Phew! The start of the year is always pretty hectic. It’s the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) abstract deadline that brings you back down to Earth after the Christmas and New Year festivities. This year it was 11 pm (UK time) on Tuesday 7th January. In the days leading up to it my email box exploded as different versions of various abstracts came flying in, needing me to add my sixpenny worth, before dispatching them back again. But while it’s fast and furious, you learn a lot too! 2020 had arrived, that’s for sure. And as the deadline approached it was hard to avoid a slight sense of panic. But in the end everything was submitted and with a bit of time to spare. Next job, sort out the flights and accommodation.
Of course, “LPSC”, as everyone calls it, is the biggest dedicated get together of planetary scientists, well, on the planet. This year it will take place between March 16th and 20th at the Woodlands Conference Centre in Texas. This is the 51st LPSC, with the original one taking place in January 1970 following the successfully return of the first Moon rocks by Apollo 11. It’s less lunar these days and more planetary, with a lot of focus on Mars in recent years. This year may be a different though. There will be a special session on the Hayabusa2 and OSIRIS-REx asteroid sample return missions. OSIRIS-REx is still making observations at its target asteroid Bennu, whereas Hayabusa2 is already heading home and should bring back samples from asteroid Ryugu at the end of this year. What sort of material will be coming back? In both cases it is likely to be primitive carbonaceous chondrite-related. There is a suggestion that the Ryugu material has been heated in an asteroidal environment and may resemble a group known as the CYs. But hey that is getting a bit too far ahead of things. We need to get those samples back in the lab to really know for sure. In the meantime I am really looking forward to those conference discussions when we get to hear all about the remote sensing data that has already been collected by both missions. That is what LPSC is all about, science before the ink has had time to dry. I have been to some sessions which have been packed with people cheering and clapping as the first results from a new mission are made public. There are few conferences that are as much fun as LPSC.
Asteroid Bennu – Target of the NASA OSIRIS-REx mission