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More to planets than meets the eye
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More to planets than meets the eye

1 June 2017

In ESA’s first event of its kind, members of the public have been invited to touch, taste and hear about life in the Universe in an immersive day of activities that are suitable for the sensory impaired. 

The event at ESA´s European Space Astronomy Centre (ESAC) near Madrid, on 5 June, is part of the activities of the Space Inclusive Network (SpaceIn), an initiative supported by ESA aiming at using science and technology to promote a culture of diversity and inclusion in space projects.

The meeting will be opened by ESA´s Director General Jan Woerner, and by Alvaro Giménez Cañete, ESA’s Director of Science and Head of ESAC.

Diversity

Experts will present the factors that have determined the appearance of life on Earth, and which could favour biological activity in other places in our Solar System and beyond.

They will discuss how Earth and its closest planetary neighbours, Mars and Venus, resemble one another in remarkable ways, but yet have evolved so differently.

Other bodies in the Solar System – moons, comets and asteroids – also hold clues on the history and evolution of life on Earth, and hundreds of planets have been found around other stars, far from our Sun, including some that might have the right conditions to harbour life.

Participants at the day-long event will use unconventional techniques to learn about space science. For example, in addition to having images from space missions, they will find out how the water from a spring on Mars could taste, touch imitation volcanic landscapes of Venus, and feel the cool gas escaping from geysers like those observed on Jupiter and Saturn´s icy moons.

They will also be offered a tour of the night sky – with their eyes shut – and explore planetary systems around nearby stars to learn about habitability zones.

A touch of the Universe

“For the first time, we will approach public understanding of space science in an inclusive way, making planetary science and astrobiology research accessible to all persons in the audience regardless of physical abilities or condition,” explains Andres Galvez, an astrophysicist and space engineer leading the event on the ESA side.

As part of the guided visit to the ESAC site by the CESAR educational project, it will also be possible to hear about ESA’s space missions that have brought to us the knowledge on planets, and conditions for life in space.

“It will be a different way for opening up the Universe, using enhanced tools and activities related to our senses to learn about science and technology,” says Ersilia Vaudo, ESA Chief Diversity Officer and an astrophysicist.


This is also a first event within the SpaceIN network, which includes ESA, paving the way for further collaboration among organisations that are active in the public understanding of science, technology and disability.

“We know from experience that it is very important to regularly organise events like this one, in which we show to people that science is a fascinating and enjoyable activity,” says Amelia Ortiz-Gil, an astronomer at the Observatorio Astronómico de la Universitat de València – one of SpaceIN’s partners – and Chair of the International Astronomic Union’s Commission on Astronomy for Equity and Inclusion.

In the medium term, the aim for SpaceIN is to develop educational programmes for and by undergraduate students in science and engineering, and to provide internships for skilled students wanting to contribute to space projects, regardless of their sensory or motor abilities.

The participation of ESA in this effort is a concrete step towards the strengthening of its Diversity and Inclusiveness objectives aiming at ensuring that ESA and its Member States can attract a larger pool of talents and skills needed for enabling the future of science and space exploration.

Notes for Editors
 The scientific programme of the event is supported by ESA science mission specialists and will include sessions led by Alejandra García-Frank (Universidad Complutense de Madrid), Amelia Ortiz-Gil (Observatorio Astronómico de la Universitat de València, OAUV) and Enrique Pérez-Montero (Instituto de Astrofísica de Andalucía, IAA-CSIC), respectively. Speakers will also include Miguel Gómez-Heras (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid), Laura Parro (UCM), Fernando Ballesteros (OAUV), Juan Angel Vaquerizo, Olga Prieto, Felipe Gómez and José Caballero (all from Centro de Astrobiología, CAB, CSIC/INTA), Rafael Olmedo (Geko Navsat) and Diego Ortega (PDICiencia). The event concept and coordination is by Andrés Gálvez (ESA HQ), with the support of Sara Gil Casanova (Scienseed) and Virginia Raposo (UPM).

For more information, please contact
 Andrés Gálvez
Science Studies and Systems Support Office
ESA-HQ, Paris, France (andres.galvez@esa.int)