Monday, November 20, 2017

The Appeal of Space Engineering

This week, undergraduate space engineering student Alexandre Séguin reflects on what he might tell a high school student looking to match up their interests with a career path via a university education. In the spirit of such matching, the image above shows the Jules Verne ATV docking with the international space station (image: )

by Alexandre Séguin

As the leaves turn to darker colours and the sun makes its visits shorter by the day, I find myself preparing for yet another end of term examination session. Going over my different courses, I pondered that with nearly two and a half years of progress in York’s space engineering program, I interestingly have had the opportunity to explore quite a few different engineering disciplines. I have had a taste of electrical design, programming, 3D modeling, and orbital mechanics to name but a few. When I recently volunteered at the Ontario University Fair, I took these experiences with me to share them with new prospective students. One of the most common question asked was “Why did you chose space engineering?”. I responded with what I usually say, essentially that I liked math, science, and was good at both. However, now that I have a fair amount of experience as a student of space engineering, I believe the question merits a more thorough answer. In a time where apps and silicon chips rule supreme, what is the appeal to study space engineering?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Approaching a Defence in the Lab

The first of our current crop of 5 MScs from 2016 will be defending his thesis in December. This post captures Eric's thoughts as he approaches this milestone and ponders his contributions to planetary science.  While any one thesis is incremental, it is undoubtedly an advance; a stone placed atop what came before that raises the island of science higher.

by Eric Shear

It’s the time of year where I reflect on my research and how far I’ve come. The first draft of my thesis is due at the end of this week, so it’s crunch time for me. This particular project reminds me that science is not all breakthroughs. It’s more usually a series of partial successes and dead ends. It is these roadblocks that help us more, by showing us what doesn’t work. In either case, I must document my research. Perhaps someone else will build on what I’ve learned to build a better spacecraft camera.

Since my last post about using LCDs to increase contrast in spacecraft cameras, I’ve made a great deal of progress. I’ve taken over 90 images of the sun with clouds present in the field of view (but not obscuring the sun). Each image was with at least one LCD, and two-thirds of them were with two LCDs in the optical path. All images were taken with the same exposure time and gain.

The biggest difference I’ve noticed is that the sun is so much more powerful than a mere table lamp, that its rays effortlessly penetrate the darkened patches in the LCDs with little attenuation. Take a look at the trio of photos at the top of this post. At left is the photo taken with one LCD filter, unactivated. At center is the same photo taken with two LCD filters, one activated so the circular block-image is visible. At right is both filters activated with both block-images overlapping to attenuate as much light as possible. There isn’t much of a difference between the centre and right photos.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The ice-sands of Mars

This week Alex gives an update on some of her work with Giang investigating small-scale topography of the Northern Polar Cap of Mars. As always with Alex's posts, expect her flowing prose to be punctuated with fascinating images culled from the many she has examined.

By Alexandra Innanen

With nearly 600 frames from all over the Martian north pole, my efforts have recently been turning to categorization of the nearly 600 variations on ‘polar cap’ which we’ve seen. This is the kind of repetitive work that I can do with the help of a good podcast and some tea, taking a break from my studies to flip through the catalogue of black and white features. Some of the various myriad features which I have been looking at are dunes. The Martial polar cap is lousy with dunes. Some of them are quite obvious, bringing to mind those classic sandy desert landscapes, while others are more hidden; zoom in on a seemingly uniform HiRISE image and suddenly stripy linear dunes start to emerge. There are basically four types of dunes that we’ve seen on the pole: longitudinal, transverse, star and barchan.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017


PVL MSc Student Elisabeth Smith had a bit of a split personality over the summer months, interning at MDA and directing her research back here at the lab with the help of Undergraduate Research Assistant Keagan Lee. Now that she has returned to the lab full time, she is working on writing up the results and finishing up her Thesis.

By Elisabeth Smith

After a summer full of exciting robot testing, customer demos and Excel Macro writing, it was time for me to leave behind my internship and return to the lab and classroom. Having an undergraduate assistant to run experiments over the summer was a great boon, as he was able to collect large amounts of data and come up with an improved method for mixing the particles into my system during the experiment. This greatly improved the data collected for the experiment.

