Chinese Inaugural Planetary Science Conference

Held in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province of China in June 2021, the conference served to unite a large community of planetary scientists in China and hopes to become one of the most important global planetary science conferences in the future.

Twenty years ago, China did not have its own space mission to exclusively study space physics, let alone missions to the Moon and Mars. Who could have imagined that China would successfully implement the Double Star mission?1 to explore the Earth’s magnetosphere, the Chang’E-1, -2, -3, -4, -5 lunar mission series2, and the first Martian mission Tianwen-13.4 in the space of two decades? These successful missions have undoubtedly resulted in the rapid development of China’s planetary scientific community. Indeed, more and more planetary scientists are needed to analyze the scientific data returned by these spacecraft, and more and more scientific requirements are presented by scientists to guide the scientific objectives of future missions.

Under such circumstances, various different branches of planetary science and their corresponding communities gradually developed in China, for example, planetary space physics, planetary atmospheres, planetary geology, planetary geochemistry, interior of the planet, exoplanets, small terrestrial bodies, astrobiology, etc. . Meanwhile, a few universities, represented by the University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS), have launched associated courses to train students in planetary science. University consortia and planetary science organizations have also been established, such as the China University Planetary Science Alliance, the Lunar Science and Comparative Planetology Committee of the Chinese Space Science Society, the Planetary Committee of the Chinese Astronomical Society, and the Planetary Physics Committee. . of the Chinese Geophysical Society. In addition, to disseminate original research results in planetary science in China, the international peer-reviewed journal Earth and planetary physics5 was launched in 2017.

Unlike China’s rapid development in planetary science, however, China had yet to organize its own national planetary conference. Due to this situation, many Chinese scientists have already had to attend other world conferences, such as the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) and Europanet Science Congress (EPSC) to seek academic communication. Given the rapid global development of planetary science and the current state of the COVID-19 pandemic overseas, Chinese scientists are more eager than ever to attend a national conference. The time seemed right to hold a global conference for planetary science communities in China.

The conference, the First China Conference on Planetary Sciences (CPSC), organized by the Planetary Physics Committee of the Chinese Society of Geophysics, was held from June 18 to 21, 2021 in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province of China (Fig. 1). The CPSC has received approximately 500 abstracts covering a wide range of planetary science disciplines including the planetary space environment, planetary atmospheres, planetary geology, planetary interior dynamics, asteroids, comets, exoplanets, biology, future space missions and sounding techniques, for example. It is also astonishing to note that the conference attracted 1,020 participants from 106 different institutions, including participants from Macau and Hong Kong universities, which is comparable to that of EPSC (regularly around 1,000 participants each year ), and about half that of the LPSC (regularly around 1,800 participants each year) (Fig. 2). It is unfortunate that the CPSC is not yet open to the world due to travel restrictions linked to COVID-19. The large number of participants demonstrates that planetary science in China has developed rapidly in recent years and that the number of planetary scientists has already increased on a massive scale.

Fig. 1: The group photo of participants at the First Chinese Planetary Science Conference on June 19, 2021, held in Suzhou, China’s Jiangsu Province.

The Planetary Physics Committee of the Chinese Geophysical Society.

1,020 participants from 106 institutions participated.

Fig. 2: The first CPSC.
Figure 2

An overview of the number of participants, abstracts, topics, sessions and booths.

Overall, some clear conclusions regarding the current state of China’s planetary science can be drawn from this conference:

  • Half of the participants were students and women scientists made up almost a quarter of the total. Thus, the current community of Chinese planetologists is very young and women scientists play an important role in this community.

  • About half of the attendees were from the institutes of the Chinese Academy and Sciences (CAS), which means that the main force for conducting planetary science in China is led by the ACS.

  • The abstracts received by the conference covered various aspects of planetary science, implying that planetary science is being treated as a systems science and that the interdisciplinary nature of planetary science in China is maturing.

  • The topics of planetary space environment and planetary geology dominated the abstracts received, suggesting that the communities of planetary space environment and planetary geology are of particular importance to the current study of science. planetary in China.

  • To encourage and facilitate in-depth discussions, most of the presentations, including presentations by graduate students, were presented as 15-minute oral presentations, which strengthens the training and education of young scientists in particular. In contrast, EPSC and LPSC only awarded oral presentations to a minority of participants.

Several highlights from this conference demonstrated that: (1) China will launch an optical telescope with an aperture of 2 m, the Chinese Space Station Telescope around 2024, to detect celestial bodies in the solar system and the cosmos6; (2) China plans to launch a spacecraft around 2024, with the goal of flying at 100 AU and beyond until around 2049, allowing it to explore the edge of the solar system or the heliopause7; (3) the future of China’s lunar missions will gradually shift to a study of the interior of the Moon, as China seeks to establish research stations on the lunar surface with international collaborations; (4) China is actively developing its discipline of modern planetary science, and Chinese universities, represented by UCAS, have already made significant progress in facilitating the growth of the education system around planetary science.8,9,10,11,12,13.

It is very encouraging to anticipate that with the end of COVID-19, the CPSC would be allowed to open up to the world, thus facilitating the ability of the CPSC to become one of the world’s leading annual conferences on planetary science. in the future. In addition, we expect more and more international planetary scientists to participate in this conference and be part of the global collaboration with China to explore the mysteries of the planets, for the common good of all mankind.

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Correspondence with Zhaojin Rong.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Rong, Z., Cui, J. & Wei, Y. Chinese Inaugural Planetary Science Conference.
Nat Astron (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-021-01503-z

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