Monday, March 21, 2011

Conversations at the LPSC: Dr. Michael Bland

Dr. Michael Bland surveys the landscape
in this photograph taken in 2006 in Death Valley, CA by Catherine Neish.

Tonight we move a little bit away from the Decadal survey on 's Live from York U. While the topic still comes up in reference to EJSM/JEO I focused on speaking with Dr. Michael Bland about his work studying the icy satellites of Jupiter and Saturn. Mike is a tectonics expert who looks at the geophysics and geomorphology of surface features to glean information about the interiors of these satellites. His specialty is the Jovian moon Ganymede, the largest of all satellites in our solar system and really a world in its own right with a diameter almost 400km larger than that of Mercury. Ganymede may not be the first body you think of when tectonic features come to mind. Certainly, the cracks formed on the surface by internal stresses are less dramatic than they are on Europa and less explosive than on Enceladus. But the terrain is more varied and perhaps less understood on this world.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Conversations at the LPSC: Dr. Ross Beyer

Dr. Ross Beyer has always been at home on the surface of a Planet. He's shown here at Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley, CA in this undated photo taken by Jason Barnes.

Kicking off our latest series of interviews on is the SETI Institute's own Dr. Ross Beyer. He and I briefly attended the University of Arizona together before he graduated with a PhD in Planetary Science way back in 2004. Since that time, Ross has been keeping busy with significant mission involvement including working with the HiRise camera on MRO, as well as on LRO and one of the most exciting missions of the upcoming decade: New Horizons to pluto. Because of this latitude of space mission experience, which cuts across NASA's boundaries, I felt that Ross would be an excellent subject with which to discuss the recently released planetary decadal survey. I had the chance to speak with him last Thursday, and I have to thank him and my editors Michelle Parsons and Michael over at AFM for getting this interview to air so quickly! Tonight you'll get the chance to listen in at 8PM EDT / Midnight UTC over at on the "Live at York U" radio show.

I do owe Ross an apology: we didn't get to speak much about his varied experience in Planetary Science, so I plan on asking him for a full and proper interview at a later conference!

Programming Note: Over the next four weeks, we'll be bringing you interviews with young planetary scientists on the Live at York U radio program. This series, "Conversations from the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference" mirrors the "Conversations from the Division for Planetary Science" series that we conducted last year. Queued up after Ross are Washington University's Dr. Michael Bland on March 21, who will speak with us about Icy Satellites, University of South Florida's Dr. Matthew Pasek on March 28, a meteorite man and astrobiologist extraordinaire, and finally the NRC's Dr. Abigail Sheffer on April 4, who will chat with us about things you can do with a Planetary Science Degree that you might not have thought possible! These last two will be appearing LIVE on air, so if you have any questions for them, you can leave those in the comments below, and I'll be sure to ask.

"Conversations from the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference" runs Mondays through April 4th on 8PM EDT for the first three interviews and moving to 9PM EDT starting in April.

LPSC Notebook: Participating Scientist Programs

Now that I'm back in Toronto, it's time to clear out some of the backlog! I had a good time at LPSC, but it was a much busier schedule than DPS and ultimately was a conference with a much different feel. I'll get to that in a few posts. But today I wanted to give a brief note prior to Ross Beyer's blurb.

When you're at a conference, your work doesn't stop or go on hiatus. Indeed, when you consider networking and meeting with colleagues and collaborators you could argue that conferences represent a heavier workload. In that vein, I want to mention a task being carried out behind the scenes by many of the conference attendees. Specifically, the preparation of applications for the upcomming Participating Scientist Program (PSP) opportunity for the Mars Science Laboratory. Without a doubt, this is one of the largest opportunities in years (and perhaps one of the few this decade) for members of the "Mars Chapter" of the Planetary Science Community. As such, many of us were scurrying to put together our documents over the last week. As the Canadian Space Agency recently decided to support Canadian researchers to play along, I can count myself in that group.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Hope and a Call to Action: Planetary Decadal Survey Released

Steve Squyres (left) and Jim Green (right) answer questions Monday Night at LPSC following the unveiling of the Planetary Decadal survey. Image is a screen capture from the live feed recap (I attended in person).

