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December 21, 2011

Groundbreaking planetology event brings academics and general public together

Astronomy organisations create international conference in France with wideranging benefits.

Earlier this year, two associations focused on astronomy collaborated for the first time in Nantes, France to run a joint global planetology conference that revealed the educational, social and economic potential of association events.

The European Planetology Network and the Division for Planetary Sciences of the American Astronomical Society met at La Cité Nantes Events Center in October for the 1st EPSC-DPS Joint Meeting. Traditionally, the two organisations had held two separate and different conventions two weeks apart. This time, they took up the challenge to create a joint event in Nantes, supported by the expertise of the Laboratory of Planetology and Geodynamics (LGPNantes) based at Nantes University.

The challenge paid off, with the event judged a major success, bringing together a much larger number of delegates than the 800 initially expected. In total, 1,535 scientists from 42 countries came to Nantes, including 550 delegates from America (the biggest representation), 296 from France and 167 from Germany.

As well as bringing together the international astronomical community for debate and knowledge exchange, the event welcomed the general public. It showcased an exhibition and 24 conferences that were open to the local Nantes population, with the support of Nantes University, Nantes Métropole, the Pays de la Loire Regional Council, the Loire Atlantique County Council, the CNES and the CNRS.

LGPNantes’ scientific expertise combined with the organisational and creative know-how of La Cité’s teams produced the Planetary Voyages exhibition, turning the venue into a temporary academy of sciences.

Some 14,000 visitors, including 2,000 schoolchildren, had the opportunity to meet experts in planetology, astronomy and science history. They were shown models of space probes and explained the movement of robots on Mars. They were also able to observe astronomical phenomena, the launch of micro-rockets and the inflatable planetarium. History and imaginary worlds were also highlighted through old navigation instruments and artefacts related to Jules Verne’s futurist work.

The conferences also boasted the presence of some of the world’s leading scientists, such as Jean-Loup Chrétien, the first Frenchman and Western European to go into space in 1982.

Not only was the inaugural combined global planetology event a major success for the global astronomy profession, it also boosted the region economically and engaged, entertained and educated the local Nantes community.

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