Visit and seminar on December 22, 2017 (Link to website here).


One of Vietnam’s institute in computer science, robotics and artificial intelligence got the name of one of the world’s most brilliant mathematicians of all times, because the country has wide ambitions for both research and applied science. The people at the John von Neumann (JVN) Institute are always looking for ideas of new topics for developing and testing their inventions and products, thus they try to feed their needs by inviting speakers for seminars in fields that are not their specialties. Processing of remote-sensing data of Earth-orbiting satellites or spacecraft in the solar system may eventually benefit from new analysis techniques that are derived from data science. In particular, the modeling of visible and near-infrared reflectance spectra sometimes requires intense computation for curve-fitting based on theoretical analytical approaches. Radiative transfer, spectral unmixing, photometric correction and thermal emission are among the most common challenges for a planetary scientist, because these tasks are time-consuming.

The objective of the seminar was to inform the computer scientists in Vietnam about the type of remote-sensing data used for studying the surface composition of solid objects in the solar system, with a focus on processing data from an imaging spectrometer. It was also a way to make them aware of the imminent needs for becoming autonomous in processing and interpreting spectra once their future satellite, the Micro Dragon, starts acquiring observations of the Vietnam coast with an imaging spectrometer. For me, it was the opportunity to open doors to scientists who may be able to develop an original approach on how to make use of hundreds of Giga Bytes or even several Tera Bytes of reflectance spectra. Coming from a different field of expertise, they may be able to have a different point of view and thus perceive a solution that may seem obscure to planetary scientists.

Photos of the presentations and Power Point slides are available here.

This fourth post concludes this blog series about my recent trip to Vietnam. Overall, it was a great opportunity to have a first contact with space science engineers and research scientists in computer science in Vietnam. It was very informative to witness the first steps of Vietnam in space science research and learn about what the country needs – mostly get a stable support that would help attract Vietnamese scientists who currently work abroad to return in their home soil, and build collaborations with foreign countries that already have a running space science program. The future will tell if Vietnam chooses to develop its academic research in Earth and Planetary sciences…

- Jean-Philippe Combe

In the nest of the Dragons

Posted by admin on December 28, 2017

Visit and seminar at the Vietnam Academy Science Technology, Hanoi, Vietnam, December 19, 2017.


Places where satellites and space science instruments are manufactured generally fascinate people, at least as much as mythological stories about dragons, even for the non-specialist in rockets, planets or astronomy. In Vietnam, there is a center for manufacturing space dragons, which sounds very mysterious and surreal...

Here is the context. In 2011, Vietnam started a space program. In 2013, the first Vietnamese satellite was sent in orbit around the Earth as a test project (1 kg) called Pico Dragon, followed by another one (>4 kg) in 2017 named Nano Dragon. Now the country is building its first Micro Dragon (50-60 kg), scheduled for launch in 2018-2010, and this time it will carry a remote-sensing payload, including the Spaceborne Multispectral Imager (SMI), designed for observing the coastline of Vietnam and built in Japan (

The Dragons are built at the Vietnam Academy Science Technology, next to the Vietnam National Space Center in Hanoi, which I had the opportunity to visit on December 19, 2017. For reference, in the United States, many satellites for research in space science are built at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory or the Goddard Space Flight Center.I was invited in the nest of the Dragons for a visit, discussion and to give a seminar. In addition, the astronomical observatory in Nha Trang is a result of an initiative and investment from the Vietnam Academy Science Technology in Hanoi.

One aspect of space science in Vietnam is the absence of scientists that are prepared and ready for processing the remote-sensing data that it will get from the Micro Dragon, once it starts observing the Earth. The country has its own space science engineers, which are trained in Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi and that are building the various Dragon platforms. However, in order to build a national space science community, Vietnam will necessarily seek help from countries that already have a strong running space science research program. The International Conference Space Science and Technology in Ho Chi Minh City on December 12-15, 2017, provided evidence that the engineers from Hanoi and the people who are dedicated to the space program are willing to open the door.

The strength of Vietnam is its population, which is a huge reservoir for a young and energic workforce. Now the power is in the hands of the government, that will decide how to use the brains and hands in the base of the pyramid of age.

An illustration of this positive dynamics already exists in other scientific disciplines such as computer science, which may eventually play a role in space science research, because remote sensing is becoming more and more in need of the techniques of data science, machine learning algorithms and even artificial intelligence. I will develop more on that aspect on the last part of this blog about Vietnam, which will report my visit at the John von Neumann Institute in Ho Chi Minh City.

- Jean-Philippe Combe

International Conference Space Science and Technology

Posted by admin on December 26, 2017

Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, December 12-15, 2017.

It is not often that a scientist can witness in person the first steps of a science program at the scale of a country. It just happened to me in Ho Chi Minh City, with nothing else than attending a meeting during the early stages of Space Science in Vietnam: that event alone was worth the living experience...


