The 52nd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference

The 52nd Lunar and Planetary Science Conference (LPSC) was held virtually and was co-chaired by Lisa Gaddis (Lunar and Planetary Institute) and Eileen Stansbery (NASA Johnson Space Center). Attendance was the highest in the history of the conference, with 2,217 attendees from 53 countries. Submitted abstracts totaled 1,781 abstracts from 46 countries. LPSC continues to be accessible and important to young scientists, with student participation at approximately 36% of total attendance. The meeting organization was provided by the Lunar and Planetary Institute.

The main lobby in the virtual conference environment.

LPSC began with a successful and enjoyable welcome event on Sunday afternoon in Gather.town. Beginning on Monday morning, the conference featured four-and-a-half days of virtual sessions, including the following topics:

  • Initial Results from the Mars 2020 Perseverance Rover Mission — NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover, the first mission in a multi-mission campaign to return Mars samples back to Earth, landed in Jezero crater on February 18, 2021. This session covered initial scientific results from the first month of operations of the Perseverance rover on Mars. Presentations reviewed the geologic setting of Perseverance’s landing site observed from orbiter data and in situ images and radar data, as well as initial geochemical, mineralogic, and atmospheric results.
  • Fulfilling Apollo Goals and Preparing for Artemis — Special samples returned during Apollo have been stored under unique conditions. These samples include a soil core sealed on the lunar surface in a Core Sample Vacuum Container (CSVC) and frozen samples. The Apollo Next Generation Sample Analysis (ANGSA) initiative simulates a new and inexpensive lunar sample-return mission that fulfills some of the goals of Apollo and offers new perspectives on lunar volatile reservoirs and processes shaping the Moon. The results of this initiative will provide a fundamental reference point for Artemis with respect to the collection, curation, and analysis of volatile-bearing lunar samples. The ANGSA teams reported on new information from these samples, including geologic context; Preliminary Examination Team results; stratigraphy and dynamics of lunar landslide deposits; and mineralogy, geochemistry, chronology, organic, and stable isotopic data.
  • Scientific Exploration of the Lunar South Pole: Scientific studies of the lunar south polar environment are being pursued at a frenzied pace to provide information for robotic missions starting in 2021 and human missions in 2024. The session captured those fast-paced research results in terms of remote sensing, modeling, and sample analysis; dispersed them to the community; and sparked additional scientific studies that have the benefit of ensuring the best science is accomplished when surface operations commence.
  • The Next Two Decades of Ocean Worlds Exploration: Ocean Worlds have emerged as a priority class of targets in planetary science and astrobiology. The Galileo and Cassini missions provided the first observations indicating oceans beyond Earth. This perspective was broadened by the Dawn and New Horizons missions to Ceres and Pluto, respectively. Today, NASA is planning the Flagship-class Clipper mission to Europa and New Frontiers-class Dragonfly mission to Titan, while ESA is planning the L-class JUICE mission to Jupiter’s ocean worlds. Future in situ exploration may target icy surfaces, planetary oceans, plume samples, and exotic traverses. This session covered the next two decades of Ocean Worlds exploration, highlighting planned, proposed, and potential future science investigations, mission concepts, instruments, and technologies.

The complete program and abstracts are available at https://www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/lpsc2021/program/.

The plenary session on Monday afternoon featured the Masursky Lecture, “The Early Aqueous Environment of Mars Inferred from Mission Lifetime Results by the Curiosity Rover at Gale Crater,” by John Grotzinger. During the Thursday NASA Headquarters Briefing and daily Meet-and-Greet Sessions, representatives from the Planetary Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate addressed meeting attendees.

The Masursky Lecture with John Grotzinger.

The Masursky Lecture with John Grotzinger.

In the virtual LPSC environment, posters were accessible throughout the conference via iPosters. Pre-recorded presentations and recordings of all live presentations were available as on-demand content for 30 days after the end of LPSC. As a first all-virtual LPSC, the week offered attendees many opportunities to share science and interact with each other in the virtual environment.

— Text provided by Jamie Shumbera (Lunar and Planetary Institute)

The LPSC 2021 Twitter wall in the virtual conference environment.