The DownlinkFeb 02, 2024

Go fetch!

Space Snapshot

Percy arm gill

Now that’s a hardworking arm. Perseverance has been exploring Mars for nearly three years now, using its robotic arm to study Martian rocks and regolith and collect samples for future return to Earth. The rover's navigation camera captured images of its arm on Jan. 23, 2024, which were compiled into this picture — one of our picks for the coolest space images of the last month. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Kevin M. Gill.

Fact Worth Sharing

Mars illustration

NASA’s Perseverance Mars rover has a camera mounted to its robotic arm that can see features as small as a grain of salt. This camera’s job is to look for signs of microscopic life. On Earth, we’ve found microscopic bacteria fossils in rocks more than 3.5 billion years old.

Mission Briefings

Jezero crater lake

Perseverance has found additional evidence of an ancient lake on Mars. Ground-penetrating radar data from NASA’s Perseverance rover show evidence of sediments deposited by water, consistent with other observations suggesting that Mars’ Jezero crater once harbored a vast lake and river delta. This discovery reinforces the hope that traces of life might be found in the samples that Perseverance has been collecting in the area and caching for return to Earth. Pictured: An illustration of Jezero Crater as it might have appeared billions of years ago. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.


ESA is officially moving forward with EnVision. The European mission to Venus will aim to answer questions about how and why Venus went from being habitable to hellish. The mission has completed its study phase and work will soon begin to finalize the design and build the spacecraft. EnVision is expected to launch in 2031.


SLIM is back online. The Japanese lunar lander touched down on the Moon on Jan. 19 in an orientation that made it unable to generate power through its solar panels. On Jan. 28, JAXA announced that a shift in lighting conditions had allowed SLIM's solar cells to catch sunlight, allowing it to resume its science operations.

From The Planetary Society

Perseverance backup sample depot
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Samples are waiting for us on Mars. Here’s how to get them back. NASA’s Mars Sample Return program is a top scientific priority, but findings from an independent review board show that the project’s current schedule and budget are untenable. The Planetary Society has outlined a set of principles by which we believe the Mars Sample Return program must be reworked in order to succeed. Pictured: A photomontage showing 10 sample tubes deposited onto the Martian surface by NASA's Perseverance rover. Image credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech / MSSS.

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Get the inside scoop on what’s going on with Mars Sample Return. In this edited transcript of an interview from Planetary Radio: Space Policy Edition, Orlando Figueroa, who chaired the independent board that reviewed the MSR program, explains the challenges it has faced, the issues at the core of those problems, and what needs to be done to get MSR back on track.

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On the brighter side, two extraordinarily successful Mars missions just celebrated an anniversary. January marks 20 years since NASA’s twin Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, touched down on the surface of the red planet. The rovers were meant to operate for 90 days but ended up far exceeding that expected lifetime, with Opportunity operating for nearly 15 years. Matt Golombek, project scientist for the Mars Exploration Rover Project, joins this week’s Planetary Radio to celebrate.

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There’s a lot to look forward to this year in space. From wondrous sights to behold in the sky to a slew of exploration missions launching, there are plenty of cosmic events to look forward to. Here’s a tour of what to expect.

What's Up

Saturn illustration

Very bright Jupiter is high in the sky in the early evening, setting in the west in the middle of the night. Yellowish Saturn shines low in the evening western sky. In the pre-dawn skies look for super bright Venus and reddish Mars low in the east. Find out what else February’s night skies have in store.

Help bring those samples home

Day of action testimony 2019

One of the top advocacy priorities for this year’s Day of Action is Mars Sample Return. Do your part to ensure that this important program gets the funding it needs to bring those samples back to Earth. On April 29, join our annual advocacy event that 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. Pictured: Members at the 2019 Day of Action. Image credit: Antonio Peronace for The Planetary Society.

Wow of the Week

Bert robot dog

Want to fetch some samples? Maybe it’s best to send a dog. Maybe even Bert, the four-legged robot from the German space agency (DLR), that is designed to be remotely operated on the surface of another world. Bert recently explored a simulated planet under the control of European Space Agency astronaut Marcus Wandt while he was aboard the International Space Station. Image credit: DLR.

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!