I can remember when I first met Steve Squyres. It was way back in May of 2004 when I was unbelievably green and doing a two week internship on MER at the behest of my advisor, Peter Smith. I was in the microscopic imager room in Pasadena with Nicole Spanovich (now at JPL) and he stuck his head in to see what was happening. Nicole introduced us and I remember him saying hello to me. I don't remember what I said in return, but I do recall that before I could think of something clever to say, he was off again to the next instrument room.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

LPSC Notebook: Trouble Ahead

An artist's conception of a submarine exploring the Europan Ocean is shown in this NASA-JPL illustration. Currently, I'm not even 30 and the chances that I will see pictures like this in my lifetime looks like they will decrease tomorrow once the planetary decadal survey is released.

Something's in the air here in the Woodlands, and it's not pleasant. I certainly got my week off to a bad start with some hotel snafus here at the 42nd LPSC that have seen me in a different room each night. I must also report that I'm a bit disappointed in the location. Basically, we're located at a pedestrian-unfriendly high-end strip mall, though I do understand that this location is cheaper and more accessible for many. Oh, and now this: leaked details of Steve Squyres' Planetary Decadal Survey as described by Space News.

Friday, March 4, 2011

LPSC 2011 Preview

My poster for this week's LPSC Conference. 
Come by for a chat on Tuesday Evening! 
Also, you can click here for a full-sized version with legible text!

In a few hours I will depart the snowy and windy hallows of Toronto for the warmth of Houston, TX and the annual LPSC Conference. This event is the premier meeting of the year for us Planetary Scientists involved with the study of the surfaces and atmospheres of terrestrial planets, in particular the Moon and Mars (DPS tends to skew more giant planet/satellites/extra-solar planets). This will be my first visit since my return to Canada, my first at the new Woodlands Waterway Marriott and my first since 2007. The last has been troubling me a little. I had a great run going with four straight years of attendance from 2004-2007, and as readers of my DPS Notebook entries from last year know, it was LPSC that settled the question of whether I had made the right decision to pursue a PhD in Planetary Science. But I've been away so long that I have to wonder whether the conference I return to today resembles the same gathering I last saw through the eyes of an ambitious grad student. A lot has changed in the interim with me. In the next week we'll see what has changed in the world of Martian Planetary Science.
As with DPS, I will be keeping a notebook of what I see. In particular, look for a post following the long-awaited-with-baited-breath Planetary Decadal Survey (TM) presentation on Monday evening. If you can't wait for my post, fear not! The formal presentation by MER P.I. Steve Squyres, followed by a response by NASA PSD Director Jim Green will be webcast live and carried on NASA TV starting at 6:30PM EST.

I should note, however, that due to the oncoming rush of the MSL Participating Scientist Program with proposals due on March 21, I don't expect to be able to write as much as I did at DPS. Here's to hoping that the CSA likes my LOI!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Irony, Courtesy of the Wayback Machine

The New York Times today published a story about actors who are also scientists. In the story they touch upon the difference in publicity between the two professions: even the most tangential actor tends to be better known than the most successful scientist. They go on to link to an article in "The Onion"  from 2001 about scientists complaining about the paparazzi. It's meant to be satirical, and it is seriously funny (at least to a scientist). However, like the best of its genre, it contains a delicious and cutting nugget of truth which comes at the end:

"If it weren't for all this publicity, it's possible that far fewer people would support our work," Heeger said. "We scientists could actually be in the position of needing to scrape pennies together to complete our vitally important research." 
Diehard science fan Jill Krause agreed. 
"These scientists are the most important people in America," Krause said. "Our very future depends on them. They are enabling us to live longer and better, discovering the history of the planet we live on, and unraveling the mysteries of the universe. There's no way we'd ever let them work in obscurity. It's laughable." 
-The Onion, August 22, 2001
As many of you know, one of the goals of this blog is to make some of the scientific research that I am involved in accessible. I was delighted to see the response from all over the world to my last article, which is already the second most popular thing that I have written, and I'd like to thank all of you who came by for a look. Still, I don't think I'll be fending off photographers any time soon. Despite that, it is interesting to look at publicity in science from the flip-side.