The Planetary Report

December Solstice 2020

From Our Member Magazine

The Year 2020 in Pictures

It was a tough year on planet Earth. The COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the globe while protesters around the world rallied to end systemic racism. Space exploration is an inherently optimistic endeavor. Amidst the year’s turmoil, we saw some truly awe-inspiring cosmic moments. In May, astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley flew a SpaceX Crew Dragon to the International Space Station and back, completing the first-ever commercial, crewed, orbital spaceflight. The mission rejuvenated our appreciation for the beauty and drama of human spaceflight.

We were also inspired by the launch of 3 new Mars missions. Although the pandemic significantly slowed most space activities, technicians in multiple countries managed to meet a brief launch window that only comes around every 2 years when Mars and Earth are optimally aligned. The name of 2 missions, Perseverance and Hope, took on a whole new significance.

High above Earth, The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 spacecraft continued to demonstrate solar sailing technologies while capturing beautiful pictures of our planet. Elsewhere in the solar system, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx successfully collected a sample from asteroid Bennu while Hayabusa2 flew back to Earth carrying dust and rock from asteroid Ryugu. In September, scientists using Earth-based telescopes announced that they had found phosphine on Venus, raising the prospect for life existing there. With these accomplishments came the reminder that we humans can do incredible things when we work together, and there is hope for better days ahead.

Mars or Earth?
Mars or Earth? This image, cropped from a 116-frame panorama captured by NASA’s Curiosity rover in January 2020, shows Mount Sharp on Mars. The scene looks remarkably similar to the landscape found in some parts of the southwestern United States.Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
Behnken and Hurley Return Safely
Behnken and Hurley Return Safely NASA astronauts Bob Behnken (left) and Doug Hurley are all smiles after safely returning to Earth aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon on 2 August 2020. The mission, Demo-2, was the first crewed flight of NASA’s Commercial Crew program.Image: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Comet NEOWISE by Adam Block
Comet NEOWISE by Adam Block In mid-2020, many stargazers around the world were able to see comet NEOWISE with the naked eye. This image of the comet was captured from Gila Bend, Arizona on 18 July 2020 by astrophotographer Adam Block.Image: Adam Block
Three telescopic views of Venus
Three telescopic views of Venus These 3 views of Venus were captured by the Chilescope Observatory in Chile on 15 February 2020. Visible-light views of Venus show a nearly featureless surface, so scientists use filters such as infrared (left, center) and ultraviolet (right) to capture atmospheric details unseen by the human eye.Image: S. Trattnig / D. Peach / Chilescope
Juno view of Jupiter, September 2020
Juno view of Jupiter, September 2020 NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured this view of Jupiter’s swirling clouds during its 29th close pass over the giant planet in September 2020.Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill
LightSail 2 image of Arabian Peninsula
LightSail 2 image of Arabian Peninsula This image, taken by The Planetary Society’s LightSail 2 spacecraft on 19 May 2020, shows the Arabian Peninsula with the Red Sea and Nile River at left and the Persian Gulf at right. North is approximately at top right. A material similar to a piece of fishing line, called Spectraline, held the spacecraft's solar panels closed prior to sail deployment and can be seen at upper left. This image has been color-adjusted, and some distortion from the camera’s 180-degree fisheye lens has been removed.Image: The Planetary Society
Icy Mars Cliffs
Icy Mars Cliffs About one-third of Mars has ice just beneath the surface. Scientists study the ice to learn what early Mars was like and whether it was warm and wet long enough for life to take hold. In this false-color image from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, layers of bluish ice can be seen layered inside an exposed brownish cliff face. MRO takes repeat images of scenes like this, occasionally revealing ice boulders that have tumbled down slopes.Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech / University of Arizona
Launch of United Arab Emirates Hope Mars Mission
Launch of United Arab Emirates Hope Mars Mission A Japanese H-IIA rocket blasts off carrying Hope, the United Arab Emirates’ Mars mission, on 19 July 2020.Image: Mitsubishi Heavy Industries
OSIRIS-REx Sample Collection Location
OSIRIS-REx Sample Collection Location This mosaic of the primary sample collection site for NASA’s OSIRIS- REx mission was created with 345 images captured by the spacecraft on 3 March 2020. OSIRIS-REx was 250 meters above the surface at the time. The specific collection site is the relatively rock-free area in the middle. The boulder in the upper right is 13 meters wide on its longest axis.Image: NASA/Goddard/University of Arizona

The Planetary Report • December Solstice

View Table of Contents

Help advance space science and exploration! Become a member of The Planetary Society and you'll receive the full PDF and print versions of The Planetary Report.

"We're changing the world. Are you in?"
- CEO Bill Nye

Sign up for email updates