“The exploration of the Solar System”, theme of this year’s IAC Winter School

Poster for the XXXVIII Canary Islands Winter School- Solar System Exploration. Credit: Gabriel Pérez, SMM (IAC).
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Our cosmic neighbourhood, the Solar System, is the planetary system in which we live, and which has been most explored by human beings because it is nearby. We have been researching the Sun, its planets, and their numerous satellites for years. More than half a century ago humanity set foot on the Moon, and we have even visited comets and asteroids which are much further away, thanks to our ingenious space probes. Even Pluto, the dwarf planet near the edge of our “district” has shown us very recently its true colours for the first time. From our tiny fragile planet Earth, tiny compared to the immensity of the Universe, we have made extraordinary advances in our push to get to know our surroundings in space. However, the Solar System is huge (in human terms), and is still largely an enigma when it comes to discovering with precision how it originated, how it evolved, and what caused life to originate on our planet.

For this reason the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (IAC) decided to devote its XXVIII Canary Islands Winter School of Astrophysics to the subject of the exploration of the Solar System. At this Winter school, which will take place at the IAC's headquarters in San Cristóbal de La Laguna from 7th to 16th November, eight experts in Solar System Exploration will give a set of lectures about this theme to 50 doctoral students and recent doctors in astrophysics from all over the world, so that they can share and enlarge their knowledge in this field.

Among the many aspects of Solar System exploration which will be covered are the most burning issues about its evolution, the atmospheres of the planets and the surfaces of planets and asteroids, and will include the results of the most recent space missions. This course will also include a practical session to learn the use of the tools which will allow the students Access to the increasingly large and complex archives where enormous quantities of data are stored, and to analyze original images from space missions.

Among the programmed activities planned during the school is a visit to the IAC Headquarters in La Laguna, and another to the Teide Observatory in Izaña (Tenerife) on 8th and 9th November respectively. As an optional extra there will be a visit to the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory (ORM) in Garafía, (La Palma), on 17th November. As in previous editions, one of the lecturers at the school, Michael Küppers, will give a popular talk entitled: “Rosetta - a voyage to a comet and to our origins” on Tuesday 15th November at the Museum of Science and the Cosmos, of Museums of Tenerife.

Why study the Solar System?

Just as in other lines of research in astrophysics, studying the Solar System is a search for answers to basic questions, such as the origins of life on Earth, or whether there are other Earths and, if so, whether they have spawned life. “ At the present time the field of exoplanets, planets orbiting around other stars, has begun to focus on the search for exoearths, and in order to know what to look for we need to understand our own planetary system, since we don’t have another reference for comparison” explains Julia de León, a researcher at the IAC and the organizer of the school, together with Javier Licandro, also an IAC researcher.

“In organizing this latest edition of the Winter School,” says Javier Licandro, “ we are aiming to give the participants a completely up to date view of what is known about our Solar System, covering all the relevant fields of study, from planetary atmospheres to asteroids, also comets and the icy bodies in the outer Solar System. We include the mechanisms of its formation and evolution, for example planetary migration. Last, but not least, special attention will be paid to exploration using space missions and the School will have the benefit of experts from the European Space Agency (ESA) who are working directly on these missions, on Rosetta, for example.”

Space exploration of our Solar System is in crescendo, and almost every week we have notice of new developments. These last five years have been very intense: Rosetta finally arrived at its destination, producing a major amount of information on comet 67P/C-G. New horizons reached Pluto in July last year, showing spectacular images of its Surface and of its moon; Dawn completed its detailed study of Vesta and started to study Ceres; in July of this year the Juno mission reached Jupiter’s orbit and just over a month ago, on September 8th, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission to study the asteroid Bennu was launched. “ All of this had complete media coverage, and a great deal of citizen participation via the social networks. Really I cannot think of a better year to organize a school about the exploration of the Solar System” concludes Julia de León.

Programme: lecturers, and lectures:

  • Sebastien Lebonnois, Laboratoire de Meteorologie Dynamique, Francia: “Atmósferas planetarias”.
  • “Planetary Atmospheres”
  • Aurélien Crida, Université Nice Sophia Antipolis; Université de la Côte d'Azur, Francia: “Origen y evolución temprana del Sistema Solar”.
  • “The origin and early evolution of the Solar System”
  • Karri Muinonen, University of Helsinki, Finlandia: “Propiedades físicas de superficies de asteroides”.
  • “Physical Properties of the surfaces of Asteroids”
  • John Stansberry, Space Telescope Science Institute, Estados Unidos: “Explorando el exterior del Sistema Solar”.
  • “Exploring the outer Solar System”
  • Julia de León, Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias, España: “Procesamiento de imágenes de superficies planetarias”.
  • “Processing the images of planetary surfaces”
  • Michael Küppers, European Space Astronomy Centre, España: “Ciencia cometaria y misión Rosetta”.
  • The Science of Comets, and the Rosetta Mission”
  • Sebastien Besse, European Space Astronomy Centre, España: “El Sistema Solar en un click: Planetary Science Archive (PSA)”. 
  • The Solar System in a click: Planetary Science Archive (PSA)”. 
  • Alejandro Cardesín, European Space Astronomy Centre, España: “Misiones de la Agencia Espacial Europea a Marte y Venus”.

Organizing committee:

Web de la XXVIII Canary Islands Winter School – Solar System Exploration

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