The DownlinkJan 07, 2022

New year, same universe

Space Snapshot

Tianwen 1 in mars orbit

It’s not every day you get to see a real image of a spacecraft above another planet. In fact, this image, captured by a small camera that was jettisoned from China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft in orbit around Mars, is the first of its kind. Image credit: CNSA/PEC.

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Fact Worth Sharing

Mars illustration

China’s Tianwen-1 spacecraft keeps shedding parts — on purpose. En route to Mars it released a camera to take a remote selfie. Later it dropped the Zhurong rover, which descended to the Martian surface. Now, another camera went off to take a photo in orbit.

Mission Briefings

Enceladus plumes

Curveball: Enceladus’ plumes might not come from a subsurface ocean. New research suggests the Saturnian moon’s famous plumes (pictured) might instead come from pockets of meltwater hidden in Enceladus’ icy shell. One of the scientists on this study, physicist Colin Meyer of Dartmouth University, said this research doesn’t oppose the idea that Enceladus has an underground ocean. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SSI/Kevin M. Gill.


Things are looking bright for JWST’s sunshield, which is now fully deployed. The telescope’s sunshield — about 21 meters (70 feet) long — was previously tucked away for launch on an Arianespace Ariane 5 rocket. NASA plans to unfold the telescope's final mirror segments today and this weekend, marking the end of major deployments for the observatory.


The Biden-Harris administration announced its intention to keep the International Space Station (ISS) operational through 2030. It seems the ISS will be functional for much longer than originally planned; at one point, the space lab was supposed to de-orbit in 2016.

small bodies

An exploding meteor started the New Year off with a bang. NASA’s Meteor Watch confirmed that on New Year’s Day, an “earthshaking boom” over Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, erupted when a meteor about a meter across moving at about 72,500 kilometers per hour (45,000 miles per hour) exploded high in the atmosphere. Even though the explosion had the force of about 30 tons of TNT, nobody was injured.

From The Planetary Society

Uss murtha orion
Planetary Society logo bullet

Sending humans to the Moon involves a lot of very different kinds of work. Among the myriad jobs required are spacesuit (specifically, moonsuit) designer and ship’s captain. Learn more about both on this week’s Planetary Radio. Pictured: NASA’s Orion test capsule aboard the USS John P. Murtha, the ship that’s set to recover the uncrewed capsule when it returns from the Moon this year. Image credit: Mat Kaplan / The Planetary Society.

What's Up

Saturn illustration

Jupiter shines low in the evening western sky, with yellowish Saturn to its lower right and dim Mercury nearby. Mars shines in the predawn sky, looking like a reddish star in the east. Nearby is the slightly brighter reddish star Antares. Learn more at

Wow of the Week

Algae and storms

Some things are universal. One of those things: physics. The upper image shows turbulent dynamics in a phytoplankton bloom in the Baltic Sea. Below, we see turbulence in clouds in Jupiter's atmosphere. Whether on Earth or far away on an alien world, physics remains the same. Image credits: NASA et al.

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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!