Click here for more photos

The objective of this conference was quite ambitious: help Vietnam start performing science from space. The event was sponsored by three countries in Southeastern Asia that already have a strong experience: Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. Japan has the rockets for launching Vietnamese satellites. Taiwan began its space science program from scratch twenty years ago, and it has a wealth of experience to share about how they became leaders of excellence in one field of radio-astronomy. South Korea, like Taiwan, chose to focus on one field of space science (space weather by monitoring the ionosphere and magnetosphere of the Earth) to become a world reference before broadening their interest to lunar science.

To succeed, Vietnam will have to focus on a “Frontier Field” of space science, i.e. pick a scientific topic of interest that it is still open to investigation, which means that only new technological developments can address the problem. This strategy is supposed to give Vietnam time to develop the technology, create a strong base of scientists, and become leaders in the field while avoiding direct competition. A must would be a topic that leads to some useful applications for the industry of the daily life of people. Vietnam will also need space scientists in the country. Although Vietnamese space scientists exist, they are mostly working abroad, in countries that have a longer history in space science. The challenge is now to attract its researchers back to their home soil, and even foreign people to educate students. This can only be done with a long-term vision.

Vietnam is one of the “Tiger Cubs” about its performances in economy. It could become a “Dragon” in space science… In fact, its space platforms are named Dragons. More on that topic after reporting to my visit at the Vietnam National Space Center in Hanoi..

- Jean-Philippe Combe

Vietnam's First Astronomical Observatory in Nha Trang

Posted by admin on December 11, 2017

Since September 2017, Vietnam has literally begun eyeing the stars. That is to say, the country's first astronomical observatory just opened on the Eastern coastline city of Nha Trang in the Khanh Hoa Province.


Nha Trang is mostly popular for fishery and tourism, thanks to large sand beaches, surf waves, and tropical climate. As a consequence, 30- or 40-story high buildings are rising and multiplying in a frenetic and vertiginous growth.

Next year, however, tourists and their children will have a chance to learn something about space science and astronomy after their day in the sunshine at playing in the waves. In fact, an exhibition center and a planetarium has been designed just for them. They will even have a chance to tame a professional telescope and observe the brightest objects of the sky. Firmly anchored to the rocky area called Hon Chong (Husband Islet), perched at 20 m above the ground, the 9-meter diameter dome hosts a 0.5-meter telescope from the Italian firm MARCON that is primarily used by students and staff scientists. This observatory is only a fraction of the Vietnam National Satellite Center, the largest scientific project developed by the Vietnam National Space Center since 2014, but it is the first one to see the light.

After spending two days in Nha Trang, and after the pleasant experience of approaching a brand new observatory, I can say that it somewhat fascinating to witness one aspect of the early development in scientific astronomy of an entire country.

Is Vietnam itself becoming a rising star? I will have more insight at the end of this week, because I am about to attend the first International Conference in Vietnam on Space Science and Technology...

- Jean-Philippe Combe

Walking in Galileo's Path

Posted by admin on November 15, 2017


One aspect of the job of a research scientist is to attend team meetings related to space missions, which may happen in many places around the world. Some of these places are remarkable, especially when they are directly related to Planetary Sciences.

On the 26 and 27 of October, 2017, team members of the Visible and InfraRed Thermal Imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS) of the Rosetta spacecraft reunited in Villa Il Gioiello, the house of Galileo, in Arcetri, Italy.  

Planetologists from Italy, Germany, France and the USA presented their on-going projects and their most recent results about the chemical composition and physical properties of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. As they presented to their peers, they were also experiencing the emotional feelings of being literally in the footsteps of one of the greatest astronomers in History, and one of the pioneers of the scientific method.

Villa_Il_Gioiello_House_of_Galileo_study_room_small.jpgThe experience was certainly inspiring for many people. It was also a reminder that the logical process of Observation, Hypothesis, Experiment, Results, Interpretation and Conclusion (OHERIC is the mnemonics term) was not always accepted as rational thinking. Galileo learned that lesson the hard way. He was prisoner in his own house in Arcetri for the last eight years of his life, following his written defense of heliocentrism, the understanding that the sun is at the center of the solar system. The concept of heliocentrism was corroborated by his own observations of the planets, as opposed to geocentrism, the belief that Earth was at the center of the universe, that was supported by the religious and political Catholic power at the time.

In court, Galileo publicly abjured some of his observations and scientific reasoning, only to whisper in his beard "E pur si muove!" (And yet, it turns!) - meaning the Earth turns around the sun, not the other way around.

Thanks to the path Galieo broke through, the scientific method has become the norm, leading to immense progress in knowledge about everything. The best recognition that today's researchers can give to Galileo's memory is to keep and preserve their own moral integrity by trusting their results instead of being influenced by external pressure.

In conclusion, working in Villa Il Gioiello in Arcetri was a good reminder that science studies are part of the freedom of all human beings, and that this freedom never has to be taken for granted.

