Research Forum

The Western Space Research Forum takes place weekly on Friday from 12:30 PM to 1:30 PM for Fall 2017 and Winter 2018 in Physics and Astronomy Building (PAB) Room 100.

Western faculty, graduate students and guest lectures from academia, the space industry and government present new discoveries, mission-specific opportunities, interesting training initiatives as well as industry-specific policies, challenges and prospects with the intention of informing and engaging participants in discussions about relevant topics in planetary science and exploration.

2019-2020 Research Forum Schedule


2018-2019 Research Forum Schedule

Friday October 19th at 12:30 PM in PAB 100 - Kelsey Doerksen - "Statistical analysis of the Earth's Thermosphere density levels during Solar Flare events measured by GRACE and CHAMP satellites "


Abstract: The relationships between solar flares, the Earth’s Thermosphere, and the satellite’s orbiting our planet are of crucial importance for satellite operators to understand. The solar flare events in association with the Geomagnetic Halloween storm of 2003 have been studied in the past, however there has been a lack of research into the effects of solar flares without the accompaniment of Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs). This talk details the investigation of the Thermosphere’s response to X-class solar flare events from 2002-2017, with a focus on the years 2002-2006. The Thermosphere density, derived from the on-board accelerometers of the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) twin satellites, and the CHallenging Minisatellite Payload (CHAMP) satellite, provide the information required to perform a statistical analysis on the effects of the solar flare events with respect to the Thermosphere density and the satellite’s attitude. It is proposed that the flux brought to the Earth by flares may have a large enough impact on the Earth’s Thermospheric density such that the drag perturbation induced on the orbiting satellites would increase. The presence of fluctuations in the density-derived data of the satellites, corresponding to the time of the flare events, is thought to be a result of the increased drag force causing visible and significant accelerometer fluctuations. Increasing drag force on satellites could then result in the need for in-orbit attitude adjustments, which could pose an increased risk in space-debris collision. A statistical analysis of the X-class events during the lifetimes of GRACE and CHAMP could provide insight to the probable increase of the Earth’s Thermospheric denisty due to the differing strengths of these flares. Such knowledge would be valuable to spacecraft operators entering a period of solar maximum, where an increase in solar activity is expected.

2018 Research Forum Schedule

January 12, 2018 - Dr. Phil Stooke - "The Year of the Moon"

Abstract: 2018 will be an interesting year on the Moon. Two missions will land rovers - one from India, one from China. A second Chinese mission, a sample return, may fly in 2018, though it is more likely to be delayed to 2019. And what of the Google Lunar X prize, which expires in 2018?  Phil Stooke surveys lunar exploration prospects for 2018 and looks at proposed landing sites.

January 26, 2018 - Dr. Gordon Osinski - "Western Space Update"

February 9, 2018 - Yifan Zhou, The University of Arizona - "Cloud Atlas of Brown Dwarfs and Exoplanets"

Abstract: Spectroscopic observations of exoplanets have achieved spectacular success in recent years. These observations not only probed molecular species and atmospheric compositions but also revealed the condensate clouds in these atmospheres. Due to its complex formation processes and significant opacity contributions, the condensate clouds pose a key challenge in understanding the ultra-cool atmospheres of exoplanets. Time-resolved observation of cloud-induced rotational modulations is a powerful technique to study the condensate clouds in substellar atmospheres. Using light curves derived from these observations, we can determine cloud vertical structures and retrieve two-dimensional cloud maps, which provide important constraints on the cloud formation and atmospheric circulation models. Time-resolved observations have achieved great success for brown dwarf and start to be applied to directly imaged exoplanets.  We carried out an HST treasury program Cloud Atlas to apply this technique to 19 brown dwarfs, planetary companions and directly imaged exoplanets. I will present the latest results from Cloud Atlas program, especially focusing on high-contrast directly-imaged exoplanets/planetary mass companions, to demonstrate how rotational modulations reveal condensate clouds in these cases. These results highlight the power of time-resolved observations — already transforming brown dwarf studies —  to characterize directly imaged exoplanets and planetary-mass companions.


February 16, 2018 - *2:00 PM - 3:00 PM - BGS 0153* Dr. David Kring, Lunar and Planetary Institute - "The Calamitous Chicxulub Impact Event"
Abstract:  The ~180 km-diameter Chicxulub impact crater, located on the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico, is famously linked to the extinction of dinosaurs and most other forms of life on Earth nearly 66 million years ago.  I will review the discovery of the crater and the impact’s environmental effects.  While those effects and their role in the mass extinction that followed have been the foci of most previous studies, it is now recognized that the crater and the hydrothermal system it hosted may also be proxies for the geological processes that shaped the Hadean.  I will, thus, introduce a recent IODP and ICDP expedition to the crater that was designed, in part, to test models of impact-generated hydrothermal systems and their possible role in the origin and evolution of life on Earth.


