The Planetary Report

December Solstice 2023

From Our Member Magazine

The year in pictures: 2023

Space is vast. It often takes planetary exploration missions a long time to get where they’re going. As our robotic ambassadors cruise through the Solar System and beyond, sometimes the only thing to do is sit back and enjoy the journey.

BepiColombo, which launched in 2018, is still journeying to Mercury. It performed its third flyby of our innermost planet this year and will pass it three more times before entering orbit in 2025.

Back at Earth, OSIRIS-REx completed a seven-year, 7.1-billionkilometer (4.4-billion-mile) trek to asteroid Bennu and back in September, delivering a sample that may teach us about our very origins. The spacecraft is now on its way to visit Apophis, a near-Earth asteroid that will pass unnervingly close to Earth in 2029.

Psyche blasted off on a mission to visit a metal asteroid of the same name located between Mars and Jupiter. The spacecraft won’t arrive until 2029 after a journey of 4 billion kilometers (2.5 billion miles).

Juice, the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, launched on a mission to visit Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. The spacecraft will perform three Earth flybys, one Venus flyby, and one Mars flyby before reaching Jupiter in 2031.

Humans are journeying too. This year, there were briefly 17 people aboard the International Space Station and Tiangong space station combined, setting a new record for the number of people in low-Earth orbit at the same time.

The Moon continues to be a popular destination. The Chandrayaan-3 mission successfully placed a lander and rover in the Moon’s south polar region, and as The Planetary Report went to press, two NASA-sponsored commercial landers were scheduled to launch by the end of the year.

At Mars, the Perseverance rover and its companion helicopter Ingenuity continue their journey through Jezero Crater. Perseverance is collecting samples that will one day be brought back to Earth. Farther out, Juno is using Jupiter’s gravity to bring the spacecraft’s orbit closer and closer to the volcanic moon Io. On Dec. 30, 2023, and Feb. 3, 2024, Juno will fly past Io at a distance of just 1,500 kilometers (930 miles).

Sometimes, a destination is too distant for us to visit at the moment. Fortunately, we can still journey to far-off worlds with space telescopes like JWST, which delivered some stunning new views of the outer planets. Meanwhile, in interstellar space, Voyager 1 and 2 continued their journeys into infinity, collecting data on interstellar space.

Perseverance's Three Forks Sample Depot Selfie
Perseverance's Three Forks Sample Depot Selfie NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover took a selfie with one of 10 tubes the rover deposited at the sample depot it created in an area within Jezero Crater nicknamed Three Forks. The images used to create this mosaic were captured using the rover’s robotic arm on Jan. 20, 2023.Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS
BepiColombo "hugs" Mercury
BepiColombo "hugs" Mercury The ESA/JAXA BepiColombo mission captured a series of images from its June 2023 Mercury flyby. In this one, the spacecraft appears to give a goodbye “hug” to Mercury. Due to its proximity to Mercury, the team fired up some of the instruments on board to sense magnetic, plasma, and particle environments around the planet.Image: ESA / BepiColombo / MTM
Chandrayaan-3 Pragyan rover images Vikram lander
Chandrayaan-3 Pragyan rover images Vikram lander The Indian Space Research Organization’s Pragyan rover captured this image of the Chandrayaan-3 Vikram lander on the Moon’s surface on Aug. 30, 2023.Image: ISRO
Juno spies Jupiter and Io
Juno spies Jupiter and Io NASA’s Juno spacecraft captured this image of Jupiter and Io on May 16, 2023. The spacecraft flew by Io at a distance of 35,500 kilometers (22,060 miles), marking the mission’s closest Io flyby to date.Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS/Kevin M. Gill
The Uranian system
The Uranian system JWST’s NIRCam instrument captured this wide view of the Uranian system that features the planet Uranus as well as six of its 27 known moons.Image: NASA / ESA / CSA / STScI / J. DePasquale (STScI)
JWST images the Saturn system
JWST images the Saturn system JWST captured this view of Saturn using its Near Infrared Camera (NIRCam) instrument. The view includes Saturn’s moons Dione, Enceladus, and Tethys. The monochrome source image was mapped with an orange hue.Image: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI, M. Tiscareno (SETI Institute), M. Hedman (University of Idaho), M. El Moutamid (Cornell University) / M. Showalter (SETI Institute) / L. Fletcher (University of Leicester) / H. Hammel (AURA) / image processing by J. DePasquale (STScI)
Curiosity's 'Postcard' of 'Marker Band Valley'
Curiosity's 'Postcard' of 'Marker Band Valley' NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover used its black-and-white navigation cameras to capture panoramas at two times of day on April 8, 2023. The panoramas were captured at 9:20 a.m. and 3:40 p.m. local Mars time and were then merged together. Color was added for an artistic interpretation of the scene, with blue representing the morning panorama and yellow representing the afternoon one. NASA released the resulting image on June 13, 2023.Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech
A topsy turvy work station
A topsy turvy work station NASA astronaut Stephen Bowen is pictured during a spacewalk to install and deploy a roll-out solar array on the International Space Station. Bowen is attached to the Canadarm2 robotic arm during the removal of the new array from a pallet before installation.Image: NASA
Juice leaves Earth
Juice leaves Earth Juice, ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, captured this selfie roughly a half hour after liftoff on April 14, 2023. The image was taken by a monitoring camera and shows the coastline around the Gulf of Aden. This field of view will eventually be filled with deployed antennas and part of one of the solar arrays.Image: ESA/Juice/JMC
OSIRIS-REx capsule in the desert
OSIRIS-REx capsule in the desert The sample return capsule from NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission is seen shortly after touching down at the Department of Defense’s Utah Test and Training Range on Sept. 22, 2023. The sample was collected from asteroid Bennu in October 2020.Image: NASA/Keegan Barber
Jupiter's haze from JunoCam
Jupiter's haze from JunoCam As the Juno spacecraft flew low over Jupiter’s cloud tops in March 2023, its JunoCam instrument captured this look at bands of high-altitude haze forming above cyclones in an area known as Jet N7.Image: NASA / JPL-Caltech / SwRI / MSSS / Image processing by Björn Jónsson
Starship prior to first integrated test flight
Starship prior to first integrated test flight SpaceX’s Starship vehicle sits on the launch pad in January 2023 prior to its first integrated test flight.Image: SpaceX

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The Planetary Report • December Solstice

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