As a brief recap, my research is to develop a method for the determination of the turbidity (that is, the extinction or blocking of light in a liquid due to the presence of particles) by processing images of a laser. The experiment is conducted by shining a laser into an aquarium full of water, taking pictures of said laser, then adding a fixed amount of particles to the system and taking more images, repeating this until the laser is barely visible with the camera. Previously, I was running into issues with the particles simply falling to the bottom of the aquarium instead of being well mixed, resulting in a non-homogenous system. My undergraduate assistant, Keagan, and I came up with a few possible methods to resolve this – such as improved circulation systems, or allowing more time between image series to let the particles better mix. Eventually Keagan came up with a glaringly simple and effective method: remove some water from the system with a beaker, add the particles into that beaker, then mix well and return it to the system. The system would homogenize far quicker than previously, and there were little to no issues with particles settling at the bottom of the aquarium.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Time Management: When Undergraduate Research and Midterms Collide

This week, PVL undergraduate Brittney Cooper reflects on the hectic schedule of students, especially those who participate in research in addition to their regular studies. The image above is a snapshot of her desk. It might look a little busy, but research has shown that a cluttered workspace might not be as much of a disadvantage as you might think.

by Brittney Cooper

I’ve been a part of PVL for a while now (before we were even known as “PVL”!) and I began as a volunteer for a couple years during the school year, applying for grants to be a summer student, and then eventually I became a contract RAY (Research at York) student. I’m in my 5th and final year of my undergrad and I feel incredibly lucky and really happy to have as much experience in research and academia as I do now, it’s been a learning experience on many fronts.
One massively beneficial thing I’ve learned from this experience (that seems to dominate my life currently) is time-management. I don’t just mean the concept of it, I mean legitimately sorting out my weeks, days, even hours when times are tough (i.e. midterm season in your final year of undergrad, when you’re applying for grad school).
I kid you not, having a full course load and a part-time research gig has taught me to never underestimate what can be done in an hour, and in the madness of everything, scheduling my time is paramount. It is exhausting, but it is also exhilarating in a really kind of embarrassing way. Being productive and getting things done on my commute, during a break between classes, or just before attending to the remnants of my school-year social-life allows me time to enjoy my weekends. I am aware that this jam-packed lifestyle is not unique to undergraduate students; in fact I feel it is probably akin to what a great deal of post-grads experience in their respective fields, so I feel assured that this is a useful skill to hone.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Back to the lab (Back to reality)

This week, PhD student Casey Moore describes what he has been up to in the lab (in tandem with his MSL work!) Now that he has submitted his second MSL paper and is completing his PhD studies, his focus has moved closer to home to help explain some of his measurements. (By the way, don't fault Casey for that groaner of a title - I deserve all the blame)

By Casey Moore

I’ve been finishing up some loose ends for my PhD recently. I recently submitted my second paper to Icarus updating the line-of-sight extinction seen within Gale Crater, Mars using the Mars Science Laboratory’s Navigation Cameras (first paper here), which brings my time with MSL to an end. I will never forget working with such an amazing team of people and am eternally grateful to have been a part of the science operations team for the last four years. I have made contacts that I look forward to continue working with in the future as my career progresses past my Ph.D.

I do have one remaining project that has been consuming most of my time as of late. For the last four years, intermittently, between MSL work, teaching appointments, and conference preparations, myself and a long list of volunteers and summer interns have been collecting transmission spectroscopy data from an array of Martian analog regoliths.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Giang’s Adventures in the Land of Perpetual Grey

Last month, PVL MSc Student Giang left Toronto on the first International Cross-Disciplinary Internship (X-I2) of the TEPS program. In this week's installment he checks in from Oxford University, in the UK. You can find his two "postcard" images above and further down, below the cut.