- Dr. Jean-Philippe Combe







CASSINI End of Mission Media Guide

Posted by admin on September 22, 2017

Below is a list of some of the videos and photos from the Cassini plunge.  The following list is not meant to be comprehensive, as there has been a lot of Cassini coverage. These links will connect you to NASA’s videos and some of the stand-out news stories written for the end of the spacecraft’s journey.


Archived press briefings & end-of-mission commentary

360-degree video from inside mission control

JPL's Cassini playlist on YouTube

Additional videos


NASA HQ Photo albums on Flickr

Associated Press

JPL Photolab photos (works on the JPL network only)


NOVA Cassini special is available at:

BBC Horizon/Science Channel Cassini special

Airs Tue. Sept. 19 at 9pm on the Science Channel

Discovery Canada/NatGeo Cassini special

BBC Sky at Night

Bear Fight Institute at Trails End Bookstore

Posted by admin on August 12, 2017

Trails End Bookstore.jpg

Scientists from the Bear Fight Institute gave a public lecture at the Trails End Bookstore on Saturday, August 12, 2017.

  • Dr. Tom McCord began with an introduction about the Bear Fight Institute and the research conducted with NASA and ESA missions. He continued with a short overview of the eclipse, what scientists hoped to learn, and interesting facts. 
  • Dr. Jean-Philippe Combe took up the thread with a description of the different eclipse types, and what makes this one so special. 
  • Kate Johnson concluded the lecture by speaking about what we know about the solar corona, and what scientists will be studying about the corona during the eclipse. 
  • Intern Katie Taylor demonstrated how to make a solar eclipse viewer at the activities table.






Liberty Bell High School Career Fair

Posted by admin on May 11, 2017


Dr. Jean-Philippe Combe and Dr. Sandeep Singh shared their experiences in science during Liberty Bell High School's 2017 Career Fair.

BFI at LPSC 2017

Posted by admin on April 3, 2017

BFI at LPSC 2017.jpg

Dr. Jean-Philippe Combe, Katherine Johnson, and Dr. Sandeep Singh at LPSC 2017

BFI participated in LPSC 2017 with several presentations and posters.


McCord T. B. * Castillo-Rogez J. C. Russell C. T. Raymond C. A.

Title: Ceres Evolution: The Picture Before and After Dawn [#1098]

Summary: Ceres is shown by Dawn to be a highly physically and chemically evolved water-rich body probably active today, consistent with pre-Dawn findings.

Combe J.-Ph. * Raponi A. Tosi F. De Sanctis M.-C. Ammannito E. et al.

Title: Exposed H2O-Rich Areas on Ceres Detected by Dawn [#2568]

Summary: - H2O-rich materials exposed at the surface of Ceres have been detected by the Visible and InfraRed mapping spectrometer (VIR) of the Dawn mission.

  • Spectral modeling indicates that H2O ice is the most likely component, as opposed to hydrated minerals.
  • To date, nine H2O-rich areas have been identified, at latitudes higher than 30 .
  • The distribution is comparable with the latitudinal trend observed in the Hydrogen abdundance of the subsurface measured by the Gramma-Ray and Neutron Detector (GRaND).
  • These findings are consistent with H2O-ice in the subsurface that may be locally exposed by mechanical processes such as impact crater or landslides.


 Johnson K. E. * Singh S. McCord T.

Title: Study of the 2.7 Micron Absorption Band Found on Comet 67P/CG [#2954]

Summary: - The Visible Infrared and Thermal imaging Spectrometer (VIRTIS) has revealed diversity in the shape of the 2.7 microns detected at the surface of comet nucleus 67P/CG, .

  • One has a double peak characteristic of CO2 (previoulsy identified), and one has a single peak that is probably due to OH (new identification in our study).
  • Hydroxylated phyllosilicates are candidate materials, similar to the composition of the surface of Ceres.




BFI at Methow Elementary School

Posted by admin on January 17, 2017


Dr. Jean-Philippe Combe presents the inner workings of our solar system to fifth graders at Methow Valley Elementary School.


BFI at LPSC 2016

Posted by admin on July 13, 2016

Singh Acetylene Presentation LPSC 2016.JPG

Dr. Singh presents the discovery of acetylene on the surface of Titan

2016 Dawn Team Meeting

Posted by admin on June 21, 2016

Members of NASA's Dawn Space Mission Team gathered in Winthrop for their annual meeting May 31 - June 3, 2016

Throughout the day, presentations and ideas were shared among team members in collaborative workshops.

Thursday evening, June 2nd, Dr. Tom McCord, director of the Bear Fight Institute, and Dr. Marc Rayman of Caltech's Jet Propulsion Lab hosted a public lecture at Sun Mountain Lodge. Nearly 100 members of the local community gathered to hear about Dawn spacecraft development, flight mission operations, and discoveries from orbits about Vesta and Ceres.


On the final night of the team meeting, team members were invited to the home of Dr. Tom and Carol McCord for a relaxing evening of food and fun. Team members started impromptu boat races and BS Bar-B-Que brought all the food.