resolution mid-IR spectrograph, is back for another visit on Gemini North. This time the instrument is supporting a wide-ranging set of science programs, including summer-solstice observations of Saturn’s polar vortex, three programs studying Jupiter’s atmosphere, stratosphere and aurora, and (beyond the solar system) studies of the chemistry of the gaps in protoplanetary disks, organics in hot star-forming cores and the motions of gas in embedded super star clusters. At mid-IR wavelengths most of the seeing is due to image motion, which is removed by the rapid tip-tilt secondary mirror on Gemini, producing diffraction-limited images as small as 0.3 arcseconds without the use of adaptive optics.

The TEXES team has been sharing part of each night with GMOS CCD commissioning activities, reported in the previous story in this newscast, and the team is grateful for their flexibility in accommodating this TEXES visitor instrument run.

The TEXES team and Gemini staff preparing the instrument to mount on the up-looking port of Gemini North in March 2017. The beachballs are part of the instrument’s helium overflow system.






Jupiter in the 8-micron region, in a spectral scan taken by TEXES on Gemini North, March 2017. Note the cool wake of the Great Red Spot (lower right). For more details and a full color mid-IR image of the Jupiter weather layer, see the upcoming April issue of GeminiFocus. Image credit: TEXES team & L.N. Fletcher/University of Leicester, UK.


Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Ten Years of the European Research Council

I was honoured to be listed among Leicester's ERC grant holders in a recent press release coinciding with the tenth anniversary of the European Research Council.  A copy of the text can be found below, or via Leicester's website:
https://www2.le.ac.uk/staff/announcements/uk-continues-to-dominate-erc-innovation-funding

More details of this anniversary can be found here:
https://erc.europa.eu/ERC10yrs/home


Researchers based at UK institutions won the largest share of mid-career and proof-of-concept grants handed out by the European Research Council in the latest awards rounds.

The news comes in the week that the European Research Council – a success story of the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme – marks its tenth anniversary with ‘ERC week’ (13-17 March) and celebrates its impact on strengthening Europe as a global centre of excellence in research.

The University of Leicester is a part of that success story having secured almost €10 million of ERC funding since 2011 – highly prestigious awards given only to ‘frontier’ research projects. ERC grant holders are in good company with some previous grant holders going on to win a Nobel Prize or to be awarded the Fields Medal.

UK-based researchers received a total of 58 grants in the latest Consolidator Grant round, equivalent to 18% of the awards handed out. This was followed by 48 for researchers located in Germany, 43 in France and 29 in the Netherlands.

Ten of the 44 Proof-of-Concept grants awarded by the ERC on 31 January went to researchers who will work at UK universities. Germany and Spain will host the second and third most grantees with six and five recipients respectively. This is the third time that the UK has topped the Proof-of-Concept awards recipient list since it voted to leave the EU in June 2016.

Leicester’s ERC grant holders include: Leigh Fletcher- Physics Consolidator Grant (2016) c. E €2 million.; Richard Alexander - Physics Consolidator Grant (2015) c. €2 million; Clare Anderson - History Starting Grant  (2013) – c. €1.5 million; Laura Morales - Politics Starting Grant  (2011) – c. €1.5 million; and David Mattingly - Archaeology Advanced Grant (2011) – c. €2.5 million. You can find out a bit more about their groundbreaking research on the Research and Enterprise funding pages.

Professor Iain Gillespie, Pro Vice Chancellor for Research and Enterprise commented: “We are very pleased to celebrate the achievements of our European Research Council (ERC) grant holders on the ten-year anniversary of the European Research Council scheme.

“These researchers epitomise leadership in world-class research, and we are proud that they also represent Leicester’s continuing, strong engagement with the European research community.”

Academic and research staff are reminded that the Treasury is continuing to financially underwrite UK participation in EU projects submitted before any official Brexit takes place. Funding will be guaranteed for UK organisations submitting projects before an official exit, even if the project will continue beyond the UK's membership of the European Union.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Twenty Years of the Sutton Trust


Twenty years ago, Sir Peter Lampl founded the Sutton Trust, an organisation dedicated to improving social mobility through education, firstly in the UK and more recently in the USA.  As an 17-year old in Leicestershire, I benefited from winning a place on one of their summer schools in 1999, only the third year that the programme had been running.  My Nan had spotted a story about the new summer school in the Daily Mirror and encouraged me to have a go.  Now, 18 years later, I’ve been extremely fortunate to  work in some of the world’s top universities, and I look back extremely fondly on my experiences with the Sutton Trust.

What did your parents do when you were growing up, and what sort of school did you attend?