by Tue Giang Nguyen

The new term has started and as I finish up my work on Mars’ northern polar cap, I head out to start something new in the UK. As a trainee of the Technology for Exo-Planetary Science (TEPS), I have been accepted to an international internship at the university of Oxford. After going through various potential projects such as looking at the ancient Martian atmosphere, it was decided that I will work on thin condensable atmospheres useful for understanding interesting exoplanets like 55 Cancri e or CoRoT-7b. I’ll be working with established Oxford Professor Raymond Pierrehumbert on the project as well as furthering my studies on the Martian polar cap.
This is the first time I’m going to Great Britain, in fact, it’s the first time I’m stepping on European soil (though British people aren’t keen on associating themselves with the rest of Europe these days). Packing for the trip wasn’t problematic as I don’t really have a lot of stuff; I don’t even have an umbrella which I’ve been told is quite necessary for survival in the UK. I was somehow smart enough to remember to buy outlet converters at the airport just before the flight as I can see how it would be quite problematic arriving in England without being able to charge my phone or laptop.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

A Puzzling Moon

This week, Jasmeer Sangha talks about his work extending his simulations to include many different species of planetary volatiles bouncing around on the moon. While water was known to be present, it was LCROSS (depicted above in this artist's concept image from Northrop Grumman) that discovered a wide range of different compounds in the PSRs.
by Jasmeer Sangha
This semester I chose to extend my research past just water molecules and shift focus towards results brought back from LCROSS, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite. The LCROSS mission launched in 2009 and scientists found more than just water on the moon. The mission objective was to have the Centaur, a rocket stage, launch itself into the moon. It was decided that Cabeus, a large crater near the lunar south pole, would be the Centaur’s destination. Cabeus is a permanently shadowed region which allows freezing temperatures to trap particles in a layer a frost.  The debris cloud made by the impact would be analyzed by LCROSS, orbiting up above, to discern the frost's composition. From this experiment, it has been shown that carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur compounds were present in Cabeus, yet water was the dominant constituent, outnumbering all other compounds 5 to 1.
                  Though we know what is in Cabeus crater we are unsure as to how it got there. My previous work focused on the mechanism of traveling water molecules along the surface. The program randomly spawned particles on the surface of the moon and followed there lives until they were trapped in a dark hole for eternity, cooked by the Sun’s rays, or lost to space - what lovely ways to go out, right?  The results would show us how water ice is distributed on the surface. 

Introducing our new Postdoc

Introducing our newest addition to PVL, Dr. Paul Godin who comes to us from the University of Toronto! Paul specialized in laboratory-based research in the atmospheric sciences, and will now apply that strong base to the atmospheres of other worlds. The image above is from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and depicts IR absorptions both of the atmosphere (top) and of select molecules (bottom).

by Paul Godin

Hello World! My name is Paul and I’m the newest member of the PVL, so I should probably introduce myself, eh? I just completed my PhD in physics at the University of Toronto studying the radiative impacts of several chemicals on the atmosphere, using a metric known as a global warming potential (GWP). A GWP is the measure of the radiative forcing of a pulse emission of one kilogram of gas over a defined period of time (commonly taken to be 100 years), relative to an identical pulse emission of carbon dioxide. Radiative forcing is defined as the net change of radiation at the tropopause; positive radiative forcing means more radiation directed towards the surface (leading to higher surface temperatures), whereas negative radiative forcing corresponds to a net cooling effect.

The radiative forcing of a molecule depends largely on two main factors, the absorption spectrum of the molecule and the absorption profile of the atmosphere. The absorption spectrum of a molecule is a result of the quantum mechanical interactions within the molecule, thus the structure and composition of a molecule will dictate at what wavelengths of light the molecule can absorb. The atmospheric absorption spectrum is the sum of the absorption spectra of all the species present in the atmosphere (largely made up of water, carbon dioxide, ozone, nitrogen, etc.). The atmospheric absorption spectrum for the infrared (wavelengths associated with outgoing radiation) is shown in the top half of the figure at the start of this article. As can be seen, the atmosphere normally absorbs a significant fraction of outgoing radiation, but also has a region where it doesn’t naturally absorb radiation (8-13 μm), which is known as the atmospheric window. This is great for life on Earth; we need to trap some of the radiation to keep the planet from being frozen, but also allows enough heat escape that we don’t turn in to a furnace (i.e. Venus).

