The DownlinkDec 01, 2023

Picks, pics, and peaks

Space Snapshot

Ispace eclipse from moon

The winners are in! The Best of 2023 campaign has wrapped, and voters from around the world selected their picks for the year’s best space images, mission milestones, advocacy achievements, and more. The winners include this image of a total solar eclipse seen from the Moon, captured by the Japanese company ispace’s Hakuto-R spacecraft. Other winners include a Perseverance panorama, a Planetary Society member’s depiction of icy peaks on Pluto, and the ever-impressive James Webb Space Telescope. See all the winners, and celebrate another great year of exploration! Image credit: ispace.

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This weekly newsletter is your toolkit to learn more about space, share information with your friends and family, and take direct action to support exploration. Anyone can subscribe at to receive it as a weekly email.

Fact Worth Sharing

Sun illustration

The Parker Solar Probe set a record this year for the highest speed reached by any human-made object. Its peak speed was 176 kilometers per second (more than 39,000 miles per hour, or 0.06 percent the speed of light) relative to the Sun.

Mission Briefings

Satellite size comparions

Large binary planets are an alien concept, but they could be out there. A new study has examined the possibility of binary systems consisting of planets much larger than Pluto and Charon, the only planetary binary in our Solar System. The study suggests that planets the size of Earth or even Jupiter could exist in binary pairs in other star systems. Pictured: A comparison of the size difference between Earth and its moon and the binary dwarf planets Pluto and Charon (bottom right). Image credit: NASA / JHUAPL / SWRI / Gregory H. Revera.


NASA is seeking volunteers to do solar science during the 2024 eclipse. People in the path of totality can sign up to take part in a citizen science project to record the eclipse in polarized light. Participants receive training and will have a telescope and camera shipped to them, which will be donated to their community afterward. No science background or previous eclipse experience is needed.


Climate change may have set the stage for the extinction of the dinosaurs. Researchers at McGill University in Canada have suggested that Earth’s climate may have been unstable in the period leading up to the asteroid impact that wiped out a large number of species, including the dinosaurs, 65 million years ago. This instability would have made life difficult for all plants and animals, perhaps making it even more impossible for them to survive the conditions caused by the impact.

From The Planetary Society

Starship raptors test flight 2
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November’s best space pics are here. Although they didn’t get a chance to be included in our Best of 2023 campaign, there were some jaw-dropping space images released this past month. We’ve collected our favorite space images from November, including this ridiculously cool picture of the 33 Raptor engines that power the Starship launch vehicle, which took off on Nov. 18 for its second test flight. Image credit: SpaceX.

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Lucy’s discovery of Dinkinesh’s moonlets was a highlight of this year. The mission to investigate Jupiter's Trojan asteroids made headlines in November when it flew past asteroid Dinkinesh and discovered a pair of tiny asteroids orbiting it. Hal Levison and Simone Marchi, the mission's principal and deputy principal investigators, join this week’s Planetary Radio to discuss the asteroid rendezvous and the surprising discovery it made.

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The Planetary Society is celebrating an anniversary! It’s been 44 years since Carl Sagan, Bruce Murray, and Louis Friedman signed the founding documents on Nov. 30, 1979, to establish The Planetary Society. Whether you’ve been with us since the beginning, joined recently, or are somewhere in between, we thank all our members for helping us continue our founders’ vision of empowering the public to advance space science and exploration.

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Get your tickets to Eclipse-O-Rama! Join us for two days (and up to three nights) at a 200-acre private ranch in Fredericksburg, Texas, that will be transformed into the ultimate Planetary Society member meet-up to view and celebrate the April 8, 2024 total solar eclipse! Our family-friendly festival will feature special talks on astronomy and planetary science, exhibitor and vendor booths, star parties, music, food, exhibitors, and an unparalleled view of the solar eclipse. Plus, you can enter a competition to win your tickets and travel, as well as a special spot to watch the eclipse with CEO Bill Nye! This is a Planetary Society member-only event, so if you aren’t already with us, join today.

What's Up

Jupiter illustration

Very bright Jupiter rises in the early evening east, and is easy to spot all night as it crosses the sky. Yellowish Saturn is up in the evening sky, near Fomalhaut, a bright star a little lower in the sky. Look for super bright Venus in the predawn east. Find out what December’s night skies have in store for you.

Wow of the Week

Drifting tool bag

Even in the extremely careful world of spaceflight, mistakes sometimes happen. This photo from the International Space Station shows a tool bag that accidentally got untethered during a spacewalk and drifted away from the astronauts who were using it. (Don’t worry, it doesn’t pose an immediate threat to the Station or its crew.) This view of the retreating tool bag is one of our picks for November’s coolest space pictures. Want more space pics? Check out our new playlist collecting all our space imagery YouTube videos. Image credit: NASA.

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!