History – the long version

The History of Arctic Planetary Science Institute 2013–2015: a personal account

During 2010–2013, while I was a postdoctoral fellow in Lunar and Planetary Institute (LPI) in Houston, Texas, I was also affiliated with NASA Lunar Science Institute (NLSI; nowadays, for some inexplicable reason, called Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute). I was fascinated by the fact that NLSI had only minimal hired staff and operated as a virtual institute. Thus, NLSI extensively took advantage of video meetings and online conferences, and although such technology cannot entirely replace real-life meetings and conferences between the different research groups that formed NLSI, they are an effective means to keep in contact with colleagues without having any extra costs. I liked what NLSI did and how they did it.

After returning back to Finland in the autumn of 2013, I was frustrated by the fact that due to short-sighted leadership (or rather the lack of it) in the University of Oulu, planetary geology ceased to exist as a research topic taught at a university-level in Finland (and, as things were at the time, in all of Northern Europe as well). I obviously wanted to pursue my research, and knew that some of my former colleagues from the disbanded Planetology Group of the University of Oulu probably had similar thoughts. Because the type of planetary science that we did was for the most part based on remote sensing data, we did not require such expensive laboratories as our colleagues doing sample-based science do. In most cases a computer and some basic software would be sufficient.

Thus, it occurred to me that a virtual research institute would foster collaboration in research and public outreach, would strenghten the contacts between colleagues who by now had spread all over the country, and simply would help keep planetary geology alive in Finland.

With these thoughts in mind, Arctic Planetary Science Institute (APSI) was founded in autumn 2013 in Äänekoski, central Finland.

The name and the original logo

The choice of a name for the new institute was an easy one, particularly as when I started APSI I was already aware that I would relocate the headquarters to Rovaniemi on the Arctic Circle.

The original APSI logo was also developed in this very early stage. The placement of the symbols of the terrestrial planets wasn’t arbitrary, which resulted in them being rather crammed, but scientific accuracy took precedence over artistic values.

The Earth had to go to Äänekoski, the hometown of not only APSI but of me as well. In addition, that region of Finland is called Central Finland, and it seemed logical that a perfectly symmetrical Earth symbol (plus-sign inside a circle) would mark the centre. As the only “real” terrestrial geologist in the former Planetology Group, the Earth referring to me also made sense.

Venus was also a no-brainer, because the Planetology Group in Oulu was the mother of APSI. Oulu region was still also the place of residence of some of the future APSIans that I had in mind. Currently (November 2016) three members of APSI, Marko Aittola, Soile Kukkonen and Niko Koskensalmi, are located in the Oulu region. APSI’s honorary member, Jouko Raitala, who was the leader of the Planetology Group and the supervisor for the most of us, also resides in Oulu, so it truly is a key location for APSI.

In the logo, Mercury ended up being squeezed between Oulu and Äänekoski. Geographically that referred to Nivala, where Marko Aittola was working at the time. He was doing quite a bit of outreach work promoting physics, astronomy and planetary science, as well as having had plenty of teaching tasks back in the days of the Planetology Group. Therefore, the messenger’s role seemed like a perfect fit. However, I must admit I seriously thought about leaving Mercury out of the logo entirely, because Mercury was the one terrestrial planet that the Planetology Group did not really study. In hindsight, I’m very glad I kept it because that was to change in early 2016 with the joining of Piero D’Incecco, who also has strong ties to Oulu. But now I’m getting ahead of myself.

Mars in the original logo refers to Turku and Jarmo Korteniemi. That was also a very easy choice, because he was and is the purest Martian of the APSI members, and one of the purest Martians of all the past members of the Planetology Group. If Jarmo wasn’t so much of a Martian, Mercury could have been and even was briefly considered to be placed in Turku, thanks to Jarmo’s main occupation these days as a science journalist.

That leaves the Moon and Rovaniemi. As mentioned, that is where APSI headquarters have been since November 2013, and where APSI is registered to. In the logo, the yellow arcs crossing Rovaniemi naturally refer to the location of the Arctic Circle, but can also be seen as orbits and planetary rings. At the time when I founded APSI and came up with the logo, I was the only member of APSI, so I didn’t have a problem with assigning another celestial body to “myself”: My love for observing and studying the Moon since childhood originally lead me to this business, and the Moon is still my favourite heavenly body. My self-doubts of egotism were somewhat eased by the fact that Marko Holma, whom I also planned to recruit, lived in Rovaniemi and is – as I am sure he would be the first to admit – a lunatic.

The first small steps

Getting back to APSI’s earliest days, in the winter of 2014 I first told Marko Aittola and then some time later Jarmo Korteniemi that they were members of this magnificent thing called APSI that I had founded. Luckily, and as expected, both were happy to be involved with it.

2014 also saw the publication of APSI Contribution #1, which turned out to be a paper I did with my former LPI boss Pat McGovern, called “Circumferential graben and the structural evolution of Alba Mons, Mars”, and published in Icarus. Only peer-reviewed papers or major published monographs or works of such level are assigned an APSI Contribution number. Currently the number of APSI Contributions is six.

Initially APSI worked as an informal group and an unregistered association, but it had been clear from day one that in order to have more clout and to be a believable player in the research business, APSI would have to be a legal entity. Under Finnish legislation, the most suitable way to do that is to become a registered association.

The official founding meeting of APSI was held on November 27th 2015. Present in the meeting, which was true to the ideas of a virtual institute and therefore was held online, were myself, Marko Aittola, Jarmo Korteniemi, Soile Kukkonen, Marko Holma and Niko Koskensalmi, the official co-founders of APSI.

After the wheels of bureaucracy had done their churning, APSI became a registered association on the 18th of December 2015. The first board was chaired by me, with Marko Aittola being the vice-chair, Jarmo Korteniemi the secretary and Soile Kukkonen the treasurer.

The year 2016 has seen increased collaboration and APSI has also been involved in great scientific rescue operations, so the future, I dare say, looks bright indeed.


November 10th 2016, APSI headquarters, Rovaniemi, Finland   

Teemu Öhman
APSI chair