Friday, September 15, 2017

Wispy Clouds on Mars!

Normally I use this space to make some "witty" comments to ease you, our readers, into each article. But today I'm going to get out of the way because I just can't say it better than seasoned MSc student Charissa Campbell and her animations: "Here are the beautiful movies taken on sol 1758. On the left is the SHM which shows the Martian landscape with the wispy clouds above. The right is the ZM that is taken directly above the rover but still shows the similar wispy features as the SHM. They are both taken around 7:00 am."

 by Charissa Campbell

One of my roles on the Curiosity Science Team is to process the atmospheric movies taken by the rover. They consist of 8 sequential images of the sky above the rover. There are two kinds: Zenith Movie (ZM) and Supra-Horizon Movie (SHM). The only difference between these two observations is the angle of the camera with respect to the rover. The SHM is taken at an angle of 38.5° elevation, which is right above the crater rim, while the ZM is taken directly above the rover at an angle of 85°. 

Most of these movies are taken either in the early morning or afternoon as studies show that these two periods during the sol are when clouds most likely appear. In fact, there even is a season on Mars that exhibits more clouds than other times of the year. This is known as the Aphelion Cloud Belt (ACB) and starts in the late fall in the southern hemisphere, where Gale Crater is located. It is given this name because it peaks around the Aphelion of Mars; the furthest point that Mars will be in its orbit around the Sun. Clouds can be seen at other times of the Martian year. However, the ACB is a season that distinctively shows clouds. We even use this recurring season to plan atmospheric movies for Curiosity so that we can analyze these clouds in greater detail.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

So you think you can research, Vol. 2

This week Alex Séguin, one of our undergraduate research assistants, recounts his experiences at the Lassonde Undergraduate Research Fair. This year we had two entrants - Alex in the poster competition and Brittney Cooper (who wrote last year's post on this event) in the oral competition where she took first prize. I'm already looking forward to next year's Vol. 3.

by Alex Séguin

On Tuesday, August 15th, the Lassonde School of Engineering hosted the 2017 Summer Research Conference. Affectionately named "So You Think You Can Research?”, the event offered undergraduate students working in Lassonde a chance to present the work they have done over the last four months. Naturally, the vast majority of participants were Lassonde students but some were studying mathematics, biology, psychology, or even came from other universities! As for myself, I presented a poster of my work with PVL titled Towards an Airborne Methane-Measuring Sensor for Titan Exploration.

The day started off with complementary coffee and a welcome address from Dr. Pagiatakis (Associate Dean, Research and Graduate Studies), Dr. Philipps (Interim Vice President Academic and Provost), and Dr. Sinclair (NSERC Ontario Regional Office’s Manager). They emphasized the importance of our first research contributions, saying they are valued and recognized. After this, a newly appointed Assistant Professor named Dr. Boakye-Yiadom talked about his current research, some of the things he had learned along the way, and how they applied to us. In fact, most of what he said applies in any research context!

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

The Landscape Art of Mars

Alexandra Innanen is an Undergraduate Researcher working at PVL for the summer. Along with MSc Giang Nguyen, they've been scouring the Northern Polar Cap of Mars in images, looking at the fine details and trying to deconvolve what role the atmosphere plays in their formation. Along the way, Alexandra has seen more than just thousands of images of dust and ice and had the opportunity (below) to talk a little bit about the aesthetic appreciation of the landscape that one can obtain from orbit. Today she shares with you her top five selections!

By Alexandra Innanen

The North Pole of Mars is a pretty cool place – pun absolutely intended. This summer I’ve joined Giang in looking for patterns in the Martian ice cap, something he talked about in a previous post. I have looked through a truly astronomical number of HiRISE images, nearly 1000 at this point. While many of them do showcase those beautiful patterns we’re looking for (I have been known to punch the air at a particularly uniform set of dunes), a number are what I lovingly refer to as ‘garbage’. Some of these are just flat nothingness, with no distinguishing features to recommend it. Some are more visually interesting, but without any sense or uniformity. These are fairly useless in terms of patterns, but can be fun to look at, and sometimes have neat stories behind them.