March 2, 2018 - Dr. Etienne Godin - "Geomorphology of Gullies at Thomas Lee Inlet, Devon Island, Canadian High Arctic"

Abstract: Landscape erosion by way of gullying is very common in the continuous permafrost of Earth’s polar regions and Mars mid to high latitudes along plateau slopes. Gullies are particularly interesting because their presence raises questions about the factors contributing to their formation, shape and morphometrics. Water is one such factor driving gully evolution, as runoff or when present as ground ice. Yet water under its liquid form is not the only factor influencing gullies. We surveyed the plateau slopes and their erosional processes at the cold and arid Thomas Lee Inlet, Devon Island, in the Canadian High Arctic where numerous gullies (n=161) were characterized for their morphometrics geology and hydrological connectivity. In this presentation I will present our recent progress based in 2016 and 2017 fieldwork, how this was integrated into a geodatabase and how we used a statistical tool named Factor Analysis of Mixed Data to classify and group the factors.

March 9, 2018Dr. Pauline Barmby "Big data in space science"

Abstract: It seems like “big data” is everywhere these days. In planetary science and astronomy, we’ve been dealing with large datasets for a long time.  So how “big” is our data? How does it compare to the big data that a bank or an airline might have? What new tools do we need to analyze big datasets, and how can we make better use of existing tools? What kinds of science problems can we address with these? I’ll address these questions with examples including ESA’s Gaia mission, NASA’s WISE mission, and NASA’s Planetary Data System, as well as some of my group’s work on multiwavelength studies of nearby galaxies.

April 13, 2018 - Adam Roy - "Harmony of the Spheres: Engaging Space Science in Music Theory and Practice"

Abstract: Whether The Planets by Gustav Holst, the Start Wars saga by John Williams, or Space Oddity by David Bowie, many things come to mind when thinking of space music or the music of space. While these compositions may express a modern understanding of music as it relates to ideas of space, they largely overlook the shared disciplinary origins and connections between the fields of music and science. The rich historic foundations of the singularity that was planetary science and music theory formed initial explorations of cosmological truth(s) and dominated the intellectual discourse for a significant period in our intellectual history. In the course of this talk I will discuss the historic interconnections of space science and music, the aesthetic representations of such concepts through musical compositions, and the graphic means by which representations of musical spaces play a role in performance practice and transmission. Tracing sonic and conceptual mappings of our universe from Pythagoras and Aristotle to the Renaissance and Enlightenment perspectives of Mersenne, Kepler, Newton, and beyond, this paper explores the harmonious blending between the worlds of science and music. Through explorations of theoretical foundations, compositional intent, and performance practice, I will survey the unique link between the realms of space science and the musical arts.

2017 Research Forum Schedule

September 22 - Dr. Michael Zanetti- "Kinematic LiDAR Scanning: Ultra-high resolution field mapping with a backpack scanner"

Abstract: Kinematic LiDAR scanning (KLS) is a new mobile LiDAR technology for creating ultra-high resolution (1 cm/pixel) topographic digital terrain models (DEMs), and represents a new tool for geologic and geographic exploration.  The scanner is mounted on a backpack allowing the operator to make a 3D point cloud reconstruction of any structure or feature that can be walked over or around (e.g. volcanic features, patterned ground, hillslopes, or buildings). This presentation will show how we are using mobile LiDAR scanning to map periglacial features in the Canadian High Arctic and volcanic features in Idaho, USA, and how these scans are being applied to remote-sensing analyses and other scientific research.

September 29 - Dr. Paul Wiegert - "Detecting Invisible Planets and Other Neat-o Things Planetary Dynamics Can Do For You"

Abstract: The question of how planets and other bodies orbiting the Sun behave and interact is one of the oldest problems in physics. But despite the long history of Planetary Dynamics, the richness of non-linear systems of this type continues to present us with surprises and opportunities for 21th century discoveries. I will outline a few of the current Planetary Dynamics research projects being worked on here at Western. Included on the menu are how the Moon helped capture an ill-fated temporary moon of our planet, strange asteroids that go the 'wrong way' around the Solar System, whether pieces of the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos could ever hit you on the head, and how to detect 'invisible' planets orbiting other stars.

October 6 - No Research Forum due to Thanksgiving

October 20 - Danny Bednar - "50 years of the Outer Space Treaty: What's in it and Where's it Going?"

