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PlanetS General Assembly 2017

The NCCR PlanetS General Assembly offered a wealth of information: new NCCR structure, latest news on the CHEOPS satellite schedule and high-level scientific presentations.  A good atmosphere reigned during this Assembly and its team spirit is being reinforced year by year.


The representatives of the winning team of the puzzle game: Miles Timpe and  Sophie Saesen (Photo: Sylviane Blum)

Three areas instead of seven projects
In his introductory presentation, NCCR PlanetS Director Willy Benz announced a major structural change within the NCCR. Based on 7 well-defined projects, the structure of the NCCR was considered too rigid by the Executive Board. The Board therefore decided to restructure the project according to three themes (early stage of planet formation, formation and evolution of planetary systems architecture and atmospheres surfaces and interiors). This restructuring had already been outlined at the last “site visit” in May in Geneva. This division into three themes will allow a greater flexibility in the addition of a new team or project.
After lunch, various platforms reports followed. Guido Schwarz of the communication team presented spectacular pictures of the new space exhibition of the Transport Museum in Lucerne. An exhibition partly funded and designed by NCCR PlanetS and inaugurated in the presence of members of the ESA council who were also present for their annual meeting in Lucerne. Guido also presented some pictures of the presence of PlanetS at the Swiss Fantasy Show in Morges, a successful experience that will be repeated this year at Fantasy Basel from 29 April to 1 May. This was a “moment of relaxation and madness,” conceded Stéphane Udry, co-director of PlanetS. Then followed reports of the technology transfer, academic and DACE platforms.

A puzzle of 12 pieces
Before releasing the assembly for the aperitif, Willy Benz presented the evening game. Each of us received a piece of puzzle to be assembled with the 12 other pieces. “I noticed that the assembling would be difficult, and these pieces of puzzle should facilitate the contact between those who do not know each other yet,” said the PlanetS organizer. While everyone understood that the goal of the puzzles was to form teams, nobody knew what was going to be their purpose.
The aperitif was marked by a back-and-forth between the participants trying to form a puzzle and a team. “I have a small village in France,” exclaimed Guido Schwarz, exhibiting a piece on which one can guess the front of a house, “how do you know that it is in France,” asked a colleague, “it’s written France on the front of the cafe’ …

What else
After the meal just before dessert, Willy took the microphone to finally announce what the puzzles meant. “You have before you a picture which has a link with NCCR PlanetS, now it’s up to you to find it, and especially to explain it to us. The team having the most beautiful, funny, interesting, precise and meaningful explanation will win a bottle of Champagne. The winner will be designated by the clap meter. “ After several bursts of applauses, the ESPRESSO group whose puzzle represented coffee beans was designated as the winner. While the link between the future spectrograph developed in Geneva and coffee was subtly highlighted, it was above all the “what else” expressed by Sophie Saesen in concluding the explanation that certainly made the difference.

La Bohème
A general assembly without karaoke would not be a general assembly. Once the puzzle was finished, Timm Riesen, the NCCR’s Frank Sinatra, summoned all who wished to a new edition of improvised singing. While the audience was a bit shy at the beginning, the atmosphere suddenly rose when two participants decided to heat the room with “Sonne” a “song” from the group Rammstein. While the melody and lyrics may not have been unanimous, they unblocked some restraints of the thirty people who started yelling in German, a rough German for some. Several singers then became the targets of the participants, including Charles Aznavour’s song “La Bohème”, one of his best-known songs but not the easiest to sing!!

Lively discussions: Kevin Heng and Michel Mayor.  (Photo: Sylviane Blum)


Willy Benz touched on the CHEOPS satellite project by outlining the different steps that have been accomplished and those remaining. According to today’s plan, the satellite must be built, tested, calibrated and ready to be sent to ESA at the end of January 2018 for a launch scheduled in December 2018. Scientific presentations related to CHEOPS followed, such as Adrien Deline whose talked about the photometric reduction of images taken by CHEOPS, Helen Giles who presented the influence of stellar spots on transit measurements, and Adrien Leleu who talked about the characteristics of the transits of co-orbital planets.
During the past year several meetings/workshops were held in Bern, Geneva and Zurich. Yann Alibert spoke of the one dedicated to the accretion of small pebbles in December, Jean-Baptiste Delisle and Esther Linder described the meeting around Planet9 in Geneva in March and Judith Szulagyi talked about the meeting on circumplanetary discs in June in Zürich.
The afternoon was devoted to scientific discussions according to defined themes.

263 ° K
Nothing is better than the vivifying air of the mountains at dusk to refresh your ideas. All members of PlanetS were therefore invited to move to the terrace of Hotel Spinne for a cup of mulled wine around a few Swedish torches or Finnish logs of the most beautiful effect.  These warm drinks and torches were very welcome as they were indeed the only warm spots in this early evening when the thermometer indicated -10 degrees. Despite the Nordic fires the assembly was frozen and quickly rushed into the restaurant for a raclette dinner to which they were invited. The raclette was synonymous with good mood even though some guests regretted having French fries instead of traditional steamed potatoes.


Busy workshop. (Photo: Sylviane Blum)

Press release, gender and networking
The last general assembly day was reserved for workshops. Three of them were dedicated to the three previously formed groups. The first workshop concerned gender equality, the second touched on the networking issue and the third introduced a few rules to the writing of a press release (see “From sand castles to cool freaks“).

Final mark
As for the two previous General Assemblies, the two illustrious members of the Advisory Board were invited to present their remarks, suggestions and advice on the evolution of the NCCR PlanetS.
Michel Mayor made a very positive assessment of the development of the NCCR while he considered that it would be necessary to increase its visibility towards the general public, with major conferences for example.
Brian Schmidt advised to take a closer look at what others are doing, such as Nova in the Netherlands or CAASTRO in Australia, which, for example, has decided to bring together an equal number of men and women to discuss gender equality issues. The 2011 Nobel laureate insisted on having to think about the end of NCCR. This is indeed a request from the FN and a deadline on which many projects such as PlanetS have been confronted. He also advised to appoint a specialist at the Swiss university administration as a 3rd member of the Advisory Board.
For Brian Schmidt the change of structure of seven projects to three themes is a good thing, and in general PlanetS is progressing at a fast pace and is going in the right direction.
Pierre Bratschi

More images are on Flickr

Workshop on Planets in Binaries
From sand castles to cool freaks
Categories: Internal Newsletter

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