Europlanet project led by Kent physicist launches 10M Euro research infrastructure

Olivia Miller
The Europlanet field site at the Danakil Depression, Ethiopia by Europlanet

An international planetary science project led by Professor Nigel Mason, Head of the School of Physical Sciences, has received 10 million euros from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme.

The project, known as Europlanet 2024 Research Infrastructure (RI), will provide open access to the world’s largest collection of planetary simulation and analysis facilities, as well as a global network of small telescopes, data services, and community support activities. It also aims to widen participation in planetary science and provides the infrastructure to address key scientific and technological challenges facing the planetary research community. The project runs from February 2020 until January 2024.

The Europlanet 2024 RI consortium is led by Kent and has 53 beneficiary institutions from 21 countries in Europe and around the world, with a further 44 affiliated partners.

Professor Mason, who is President of the Europlanet Society, said: ‘This is a step-change in ambition for Europlanet, involving 60% more partners and expanding our collaborations in Africa and, for the first time, in Asia. The project will draw on the resources of the Europlanet Society, launched in 2018, to disseminate activities and outcomes and develop a more diverse community of users.’

The project will support research visits to 24 world-class planetary laboratories, including the University’s Light Gas Gun, which is used to investigate hypervelocity impacts in space. Europlanet 2024 RI will also support visits to five field sites stretching from Africa to the Arctic Circle that provide terrestrial analogues for planetary environments past and present, including the icy environments of Europa and Ganymede, geothermally active regions of Venus, Io and ancient Mars, and lava caves on the Moon or Mars that may house human habitats in the future.

The University of Kent’s Beacon Observatory will become part of a network of small telescope facilities coordinated by Europlanet 2024 RI that will provide rapid response observations to support planetary missions.

To bring in new users, support the community and raise awareness of planetary science, Europlanet 2024 RI will organise training and workshops to engage industry, policy makers, early career professionals and researchers from countries that are under-represented in planetary science, both in Europe and around the world. The project will also trial a reciprocal access agreement with Chinese and Korean research facilities.

Supporting Videos:

Light Gas Gun 3D 360 VR tour – University of Kent. Credit: University of Kent/madebygravity.co/Freepik

Iceland transnational access facility offered by Matis. Credit: Europlanet/madebygravity.co