The DownlinkMay 10, 2024

Can you imagine?

Space Snapshot

Jupiter in infrared from gemini

Imagine a cross between the Sun and Jupiter, and you’d get this. This view of Jupiter in the infrared makes the gas giant look like a swirling ball of fire, but what you’re seeing is actually just a distinction between warmer (brighter) and cooler (darker) regions. The image was captured by the Near-InfraRed Imager at the Gemini North telescope in Hawaii in 2017. Image credit: International Gemini Observatory et al.

Fact Worth Sharing

Jupiter illustration

Jupiter is the largest planet by an even bigger margin than you might think. Jupiter is twice as massive as every other object in our Solar System combined, other than the Sun. This includes every planet, moon, asteroid, and comet.

Mission Briefings

2024 niac phase 2

NASA is pursuing six new, far-out concepts. The agency’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program (NIAC) has selected six concept studies for additional funding and development. These visionary projects aim to revolutionize aspects of space exploration and utilization. They include a propulsion system that uses fission-generated packets of plasma for thrust, a mega constellation of autonomous SmallSats for measuring the magnetic fields emitted from exoplanets and the cosmic dark ages, a lunar railway system, and more. Pictured: A collage of artist concepts of the six projects. Image credits: NASA, From left: Edward Balaban, Mary Knapp, Mahmooda Sultana, Brianna Clements, Ethan Schaler.


NASA is asking Congress for extra money to deorbit the ISS. NASA Administrator Bill Nelson spoke before members of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee today asking them to approve money to build a deorbit vehicle for the International Space Station, separate from NASA’s regular budget request. The estimated cost of the deorbit vehicle has grown to $1.5 billion over six years.


Chang’e-6 is carrying a surprise rover to the Moon. After launching the Chang'e-6 spacecraft on May 3, China shared a picture that showed what appeared to be a small rover attached to the lander. The rover was previously undisclosed as a payload. It may carry an infrared imaging spectrometer, which could be used to determine the composition of the lunar rocks and soil, including the presence of water.


A new report is warning of increased orbital congestion. One of the findings of a new report on the state of satellite deployments and orbital operations from Slingshot Aerospace is that a total of 12,597 spacecraft were in orbit as of the end of 2023. This represents a 12.4% increase in the total number of satellites deployed compared to 2022 and includes 3,356 inactive satellites. All of this congestion increases the danger of collisions between spacecraft.

From The Planetary Society

Hwo simulated view sol system
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Imagine peering at the Solar System from 40 light-years away. This image shows how some of our Solar System’s planets might appear if we looked at them through the kind of instrument we use to image exoplanets around other stars. Specifically, it’s a simulated view through NASA’s proposed Habitable Worlds Observatory, a “Super Hubble” telescope that would directly image Earth-size exoplanets circling other stars. Learn more about this proposed mission and what it could teach us about our place in the Cosmos. Image credit: R. Juanola Parramon, N. Zimmerman, A. Roberge (NASA GSFC) / Labels by The Planetary Society.

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What is the role of the sublime in space policy? The latest episode of Planetary Radio: Space Policy Edition explores the topic of how beauty, wonder, and imagination play a part in space exploration. Guest Chris Cokinos is the author of the new book, “Still As Bright: An Illuminating History of the Moon, from Antiquity to Tomorrow,” which explores, among other things, the power of looking at the Moon and seeing something beyond what you’d expect.

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Science and science fiction have many cross-overs. This week on Planetary Radio, we celebrate “Doctor Who,” the longest-running science fiction show in history, and explore how this iconic series has influenced the scientific community. Special guest Russell T. Davies, the past and present showrunner of “Doctor Who,” gives a sneak peek at what’s to come in the newest season, and space fans from around the world share how the show has impacted their lives and space careers.

New in the member community

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Rethink everything you know about life in the Cosmos. Author Jaime Green joined last month’s virtual book club meeting to discuss her book, "The Possibility of Life," which explores life on Earth and the potential of life beyond it, including some mind-boggling ideas. You can watch the recording of the live Q&A that took place in the member community. Each month, The Planetary Society’s members-only book club reads a space-themed book, whether fiction or non-fiction. Members receive weekly prompts to inspire their thoughts and discussions and are invited to join a live virtual Q&A, usually with the author. Coming up in May: “The New World on Mars," by Robert Zubrin. Not yet a member? Join today.

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Introducing: Planetary People. Planetary People is a new series in our online member community, in which host Mat Kaplan interviews a special guest who has made an impact on space science and exploration. The conversation explores their careers, their favorite accomplishments or projects, what motivated them, and more. Our first guest is Professor Garry Hunt, a former NASA scientist who worked on the Viking mission to Mars and Voyager's Grand Tour of the outer planets and beyond, and who was a co-host on BBC's The Sky at Night for over 20 years. Planetary Society members can RSVP to join the live Q&A on May 17 at 3:00 p.m. ET.

What's Up

Mercury illustration

Early risers will see lots of planets this week. Mercury is low in the eastern skies, with yellowish Saturn and reddish Mars above it. Learn more about what May’s night skies have in store.

Invest in the future and go beyond the horizon!

Rover tracks spirit

Every success in space exploration is the result of the community of space enthusiasts like you who believe it is important. You can help usher in the next great era of space exploration through a stronger Planetary Society with your gift of any size today. Will you join us?

Pictured: NASA's Spirit rover took this image of its own tracks on Mars.

Wow of the Week

Inflatable heat shield nasa

NASA knows that some of its technologies might not work. It needs your help to figure out what to do about it. The agency recently announced a call for public feedback on potential shortfalls: technology areas requiring further development to meet future exploration, science, and other mission needs. “Whether you’re part of the space technology community or an interested member of the public, your input is invaluable,” according to NASA. By registering and providing your feedback on an initial list of 187 shortfalls, you can help inform national space technology priorities. Pictured: An inflatable spacecraft heat shield that NASA is developing to help land astronauts and massive cargo loads on Mars. Image credit: NASA/Greg Swanson.

Send us your artwork!

We love to feature space artwork in the Downlink. If you create any kind of space-related art, we invite you to send it to us by replying to any Downlink email or writing to [email protected]. Please let us know in your email if you’re a Planetary Society member!