Abstract: October 10th, 2017, marked 50 years since the Outer Space Treaty entered into force. In it’s five decades, the treaty has been signed by 105 nations, including every space-faring government in the world, and is often referred to as the single most important document related to outer space politics. While the treaty has been noted for it’s optimistic language that focuses on international cooperation and scientific exploration, it has also been contested by a variety of long-standing and emerging interests within the broader space community. What exactly is in the treaty and what parts are contested? This talk will cover the major components of the Outer Space Treaty, focusing mostly on Articles I-X. Further, current and future interests such as those related to orbital debris mitigation, resource extraction, off-Earth colonization, and increased militarization will be discussed regarding future challenges for the OST and the continuing debate of who, and what, space is for.

October 27 - Dr. Peter Brown - "Fireball producing meteorites: A Canadian perspective"

November 3 - Dr. Livio Tornabene - "HIRISE Planning from WesternU: Highlights from teams 273 and 285"

Abstract: The members of the last two WesternU HiRISE operations teams (Teams 273 and 285), led by adjunct research professor Livio Tornabene, will present their latest exploits, and what they experienced while planning two-week’s worth of high-resolution images of the surface of Mars from WesternU’s Mission Control facility. Come hear all about it and see some of their favorite images! HiRISE’s 273rd imaging campaign executed on Saturday, April 15th and continued to Saturday, April 29th as Mars continued into Northern Spring / Southern Fall. The 285th HiRISE imaging campaign executed on Saturday, September 30 and continued to Saturday, October 14th as Mars continued into Northern Summer/Southern Winter.

November 10 - Dr. Sarah Gallagher - "How to ruin a beautiful machine:  Radiation damage in the early days of the Chandra X-ray Observatory"

Abstract: In the first months after the launch of the Chandra X-ray Observatory, abrupt radiation damage to the ACIS CCD detectors was discovered.  The damage affected the sensitivity, image quality, and energy resolution of an exquisite instrument, and had to be stopped and mitigated as much as possible. From my perspective as a graduate student on the ACIS instrument team, I’ll talk about how the risk of radiation damage should have been anticipated, and how the fixes were only possible because the telescope had been over-engineered and beautifully calibrated.

November 17 - Rushi Ghadawala - "Space Entrepreneurship: Issues, Opportunities, and Challenges for Commercial Space Sector"

Abstract: During the talk, I intend to talk about the journey of BR Aerospace Group since foundation and connect it with the proposed title of my talk, "Space Entrepreneurship: Issues, Opportunities, and Challenges for Commercial Space Sector". During the talk, I will also mention the role of space applications in the capacity building for nations and states, based on the outcome of recent UNOOSA symposium and participation of BRASS-Canada. I also intend to throw some light on our past projects, on-going projects, including MOSES project under the H2020 consortium in the European Union, and upcoming project of UNOOSA's Dreamchaser mission participation and development of Solar Powered UAV for EO purpose. I am also planning to highlight my engagement with UWO and possible roadmap of working together.

November 24 - Gavin Tolometti - Rosetta Legacy Workshop Summary

Abstract: On the 2nd of March 2004, the European Space Agency (ESA) launched the Rosetta spacecraft and its lander Philae on its journey to orbit and analyse the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. The spacecraft took approximately ten years to reach the comet and then spent two years orbiting it. On the 12th of November 2014, the Philae lander was detached from the spacecraft and began its decent towards the comets surface. The spacecraft continued to orbit the comet until the 30th of September 2016, when the mission concluded with a controlled impact on the comet. The Rosetta mission was one of the most inspirational and ambitious missions conducted in the 21st century. As all missions, it required the cooperation of scientists and engineers from diverse science backgrounds. The mission was also contributed by ESA’s member states and NASA. From the 3rd to 6 th of October this year, experts from the Rosetta mission (including engineers who designed the equipment) organized the first “Rosetta Science Operations Scheduling Legacy Workshop”. The workshop taught university students how the Rosetta mission was planned before and after launch of the spacecraft. The workshop provided the opportunity to understand how missions at ESA are run and planned, learn the basics of the software MAPPS, and promote postgraduate opportunities available for European and Canadian graduate students.

December 8 - 1:30-2:30 PM - Joint Seminar with Physics and Astronomy

Dr. Robert Weryk -"Discovery circumstances of the first interstellar asteroid"

Abstract- For the first time ever astronomers have studied an asteroid that has entered the Solar System from interstellar space. Observations from ESO’s Very Large Telescope in Chile and other observatories around the world show that this unique object was traveling through space for millions of years before its chance encounter with our star system. It appears to be a dark, reddish, highly-elongated rocky or high-metal-content object. Our team from the Pan-STARRS observatory – being the first to detect the interstellar visitor – has chosen the name 'Oumuamua’ for our discovery. The name is of Hawaiian origin and means a messenger from afar arriving first. I will discuss the results that appeared in Nature on 20 November 2017.</p <!--