Conferences are typically a whirlwind of faces and information sessions. This year’s Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) in The Woodlands, Texas, was no different – a gathering of some 2,000 planetary scientists/space enthusiasts to discuss current research and geek out about everything planetary. While it is a chance to sit in awe of the top scientists in our field, it is also an opportunity to share our research, catch up with friends and colleagues, and network.
Imagine a room full of scientists…there is probably a lot of awkward tension. Now imagine those scientists discussing their research (a topic we can talk about for hours to whoever will listen) and you have the LPSC oral and poster sessions. Each talk in an oral session is limited to 15 minutes and the poster sessions last for three hours. These offer the chance to get into the nitty gritty of our – and others – research and get crucial feedback on what we’ve done and plan to do.
Planetary science research requires networking and collaboration – anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something. I have heard the phrase, “These features on <insert planet> are also observed on <insert different planet>,” so many times that it is impossible to study one planet without also learning something about another. This intimate link between planets necessitates conferences like LPSC – it gives us a chance to gather in one (or several) rooms and ask “What have we learned so far?”, “What are the remaining questions?”, or “What is the next step in space exploration?”. We leave feeling motivated and excited (at least most of the time) about the future.
This year, with budget cuts and now “The Sequester,” has been difficult for the planetary science community. Many government employed scientists were not able to attend LPSC, resulting in last minute cancellations; even John Grunsfeld (Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate) and Jim Green (Director of the Planetary Science Division) from NASA Headquarters had to teleconference into the NASA Headquarters meeting. The outlook is dismal with planetary science funding cut more than 20 percent and it is up to us to let Washington know that we are unhappy about it, but we will not abandon the field that we love and are passionate about because of some turbulence. It is an opportunity to show others the importance of space exploration, not just for scientists but for advancing our society.
Renee French is a graduate student in planetary geology at Northwestern University and volunteers at the Adler Planetarium.