I have a folder on my laptop called “Space Stuff” which I could easily rename “Nifty Pictures of Mars” at this point. It’s full of HiRISE images that I looked at and went “well, there’s no pattern there but boy is that cool!” I’m going to show off my top five images here.

Okay, the one at the top of this article is probably the coolest. Should I have ended with it? Is everyone going to leave now? Anyway, this is an avalanche at the edge of the layered deposits of the north pole, which fall off in steep cliffs (reminding me a bit of the Scarborough Bluffs near where I live). You can see the layering in the escarpment, and the edge of the ice in the lower left corner. Here’s some perspective: the dust cloud you can see is about 200 m across. That’s nearly two football fields long. This led me to another image taken in 2008 showing FOUR avalanches, which readers are encouraged to peruse at their leisure.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Frozen Moons

This week, Keagan Lee, an Undergraduate Research Assistant working at PVL for the summer reports on some independent reading he has been doing on a fascinating solar system object: Europa. The image above is a well-known mosaic acquired by the Galileo Orbiter, which you can find on the Planetary Photojournal here.

By Keagan Lee

We like to think of Earth being in the “Goldilocks Zone” -- an area in a star system that is not too cold and not too hot so that liquid water can exist on its surface -- as if this is the ideal location in the solar system. We call Earth the “Blue Planet” because it has so much water. Ostensibly, yes. In our neighbourhood, we are the largest host of water; any water that made its way to Mercury (outside of the permanently shadowed polar traps) or Venus would be boiled off instantly, and it is too cold for water to exist in liquid form on Mars, at least currently. But water is much more likely to exist further out in the solar system where the effects of solar radiation are lessened because of the distance from the Sun and, as a consequence, is found in the form of ice. Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, which is less than 1% the mass of Earth, is estimated to have more than twice the volume of water than Earth!

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

My Summer Internship

As part of the TEPS program, MSc Candidate Elisabeth Smith has spent her summer working at local space engineering firm MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, better known to us as MDA. She relates her experiences here.

By Elisabeth Smith

This past May, I started a part-time internship with engineering company MacDonald, Dettwiler & and Associates (or, MDA for short) in Brampton, Ontario – located not too far from York University. MDA was founded in 1969 by John S. MacDonald and Werner Dettwiler, and is likely best known for their development of communications and robotics systems. Perhaps their best-known product is the Canadarm, the robotic arm present on both the International Space Station and the Space Shuttles that is used to grab and move payloads from different spacecraft, especially for the assembly of the ISS.  It also has cameras on it that allows for the inspection of spacecraft.  After the Columbia Space Shuttle disaster in 2003, this became a very important step in future manned space missions. 

Being able to work for such a fantastic company with such an incredible position in the space industry was a very exciting prospect indeed. I would be helping develop a robotic arm that will be used in aircraft manufacturing – a very good fit for me, given my prior internship experience with business jet manufacturer Gulfstream Aerospace. I have always dreamed of working in the space industry, and being at MDA is a great way to achieve that goal. I am also very interested in robotics, and being able to combine my interests in space and robotics was perfect. 

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Putting the Sky in Contrast

This image shows a test rig that Eric is using to examine the feasibility of LCD contrast enhancement of images. Such a system might be useful for future spacecraft which often must acquire scientific photos under challenging lighting conditions.

by Eric Shear

Several months ago, I agreed to take on a hands-on project for my masters’ thesis. I had been doing planetary mission design and it seemed like a nice change to do something experimental that might end up in future spacecraft cameras.

I picked up from where a former summer undergraduate had left off. She, with John's help, had built and tested an imager apparatus with a liquid crystal display (LCD) in front of a digital camera. The whole assembly had additional optics to sharpen the image and was bolted on a black aluminum bread-board (see the image above).