I was a student at the John Cleveland College in Hinckley, a state school catering for 14-18 year olds in Leicestershire’s peculiar system of primary, middle and secondary schools.  It was a big place, with more than 1500 students - easy to fall through the cracks if you didn’t want to succeed.  I was one of the hard-working ones though - I enjoyed being at the school, and knew I wanted to continue my education post-18.  I’d be the first person in my immediate family to do so - my parents left school at 16, my Dad was owner and director of a successful timber merchant in Market Harborough, my Mum did secretarial work and accounts.  My family were enormously supportive of my ambitions to go to university, and had been saving for many years to help me to afford the tuition fees and living costs.

Did you have any preconceptions about going to a top university?

Certainly - my entire knowledge of top UK universities came from the media and television:  elite institutions, home to those with extreme talents and sufficient funds to see them comfortably through life without struggles, and destined to go into high-paid and high-power jobs.  Naturally, I was worried about fitting in, about what sort of people I’d be living and studying with, and whether I’d be able to compete with those that might have been given a leg-up in their education.  For me, the most important result of the summer school was the deconstruction of those preconceptions, showing me that many students at Oxford and Cambridge were just like me - with a little talent but insecure, willing to take on a challenge, and wondering about fitting in so far from home.

What was your experience like on the summer school? What sort of things did you do?

I got a place on the Physics summer school at Cambridge in the summer of 1999, while I was between Year 12 and Year 13 and heading for my 18th birthday.  We stayed in Newnham College (I later discovered that it was still a single-sex college), engaging in lectures, tutorials, team exercises and social activities.  Our two incredible lecturers, Julia Riley and Dave Green, took us through a range of university-level lectures, followed by mathematical and physical problems that we’d solve together, then discuss in small groups.  This, I came to realise, was about giving us a taste of Oxbridge education:  the bombardment of information in lectures, followed by careful thought, practise and questions during smaller tutorial groups.  It was really eye-opening, showing me how different the learning experience would be at a university compared to school.  We also had group discussions about interview techniques, providing me with suggestions for what interviewers were looking for in those short, make-or-break meetings.  I’m sure this is the sort of thing that privately-schooled students would get all the time, but for me it was extremely helpful.  

But more than any of that, the most important consequence of the summer school was that I’d engaged and interacted with fellow summer students, current undergraduates, and university lecturers.  I could see that I shared a huge amount of common ground with them, and that I need not be worried about ‘fitting in’ if I were successful in gaining a place at one of these top UK universities.

What did you go on to study at university?

After returning from the 1999 summer school, it was time to put in my UCAS applications - I recall applying to UCL, Leicester, Sheffield - and probably others.  But my heart was set on Emmanuel College, Cambridge.  My interviews were in December 1999, and shortly after Christmas I had an offer of a place to study Natural Sciences.  A-levels, and the required STEP papers for entry to Emmanuel, followed in the summer of 2000, and I started my first year at Cambridge in October. Although I’d always thought that I wanted to do physics at uni, the Natural Sciences course was absolutely the right thing for me:  I fondly look back on my first year studying Maths, Physics, Chemistry and Cellular Biology, and my later specialisms in physics.  Everything I’d learned on the summer school stood me in good stead to be part of the Emmanuel community - from the lectures to the small supervision groups - and the people I was living and studying with have become lifelong friends.  

What have you done since leaving university?  

I never really left!  I moved from Cambridge to Oxford in 2004, studying for a PhD in planetary science in Oxford’s Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics department.  My PhD took me to the USA as a NASA Postdoctoral Fellow, working in the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California.  I returned to Oxford for five more years as a research fellow, first with a Glasstone Science Fellowship and later a Royal Society fellowship.  That fellowship allowed me to move to the University of Leicester in 2015 to set up my own group in planetary atmospheres, so that I’m now lecturing and leading world-class research.  I’m directly involved in robotic spacecraft missions exploring the outer solar system, and in the use of giant ground-based observatories to study the atmospheric patterns on other worlds.  I’m extremely lucky to be paid to do a job that I love!

What would your advice be to young people who might be in a similar position to you as a teen?

The Sutton Trust’s central message of social mobility through education is more important now than ever before, as liberal politics and fundamental equalities appear to be on the backfoot.  Every child, no matter their social background or economic status, deserves the opportunity to shine, to develop their talents, and to access the best possible education.  Have confidence in your talents, and don’t be satisfied if people tell you you haven’t got what it takes to make it at the best UK universities.  The only way you’ll ever know is by giving it a try. You can put yourself in the right position by being pro-active:  ask your school for help with interview techniques, attend open days at a range of universities, and have a go at getting onto a Sutton Trust summer school.  They were so helpful to me in demystifying Oxbridge for someone who had never had prior exposure to them.  Find a subject that you enjoy, that you’re genuinely passionate about.  Lastly, there’ll always be rejections and let-downs, but don’t ever lose faith in your own abilities.  


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