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The Planetary SocietyMarch 13, 2020

An Epic Mars Panorama and a Space Board Game

The Downlink: Weekly resources to fuel your love of space

Gale Crater Panorama, late 2019


Gale Crater Panorama, late 2019
NASA's Curiosity rover captured this 1.8-billion-pixel panorama of Mars in late 2019 using more than 1,000 images. Download higher-resolution versions of the image here.

Space Snapshot

NASA released a 1.8-billion-pixel panorama of Mars as seen by the Curiosity rover. Curiosity took more than 1,000 images late last year to create the scene. Curiosity is exploring Gale Crater; the Trump administration has proposed to slash funding for its extended mission

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Facts Worth Sharing

The Curiosity rover was designed to operate for a minimum of 668 Martian days. As of 13 March 2020, it’s on day 2,702.

Yutu-2 as seen from Chang'e-4


Yutu-2 as seen from Chang'e-4
Chang'e-4 imaged the Yutu-2 rover in early January 2019 using its Terrain Camera (TCAM).

Mission Briefings

Moon China’s Yutu-2 moon rover (pictured) may try to spend a year driving to a scientific target 1.8 kilometers from its current location. The target location may have rocks that would help scientists better understand the history and geology of the region. Yutu-2 is part of the Chang’e-4 mission to explore the far side of the Moon

Mars Europe and Russia will delay launching the second ExoMars mission until 2022. The mission, which features the Rosalind Franklin rover, would have lifted off in July or August. Last-minute parachute testing already threatened to delay the mission; officials say travel restrictions brought on by COVID-19 exacerbated the situation. Mars missions can only be launched when Earth and Mars are favorably aligned; a 2-month window opens roughly every 2 years. 

Earth Private company Axiom Space is partnering with SpaceX to fly the first fully private mission to the International Space Station. In 2021 a SpaceX Crew Dragon will carry 4 people to the ISS in for an 8-day stay. Axiom already plans to install a private module aboard the ISS in 2024, as part of NASA’s plan to commercialize human spaceflight in Earth orbit. The shift is meant to allow NASA to focus its resources on sending humans to deep space.  

Moon NASA’s Orion spacecraft is back at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it will remain until launch. Orion spent the past several months undergoing testing at NASA’s Plum Brook Station in Ohio ahead of its 2021 test flight. That flight will see the Space Launch System blast the uncrewed spacecraft to lunar orbit and back. NASA plans to use Orion and other vehicles to land humans on the Moon in 2024 as part of the agency’s Artemis program

Mars NASA’s Curiosity rover successfully climbed its steepest hill yet on Mars. The mission team now has access to a geologically interesting spot they eyed from orbital imagery, where water may have once drained off nearby Mount Sharp. From its new vantage point, the rover will produce panoramas, scan the horizon for dust devils, and observe Martian clouds. 

Bennu Twelve surface features on asteroid Bennu now have official names that were proposed by NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission team. The names, authorized by the International Astronomical Union, describe craters, ridges, boulders, and other prominent features on the 500-meter-wide asteroid. OSIRIS-REx is currently preparing to collect a sample from Bennu in August.

From The Planetary Society

Uranus and Neptune

NASA / JPL-Caltech / Björn Jónsson

Uranus and Neptune
Only Voyager 2 has visited the ice giants, Uranus (left) in 1986 and Neptune (right) in 1989. These Voyager portraits are newly reprocessed to show the 2 planets at correct relative size and color. Since Voyager, planetary astronomers have studied the ice giants from Earth and have seen their faces change.

The March Solstice issue of our quarterly magazine, The Planetary Report, is now available! Members get a physical copy in their mailbox, but anyone can access the magazine online for free. This issue, 6 scientists discuss the big questions that will drive the next 10 years of exploration at Mercury, Venus, the Moon, Mars, small bodies, and the outer planets (pictured). 

Fuel Your Passion

XTRONAUT 2.0: The Game of Solar System Exploration


XTRONAUT 2.0: The Game of Solar System Exploration
The principal investigator of NASA's OSIRIS-REx mission has a new board game, XTRONAUT 2.0: The Game of Solar System Exploration.

The Planetary Society is excited to partner with OSIRIS-REx Principal Investigator Dante Lauretta to announce a new space science board game, XTRONAUT 2.0: The Game of Solar System Exploration. This game gives players the chance to develop space missions and explore the solar system, based on real planetary missions and rocket science as well as the politics and strategy that space missions have to navigate. Check out the official Kickstarter to reserve your copy and help get this game off the ground! 

What’s Up

Venus Over the next week you’ll be able to see Venus bright in the sky after sunset. Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn will be visible in the predawn sky. Uranus will also be visible after sunset, but you’ll need binoculars or a telescope to spot it. 

Wow of the Week

Curiosity Art

Gordon Auld

Curiosity Art
Curiosity art by Gordon Auld.

While Curiosity brings us ultra-high-definition photos of the Martian surface, an artist’s imagination delivers an equally compelling image of our robotic emissary on its alien world. Artist credit: Gordon Auld

Do you have a suggestion for the Wow of the Week? We’re looking for space-related art, music, gadgets, quotes, fashion, burning questions, sci-fi passages, or anything else that will make our readers go “Wow!” Send us your idea by replying to this email.

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