The goal was to make a sky imager that could selectively block out the sun in order to increase contrast and dynamic range in the image, allowing otherwise hard to see details to be easily picked out. An obvious application would be on Mars, where there are high altitude cirrus clouds that would be hard to see in bright daylight. The same thing could be accomplished with a physical shade, but it would be heavier and less flexible.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Exploration of Eboracum Planitia

This week, PVL Postdoc Christina Smith reflects on the youth outreach activity we completed in late may as part of our Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science Early Career Researcher Award. Both we and our guests had a great time and it's never too early to start thinking about next year! Image taken from: .

By Christina Smith

On May 27th, as per Brittney's blogpost, we at the Planetary Volatile Laboratory held an analog mission day for upper high school and undergraduate students. Missions like this, aimed primarily at education and outreach as opposed to technological proof-of-concepts, simultaneously give students a taste of what being part of a science operations team for a real-life rover mission is like as well as being fun for those involved. I had never participated in a rover analog mission, but when I was in high school in the UK, I had the chance to be part of a “Voyage to Mars," where we took the place of a crew traveling to Mars and I still remember it vividly (and fondly) to this day – especially the part where the oxygen tank sprung a leak and yours truly was in charge of life support for the mission... I hoped that the students coming to participate would enjoy their time on their first mission as much as I did on mine.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Analog Rover Missions: More Than Just Acting Out Your Childhood Dreams

PVL Undergraduate Student Brittney Cooper (right) driving the MESR Rover (left) in the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Mars Yard following the end of a 2 week long analog mission put on by the Centre for Planetary Science and Exploration (CPSX) at Western, in conjunction with CSA, in 2014.   This weekend, students from the Toronto area will get their own opportunity to participate in a model or 'analogue' space mission.

By Brittney Cooper

      In just under a week, PVL plans to host its first analog rover mission on May 27th. It’s a one-day event for upper year high-school students, and I will be the acting “rover”. Don’t laugh, this is not my first analog mission but it is however my first one acting in the role of a robot. While each mission has its own unique goals and desired outcomes, the overarching reason for conducting this type of exercise lies in education, training and outreach.
      Acting on a real-life mission is a unique experience, and it is not easy to know what to expect based upon the experiences you’ve had in previous jobs or in other areas of your life. Analog missions serve as a great tool to train and provide examples of the operation processes, hierarchy and protocol. You get the opportunity to understand how important science decisions are made and rationalized against data and power constraints of your rover or spacecraft. It’s a unique opportunity to gain insight on how hundreds of people are able to work together to design a mission from the beginning. This includes formulating the science outcomes and payloads, and then actually acting out the structured long-term and tactical planning that is carried out regularly, to achieve those outcomes. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Public outreach reminds scientists of the bigger picture

PhD Student Casey Moore prepares to give an hour-long public presentation at a meeting of the Toronto-Center Royal Astronomical Society (RASC). He is now the third member of the lab to do one of these talks in this venue!

by Casey Moore

A few months ago I was asked to give a public lecture to an audience of amateur astronomers – noting that they would probably enjoy hearing about my work with the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL). I agreed – hesitantly, as I have never given such a talk. The event went off without a hitch and was a nice introduction to giving a talk to the broader community where not everyone is a specialist in planetary science.

For those interested, a brief summary of what I discussed can be found at: , as well as a rather unflattering outdated photograph of myself.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

One Mile Down, 93 Million to Go

 One of our summer undergraduates in the lab, Alex Séguin, pictured above, (in the image he provided himself!) is this week's designated blogger for PVL. One of our strengths is that we have trainees from all levels working together in the lab.

By Alexandre Séguin

I have done it. I, Alexandre Séguin, have officially completed my first week of research as an undergraduate student here at the Planetary Volatiles Laboratory (PVL).  After such a new and exciting experience, some reflection is in order.

