SOLAR SYSTEM EXPLORATION A world of scientific and instrumental challenges A unique opportunity for Sino-French collaborations

日期:2019-03-27 阅读:823


The assembly of planets, satellites, rings, magnetospheres, small bodies, dust, gas and plasma tori that constitute altogether our Solar System form a fascinating World offered to the exploration of our space probes, in which the incredible diversity of dynamical phenomena which characterize planetary systems in general can be observed and analyzed in situ. The lessons we learn from the exploration of the Solar System, not only teach us about where we live and the place of our “Spacecraft Earth” in its own planetary system, but it can also be extrapolated to provide us with a better understanding of the more than 500 planetary systems that have already been discovered around stars other than the Sun. 

Horizon 2061 approach: Over the past 60 years of the Space Age, a host of wonderful space missions to the Solar System provided us with a first, still incomplete, overview of the diversity of its objects and environments. We believe that in the next decades the planetary exploration program will be able to address a set of specific key science questions. Indeed, six “key questions” about Planetary Systems have been identified in the “Planetary Exploration, Horizon 2061” foresight exercise I am leading: 

1- what is their origin? 

2- how do they form, and how do their formation scenarios lead to the observed diversity of their architectures? 

3- Establish the full diversity of planet types and its causes; 

4- How do Planetary Systems work, e.g. what coupling mechanisms operate between their components at the different scales? 

5- What are the conditions and mechanisms leading to the emergence of potential habitats for life? 

6- How to search for and detect life? 

 Using some of the outstanding results from past missions, I will discuss where to go in the solar system to successfully address these questions, to show that the diversity and completeness of Horizon 2061 questions points to a diversity of destinations for our interplanetary space probes that can be characterized by the harshness of their environmental conditions and the extreme physical and chemical conditions in which space probes and their scientific instruments will have to operate: extreme temperatures in the solar corona or on Mercury: the aggressive high-temperature, high-pressure environment of Venus’ surface; the lethal radiation environments of the Moon, Mars, Europa; the cold methane lakes of Titan… 

Going there to understand how these places were formed, how they work today, and in some cases looking for traces of extant or extinct life, is a fantastic technological challenge for scientists and engineers alike, be it to design the space platforms that will carry the advanced scientific instruments needed, or to design instruments that will resist and operate in such conditions. Given the outstanding and fast development of the planetary exploration program in China, and the expertise acquired on science instrumentation by the French planetary science community, planetary exploration offers for the two countries a unique opportunity to develop friendly, mutually beneficial collaborations to meet this major challenge of the XXIst century scientific adventure!


Michel Blanc is a French astronomer and planetary scientist born in 1949. After graduation at Ecole Polytechnique (1971) and Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Télécommunications (1973) in Paris, France, he started his career as “Ingénieur des Télécommunications” at the Centre de Recherche en Physique de l’Environnement”, a joint laboratory of CNET and CNRS. In 1989 he became an Astronomer at Observatoire Midi-Pyrénées (OMP), Toulouse, France. He was the director of OMP from 1988 to 1998, and of the Observatoire Astronomique de Marseille Provence (OAMP) from 2000 to 2005. From 2007 to 2012 he was the Vice-President for Research of Ecole Polytechnique in Palaiseau, France. He also served ISSI as a Discipline Scientist and ISSI-Beijing as its second Executive Director.

Michel Blanc defended his PhD at University Pierre-et-Marie Curie (Paris IV) on the study of the electrodynamics of the midlatitude ionosphere. In his PhD memoir (1980) he analysed the different modes of global disturbances of the ionosphere induced by auroral, magnetospheric and solar activity and showed that they can severely affect middle, low and equatorial latitudes during major magnetic storms. He contributed to the early studies of the auroral ionosphere using the EISCAT incoherent scatter radar in northern Scandinavia and to the design of the first multi-point study of the Earth’s magnetosphere: the CLUSTER mission of ESA. 

From 1987 he focused on the exploration of giant planets, starting with the Cassini-Huygens mission to Titan and the Saturn System: he was a member of the NASA-ESA-ASI joint study team which led the mission, before being selected by NASA as an Interdisciplinary Scientist for Magnetosphere and Plasma Science. In these capacities he has been associated to all the phases of this mission, including its flight operations from 1997 to 2017. He is also a co-proponent and co-I of NASA’s Juno mission to Jupiter (flight operations 2016-2022+). He promoted new missions to giant planets, focusing more recently on the Jupiter system as the lead proponent of “LAPLACE, a mission to Europa and the Jupiter system”, which is currently under implementation as JUICE, the first L-class mission of ESA’s Cosmic Vision programme. As a means of consolidating the involvement of the planetary science communities in Europe in ESA’s planetary missions, he contributed to the establishment of Europlanet, the European Network of Planetary Sciences of the European Union. He was his first coordinator from 2005 to 2012.

Michel Blanc is currently working at the Institut de Recherche en Astrophysique et Planétologie (IRAP), Toulouse, France, on Magnetosphere-Ionosphere-Thermosphere coupling at the different solar system planets and on the comparative study of Planetary Systems. He leads the “Planetary Exploration, Horizon 2061” foresight exercise initiated by the Air and Space Academy, Europlanet and ISSI. He also works for a fraction of his time as a Visiting Professor at the State Key Laboratory of Space Weather, National Space Science Centre, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China. 


© 上海交通大学物理与天文学院 版权所有