The DownlinkJan 26, 2024

Colorful faults and false colors

Space Snapshot

Noctis labyrinthus

Welcome to the labyrinth of night. The hauntingly-named Noctis Labyrinthus is a fascinating region near the equator of Mars, pictured here in an image from ESA’s Mars Express orbiter. It’s home to a network of intersecting canyons, some as deep as 6 kilometers (3.7 miles). The canyons were likely created by past volcanism in a nearby area, which would have caused the planet’s surface to arch upwards and then collapse. Image credit: ESA / DLR / FU Berlin.

Fact Worth Sharing

Mars illustration

Mars is home to the largest canyon in the Solar System. The Valles Marineris canyon is 4,000 kilometers (2,500 miles) long and up to 10 kilometers (6.3 miles) deep. It stretches across almost a quarter of the planet's entire circumference.

Mission Briefings

Tagsam lid removed

The OSIRIS-REx sample container has been opened. After struggling with two stubborn fasteners, the astromaterials curation team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center has finished opening the OSIRIS-REx sampler head. Scientists now have access to all of the material that the spacecraft collected from asteroid Bennu, including dust and rocks of up to about one centimeter (0.4 inches) in size. Pictured: The OSIRIS-REx sample head with the lid removed, showing the asteroid sample inside. Image credit: NASA / Erika Blumenfeld & Joseph Aebersold.


SLIM successfully landed, but faced some problems. On Jan. 19, JAXA’s SLIM (Smart Lander for Investigating Moon) spacecraft successfully landed on target, and deployed its two rovers. However, the probe landed on its nose, 90 degrees from its intended orientation. This prevented the spacecraft from generating solar power, and SLIM had to be powered down within just a few hours. Still, JAXA considers the Moon mission to have met its goals overall and is hopeful that the lander’s power can be restored.


NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter has ended its mission. The agency announced this week that imagery from the spacecraft’s Jan. 18 flight shows that one or more of its rotor blades sustained damage during landing, rendering it unable to fly again. Ingenuity was the first aircraft on another world and was only meant to perform up to five experimental test flights over 30 days, but ended up performing 72 flights over almost three years.


Arno Penzias, who discovered the cosmic microwave background radiation, has died. The American physicist and radio astronomer shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1978 with his colleague Robert Wilson for together discovering the evidence of the Big Bang. He died on Jan. 22 at the age of 90.

From The Planetary Society

Mars north polar ice cap from hope
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Mars is called the red planet, but its actual color may not be so simple. Much of what we know about the colors of worlds beyond Earth comes from spacecraft data, but those don’t map perfectly to what our eyes see. While the true colors of the planets may not be what you think, we have some decent guesses at what each world would look like to our eyes. Pictured: Mars as imaged by the United Arab Emirates Space Agency's Hope Mars Mission. Image credit: Emirates Mars Mission / EXI / Jason Major.

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It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s an asteroid! Or wait, is that a comet? If a space rock is coming your way, you’re going to want to know what kind it is. We’ve put together a handy guide to help tease apart the differences between asteroids, comets, meteors, meteorites, and meteoroids.

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Bethany Ehlmann is blazing a trail to the Moon. As principal investigator for NASA’s Lunar Trailblazer mission, the Planetary Society’s president is working to uncover the secrets of the Moon’s water. Bethany Ehlmann spoke about the mission on this week’s Planetary Radio, and will be giving a public lecture about it at Caltech in Pasadena, California, on Jan. 31 as part of their Watson Lecture Series. If you live in the area, be sure to check out the free event. If not, keep an eye on the lecture series’ YouTube channel for a recording of the event.

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Our January book club meeting is coming up. On Jan. 30, Planetary Society members can join a live virtual book club meeting to discuss "The Six" with author Loren Grush. The renowned journalist highlights the stories of six exceptional women chosen as astronauts in 1978: Sally Ride, Judy Resnik, Anna Fisher, Kathy Sullivan, Shannon Lucid, and Rhea Seddon. The monthly book club meetings take place in our online member community. Not a member yet? Join today.

What's Up

Jupiter illustration

In the early evening, look for Jupiter shining brightly, high in the sky. Yellowish Saturn is lower down in the evening west. In the pre-dawn, look for super-bright Venus in the east.

Register now for the 2024 Day of Action

Planetary Society Day of Action 2023

Help ensure the future of space exploration by joining The Planetary Society’s annual Day of Action, which will take place on April 29 this year. This advocacy event brings members together in Washington, D.C., to meet with their representatives in Congress to speak about the importance of investing in NASA’s exploration programs. Want to know more about what the experience is like? Check out a video recapping last year’s event. Pictured: Members at the 2023 Day of Action. Image credit: The Planetary Society.

Wow of the Week

A fault zone of mars danielle rose

This piece, titled “A Fault Zone of Mars” was made using watercolor and ink by Danielle Rose, a member of The Planetary Society and the International Association of Astronomical Artists. It was inspired by an image captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter’s HiRISE camera, showing a series of faults in the northern Meridiani Planum region on Mars. Image credit: Danielle Rose.

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!