    There are many stories, myths, and legends surrounding this type of work and they shrouded my expectations in uncertainty and confusion. On Monday morning, I walked into York's science building painfully earlier than necessary not knowing how my day would unfold, unsure of the daily implications of a research position... yet more ready than ever to try it. After a calming coffee, the time came to get to work.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

My Intern Experience at MDA

Over the past few months, one of our PhD students, Jake Kloos, has been doing an internship with one of Canada's best known and largest space companies, MDA, as part of his fellowship with the TEPS program. In this post, he talks about his experiences.

By Jake Kloos

Over the past 3 months, I have been interning at a robotics company called MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates, better known by their acronym MDA.This opportunity came about through my participation in the Technologies for Exo/planetary Science (TEPS) program, a program in which I have been a member since its inception in August of 2016. TEPS partners with various aerospace companies in Canada (namely ABB Bomem, COM DEV and MDA), and as such, TEPS trainees have a chance to apply for a 6 month internship at one of these companies, enabling students to get experience of a different sort from that offered in academia. As I wrap up the first half of my internship, I thought I would share a few thoughts on my experience thus far, and give some insight into the work that I've been doing helping to develop and test cameras for the International Space Station (ISS) at MDA.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

LPSC: A Play-by-Play

In this post, Jasmeer presents his LPSC diary.
The PVL contingent at LPSC this year, taken just outside the conference hotel.

by Jasmeer Sangha

Day 0
Today is the unofficial start to my first conference: the 48th LPSC just outside Houston, Texas. I, along with five other members of PVL, have made this  trip together. Travelling here from Toronto was smooth and uneventful. On arrival, the group decided to register ourselves and pick up our name tags. Finger foods were provided and it was a good opportunity to see some familiar faces before the ensuing presentations. It was particularly interesting to compare how we had all advanced in our research from different branches of the same general field. I could not help but notice our supervisors doing the same. Initially, I did not think the cost-benefit of this conference was that substantial, but I can already see how this collection of experts in one location can really improve interconnectedness of our small corner in the science community.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

In the shadow of lunar waters

A map from McGovern, J. A., et al. (2012), Mapping and characterization of non-polar permanent shadows on the lunar surface, Icarus, 223, 566 – 581, doi: 10.1016/j.icarus.2012.10.018 showing the permanently shadowed regions of the lunar south (in red) from a polar perspective. Jasmeer has been expanding on PVL's work in this area, adding in additional cold traps for our exospheric model and collaborating with researchers in Hawaii. His preliminary results are being presented as a poster here in Houston this week.

By Jasmeer Sangha

As you may have guessed from the posts preceding this one, I along with most of PVL am attending LPSC. This seems like as good a time as any to introduce my project which will be there in poster form. My project has grown and evolved since I last mentioned it on this blog, titled ‘The Waiting Game’. My current project is aimed to understand why the lunar poles ice abundances look as they do today. Observations have shown that water ice signatures are found near the lunar poles. However, unlike Earth, the local maximas of these ice signatures do not occur at the rotational poles. In order to obtain a full understanding of the processes on the lunar surface, my results and interpretations of those results will be built off of the groundwork done by three different people.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Hunting features on Mars Northern Polar Cap

There's nothing like a good morphological problem, especially in a condensable terrain (as in the HiRISE image above). While I've been vacationing on Pluto, Giang has been investigating polar cap surface textures on Mars. He presents his results, thus far, this week here at LPSC and is hoping to gain insight on the patterns he sees in conversation with other martian geomorphologists. Make sure to drop by his poster for an interesting discussion!

By T. Giang Nguyen

As the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) creeps up on my calendar, I grow more and more anxious to show off work on my most recent and still ongoing project. I have been tasked with analyzing the surface of Mars Northern Polar Cap hoping to find any trends or pattern present on the cap.
By finding any patterns embedded on the surface of Mars, I anticipate that examining these surface features may give insights into the inner workings of the Martian atmosphere. For example, if I happen to find features that resembles dunes, investigating that may allow me to infer various properties of the wind such as its direction or prevalence. The northern polar cap is interesting because of the ice, either carbon dioxide or water, that is deposited onto the surface which allows for interesting surface features and atmospheric conditions that created the features.

