The DownlinkDec 03, 2021

Let’s not forget the other Mars explorers

Space Snapshot

Curiosity panorama 2021

Not to be outshone by 2021’s new fleet of Mars missions, NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover sent home this stunning image from Mount Sharp, the mountain the rover has been climbing since 2014. The image combines two panoramas taken by Curiosity’s navigation camera, one at 8:30 a.m. and the other at 4:10 p.m. local Mars time, with details from the morning scene in blue, the afternoon scene in orange, and a combination of both in green. The two times of day provided contrasting lighting conditions that brought out a variety of unique landscape details. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

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Fact Worth Sharing

Mars illustration

NASA’s Perseverance and Curiosity rovers have a lot in common, including how they send data back to Earth. They both use the Mars Relay Network, a group of orbital spacecraft that study Mars from above and transmit data between the surface and the Earth.

Mission Briefings

Mro crater details

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spotted some mesmerizing new surface details. The crater (pictured), which spans roughly one kilometer, appears to have a wind-blown interior that creates ripple patterns. The result is a circular Martian labyrinth. MRO doesn’t only deliver spectacular images like this; it also plays a key role in the Mars Relay Network. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona.


Vice President Kamala Harris chaired her first National Space Council meeting. The meeting took place on the same day the Biden administration released its first major space policy document, which outlined priorities on a wide range of space topics including STEM education, space debris and planetary protection. At the meeting itself, participants criticized Russia’s recent antisatellite weapons test, which has created at least 1,700 pieces of tracked debris in Earth orbit.


A spacewalk postponed by space debris has been completed. NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn and Kayla Barron were originally scheduled to replace a faulty antenna system outside the International Space Station on Tuesday. Flight controllers postponed the spacewalk until Thursday in order to assess the risk from a cloud of debris scheduled to pass near the station.

From The Planetary Society

Trappist 1 system
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When scientists detect a possible sign of alien life, how do we know what to make of it? Jim Green, NASA’s chief scientist, and Mary Voytek, leader of the agency’s astrobiology program, are two authors of a paper that calls for a system that will allow scientists and others to evaluate the validity and importance of evidence that points to life elsewhere in the solar system or across the galaxy. They join this week’s Planetary Radio to talk about the paper and the quest to find life beyond Earth. Pictured: An artist’s impression of the TRAPPIST-1 exoplanet system. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

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The results are in! Planetary Society members and supporters cast their votes last month to choose the Best of 2021, and we’re excited to share the winners. From the best space image of the year (spoiler alert: it’s one of ours!) to the most exciting mission and more, the Best of 2021 winners sum up an amazing year of space science and exploration.

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‘Tis the season for giving space gifts! Whether you’re shopping for a loved one or looking to add cosmic items to your own wish list, our holiday gift guide has everything you need. This year’s guide collects recommendations made by the ultimate experts on all things space: Planetary Society members and supporters like you.

What's Up

Jupiter illustration

This week keep an eye out for bright Venus in the western sky around sunset, with Saturn and Jupiter to its upper left. Venus and Jupiter will be the brightest star-like objects in the sky. Learn more at

Wow of the Week

Curiosity path

This is a snapshot of an interactive map that shows the route NASA’s Curiosity rover has charted since landing on Mars in 2012. The spacecraft has spent 3315 Martian days (or “sols”) on the Red Planet, and has driven a total distance of over 26 kilometers (16 miles) in its mission to find signs of past habitability on Mars.

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!