Planetary Exploration. Open.

Angelo Pio Rossi
Sep 17, 2017 · 4 min read
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ESA Mars Express High Resolution Stereo Camera (HRSC), credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO.

The robotic and human exploration of the Solar System started without data beyond those available from Earth (e.g. from ground-based telescopes). All the following efforts were based on data collected by all sort of spacecrafts. Mars is a good example: Most data leading to the selection of a landing site over another derived from existing spacecrafts, e.g. in the case of Mars Pathfinder (see paper openly accessible from AGU) in the mid 90’s vs. MSL Curiosity in the early 2010’s (e.g. see paper paywalled here, with some ~legal copy accessible e.g. here).

Paywalled articles already bring up the issue of openness… That, together with data, brought us here.


OpenPlanetary or, in order to save some keystrokes, OP, is so far a gathering of planetary scientists (which are in itself a pretty mixed group), educators and enthusiasts interested in sharing data and information on the Solar System. It’s a bit of a broad definition, but so is the group.

Planetary Science is some sort of condensed version of the combination of several disciplines, ranging from astrophysics to geology, from biology to chemistry and with quite some excursion in engineering as well as some bits of data science. The latter is where OP started condensing and focusing. The reason is rather easy: What comes out of any mission exploring our Solar System (and beyond) is data. Typically very heterogenous data, as they are made to be edible to the very wide range of scientists mentioned above, who are looking at very diverse objects and processes in substantially different ways.

Our mission is to promote and facilitate the open practice of planetary science and data analysis for professionals and amateurs by organising events and conducting collaborative projects aimed at creating scientific, technical and educational resources, tools and data accessible to all.

Why moving our blog to Medium?

The motivation leading to the setup of OP was described in one of its first posts, more than a year ago. Meanwhile we decided to move to Medium. The reason for this platform move is two-fold:

  • We surely would like to reach out more individuals and groups and yes, as geeky as OP started and still is,
  • we would like to make easier to share and publish documentation and science analysis materials, including Jupyter notebooks.

There are some examples of citizen science related to planetary exploration around. For (citizen) scientists, students, enthusiasts alike, getting acquainted with data, methods and tools to use them is the starting point, be it for producing pretty pictures or doing some analysis of those.

Planetary science has the privilege, compared to other fields or disciplines, to have all data in one way or another freely available relatively early on, so that almost anyone can access them, in more or less elaborated ways, from desktop backgrounds used by extraterrestrial landscape enthusiasts (e.g. with the NASA Planetary Photojournal) to actual scientists who do this (or try to) for a living (e.g. NASA PDS, ESA PSA and alike).

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Pluto imaged by NASA New Horizons, Planetary Photojornal image #PIA21863 Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Southwest Research Institute/Lunar and Planetary Institute

Our framework

In addition to our blog, the tools of OP are nothing too new, and they are the very same used by several others in areas other than Planetary Science: Slack, GitHub, Jupyter, as exampled below (from this workshop):

Of course OP is not the only group, more or less organised, in the field of planetary science: There are broader initiatives and groups (e.g. The Planetary Society). Ours is focused on data and how one can work with them.

Some of the larger projects, such as the EuroPlanet research infrastructure in EU are working with both professional scientists and educators, students and citizens in general. One of the way they supported some initiative embedded in OP is OpenPlanetaryMap, aka OPM. Support for the latter came also from CARTO. OPM is an on-going effort to build the first Open Planetary Mapping and Social platform for space enthusiasts and students, planetary researchers and mappers, educators and storytellers to easily and collaboratively create and share location-based knowledge and maps of others planets of our Solar System.

OpenPlanetary has over 300 registered members. You can find them all on the OP Slack after you registered as member. If you don’t want to use Slack, please tweet to @openplanetary. In addition, OP is also on GitHub.

For more information, feel free to visit our website and get in touch with us.

Angelo Rossi and Nicolas Manaud


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