Estimating the Altitude of Martian Clouds at the Mars Science Laboratory Landing Site

Our second LPSC installment continues the focus on martian clouds, but this time, instead of looking at them from orbit, we examine them from the surface. The animated gif above shows a view from Curiosity. I, for one, find these animations quite relaxing. Over now to Charissa:

By Charissa Campbell

Clouds have been observed on Mars from the Curiosity rover's current location. This is interesting because it makes Mars seem more like another Earth and makes one wonder if this could possibly be our future home. However, as everyone knows, not all clouds are the same and have a variety of morphologies (shapes) and altitudes. Since Mars does not have a very thick atmosphere, in contrast to the Earth, the clouds are typically cirrus clouds which are the thin, high altitude clouds that are very wispy looking. One reason we want to study these clouds is to better understand the Martian climate.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Discerning the Details from the Big Picture: Determining the Geometry of Ice-Crystals in Martian Clouds Through Analysis of Orbiter Data

PVL is headed to Houston! Today nine of our group (!!) arrive at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) in The Woodlands, Texas. For many it will be their first international conference (and for others their first conference, period!). I remember my first LPSC ('04 - if you are counting) well and hope everyone has as much fun and learns as much as I did. To kick things off, here's undergraduate Brittney Cooper. She has provided a MARCI Composite Image of Mars, (Image: NASA JPL) reproduced above, to add some visual interest and context - enjoy, and come visit us in the poster sessions and in our talks!

By Brittney Cooper

This week will be my first time attending the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) just outside of Houston, Texas. I’m very excited to have the opportunity to not only go to what is known as the largest planetary science conference in the world, but to also be able to present a poster on my research.
            For about a year now, I’ve been working on project analyzing images taken by the Mars Colour Imager (better known as MARCI). MARCI is a camera fixed to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) satellite, which as you may have probably gathered, orbits Mars. MRO reached Mars in 2006, and began its Primary Science Phase (PSP) in November of 2006, for about 2 Earth years.
The specific images that I’m looking at were taken during this phase, when MARCI was locked in a Sun-synchronous 3am-3pm orbit. This type of orbit is named as such because it’s a polar orbit in which MARCI sees all of MARS at essentially the same local solar time (LST), with MRO crossing Mars’ equator at an LST of 3 pm (or in other words, when the Sun is at a 45 degree angle from what it would be at noon). MRO also crosses Mars’ equator at 3am on what would be the dark side of Mars at that time, but of course MARCI does not image that part of the orbit.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Ultra-Violet, Ultra-Conference

A false colour image of Mars as imaged by the OSIRIS instrument in 2007. In this image the UV channel has been enhanced, which brings out the atmospheric cloud. Our research program here at PVL often leads us into ultra-violet territory, as Dr. Christina Smith details below!
(Image Credit:

by Dr. Christina Smith

Last year I attended the 47th Lunar and Planetary Sciences Conference (LPSC) in Texas for the first time. It was a very different conference to those I had previously attended. It is an enormous conference, around 1700 people attend each year, and covers many different facets of planetary sciences from dust and grains, comets and asteroids, moons, minor and major planets, and everything in-between. I really enjoy the variety of science that gets presented at this conference. In the morning you could be attending a series of talks about the Martian atmosphere and then in the afternoon you could be listening to talks about the giant planets' moons or about the surface of Pluto! It's impossible to get to see everything you'd like to see because there are 4 different sessions held simultaneously at most points of the conference, but by jumping in and out of the sessions you can get to most things!

This year I will be attending again, and I will be presenting a scientific poster of my work. Presenting your work to the community is an important part of scientific research, both for work that is in-progress and work that is completed and published. For work in the latter category, presenting your research allows you to publicize your work and get it "out there" in the community, which can only ever be a good thing. In the former case, presenting in-progress research allows you to get feedback from the community on the work you're doing at a stage where it can influence the direction that you take it in. For example, if you've encountered an issue with your analysis, if you've found something usual or you're looking for opinions or advice, presenting your work, especially in poster-format, is a great way of getting feedback, advice, having discussions and networking with other experts in the field.