In 1991, the American Geophysical Union (AGU) launched a new journal to document the research of planetary scientists. Although planetary geology, geophysics, and remote sensing were represented in the old Journal of Geophysical Research (JGR): Solid Earth and Planets, “papers on other aspects of planetary science were scattered among JGR: Space Physics, JGR: Atmospheres, and several non-AGU journals,” said Clark Chapman, senior scientist at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colo., and the new journal’s first editor in chief. “The then-current division of topics among AGU journals resulted in fragmentation of the field of planetary science, [and] this had compounding negative effects on AGU serving as a major organization with a focus on planetary science.”
The goal of establishing a planetary science–focused journal, Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets, “was both to broaden the range of planetary disciplines being handled by AGU and to unify planetary papers in a single place,” Chapman added.
This year, JGR: Planets’ editors released a special issue that showcases the journal’s role in the last 25 years of shepherding some of the most prominent discoveries in planetary science. Among many major findings, the issue revisits evidence of Mercury’s dynamic past full of geological activity, telling signs that ancient Mars hosted water on its surface and in its subsurface, and the discovery that ocean-bearing worlds are more common than astronomers thought. “Ultimately, we developed a list of topics that highlights fundamental questions and discoveries across the broad scope of topics we publish,” said of JGR: Planets’ current editor in chief, planetary scientist Steven Hauck of Case Western University in Ohio.
In interviews with Eos this month, Chapman and Hauck reflected upon the first quarter century of the journal and contemplated the future of the journal and the field it covers. Responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Eos: What are the most important contributions JGR: Planets has made to planetary science since its founding?
Chapman: While immediate results of planetary spacecraft missions usually appear in Science or Nature, JGR: Planets is one of several venues for publishing special issues on the more mature research results. During JGR: Planets’ first year, we published a joint issue with JGR: Space Physics on the major results of Voyager’s once-in-a-lifetime encounter with Neptune. In 1992, JGR: Planets’ special issue on the Magellan mission won an award [from] the Association of American Publishers as “Best Single Issue of a Journal.”
Hauck: The papers from the Magellan at Venus special issue inspired me toward my career and remain among some of the most cited JGR: Planets has published. Similarly, special issues from the Pathfinder Spirit, Opportunity, and Curiosity rovers document the beginning of the era of in situ exploration of Mars. Papers not associated with special issues are also quite notable. A great example is a seminal paper on the importance of methane as an additional greenhouse gas in warming Earth’s atmosphere.
Eos: When JGR: Planets began, no one knew whether there were planets around other stars. Now we’ve spotted thousands. Was there any hesitation to include planets from beyond our solar system as part of the journal’s purview, and why or why not?
Chapman: I know that, in my own head, I had ambivalent attitudes about the degree to which research on exoplanets should be married to planetary science, or alternatively remain a branch of stellar astronomy (as it mainly was in its earliest years). I now clearly see the intimate linkages between that topic and planetary science.
Hauck: While I wasn’t there at the start, JGR: Planets published its first special issue on the detection of extrasolar planets in 1996. Exoplanets are planets. Indeed, it is crucial for planetary science for exoplanets and systems of exoplanets to be considered side by side with our own solar system.
Eos: How have the discoveries of exoplanets affected the journal?
Hauck: The identification of extrasolar planets is one of the most exciting and important discoveries of our age. JGR: Planets start[ed] publishing papers about detecting extrasolar planets over 20 years ago. Today, discussion of exoplanets is increasingly common in papers about objects and processes in our own solar system. Furthermore, we publish papers that consider exoplanets individually or groups of exoplanets in a context of comparison with our own solar system.
Eos: How does JGR: Planets help further AGU’s mission and inspire the next generation of scientists?
Hauck: I think JGR: Planets works to inspire the next generation of scientists by publishing excellent science that is communicated clearly. Further, by opening the journal’s archives to the public, by promoting plain language summaries, and by disseminating work through a variety of online networks, we are expanding the reach of our science.
Eos: What’s your advice for any young scientist studying planetary science—or wanting to submit to JGR: Planets?
Chapman: If you are bright, well educated, and fascinated by the cosmos, planetary science is potentially a great scientific field to consider. It can have rewards almost unique among the sciences, such as the almost instantaneous new perspectives gleaned when a spacecraft flies by a planet (think of Pluto in the summer of 2015).
But there are risks and downsides. Much, if not most, of your time will be spent writing or contributing to (or reviewing) excellent proposals that are rarely funded. Nevertheless, if you do excellent research and you publish it in highly regarded journals like JGR: Planets, you stand a chance of thriving in an exceptional field of human inquiry.
Hauck: Take the communication of your science at least as seriously as performing the research. How we as scientists communicate with each other and with the broader world community is crucial for both our work to have an impact and to endure. This advice extends to every avenue for communicating science, including scientific papers such as in JGR: Planets, in talks and poster presentations at conferences such as Fall [Meeting], and in one-on-one interactions with anyone who might be interested, including journalists and the general public. At the end of the day, we need to make the results and implications of our research clearly understandable.
Eos: What excites you about the future of JGR: Planets?
Hauck: First, the science JGR: Planets will publish. This is a great time to be in planetary science. I always look forward to reading papers in JGR: Planets. Second, I am excited about how we are expanding [the ways] we spread the news about the science. Part of this is opening up our science more with greater open access to data, to new papers, and [to] our archive of papers that are open after 24 months. The other part is by supporting broader communication through implementing plain language summaries. Plain language summaries make our content more accessible both to scientists around the world and [to] the public at large.
Chapman: I am reasonably optimistic about the future of planetary science, although one must be concerned about the depth of commitment of our society to science in these troubling times. But it is unclear to me how the future of scientific journals will evolve. Certainly, the Internet has drastically changed the publishing business. I certainly hope that JGR: Planets, in the good hands of Steve Hauck and subsequent editors, will have a good future in disseminating excellent planetary research.
Eos: On that note…what are some potential planetary headlines of the future? For example, “Humans land on Mars!” or “Probe drills into Europa’s icy shell!”
Chapman: Occasionally, nature itself surprises us, as when an asteroid exploded a few years ago in the skies above a Russian city of a million people. And maybe a space alien will suddenly appear, though I doubt it. Eventually, an astronaut from NASA or some other country, or maybe even Elon Musk himself, will land on Mars.
Hauck: I think that those are some good headlines. I also expect to see something like “Humans bring pieces of Mars to Earth” and “Boat sails the frigid seas of Titan.”
Hauck: My hope is that the incoming administration and Congress will work together to fund a robust Earth and space science program. Our planet faces a host of challenges, from the effects of climate change to natural disasters and their consequences for human health in their aftermath. Others range from clean drinking water to the need to move toward renewable energy sources. It is incumbent upon Congress and the president to ensure [that] they and the general public continue to receive the best and most objective science to serve the nation and prepare it for the future.
We must continue to build a deeper understanding of how all planets operate to better understand our own. Whether it is the space weather at Mercury; the weather and climate on Venus, Mars, and Titan; earthquakes or asteroid impacts on the Moon; or oceans on Europa and Pluto—all are subject to [the] same laws of physics as Earth. As with human health, studying a broad population leads to better understanding of how individuals work, so we better keep exploring the solar system if we want to be able to understand and solve Earth’s problems too.
—JoAnna Wendel (@JoAnnaScience), Staff Writer