The DownlinkJul 14, 2023

Speedy spacecraft and pretty pics

Space Snapshot

Global Mars in colour

The European Space Agency's Mars Express mission marked its 20-year launch anniversary on June 2, 2023. To celebrate, the spacecraft's High Resolution Stereo Camera team created a new Mars mosaic in which each constituent image is individually color-matched using high-altitude imagery models. The result is a richer, color global view of Mars than has ever been created before — one of our picks for the best space images of the last month. Image credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/G. Michael.

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Fact Worth Sharing

Mars illustration

ESA’s Mars Express mission is aptly named. It reached Mars particularly quickly because it launched when the orbits of Earth and Mars brought them closer together than they had been in about 60,000 years.

Mission Briefings

Phosphine venus

Scientists say they have made a new detection of phosphine in Venus’ atmosphere. The findings were announced by Jane Greaves, who led the team that published the original phosphine discovery back in 2020, which generated scientific controversy as some other observers were unable to detect phosphine. The reported new detection was made using the James Clerk Maxwell Telescope in Hawaiʻi and points to phosphine located deep within Venus’ atmosphere. Phosphine is a target of interest because it can be created by biological processes.


Data from the European Space Agency’s Cheops mission have revealed “the shiniest exoplanet ever found.” Located 262 light-years from Earth, planet LTT9779 b reflects 80% of its host star’s light, more than even Venus. Researchers believe the planet is shrouded by metallic clouds that act like a mirror on incoming starlight. The planet is roughly the size of Neptune.


Virgin Galactic completed its first commercial SpaceShipTwo mission. The suborbital spaceplane flew a crew of Italian researchers to an altitude of 85 kilometers (53 miles) on June 29. The mission was expected to carry 13 experiments. Virgin Galactic officials said they plan to start flying commercial missions at a rate of once per month.


India’s space agency ISRO was scheduled to launch the Chandrayaan-3 Moon mission just before The Downlink was published. Chandrayaan-3 consists of a lander and rover that will attempt to land near the Moon's south polar region around August 23. The Chandrayaan-2 Vikram lander crashed in 2019; ISRO says they have performed numerous tests to ensure that Chandrayaan-3 goes according to plan.

From The Planetary Society

2023 step winners
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Two new Planetary Society-funded projects are advancing space exploration. The Planetary Society recently announced the second round of winners of our STEP grants program: Science and Technology Empowered by the Public. Take a closer look at how one team will study salty Earth lakes that may be similar to ancient Mars and some of the Solar System's ocean moons. Our other winning team will test different methods of growing crops in space, preparing us for deep space human exploration. Pictured: Project leaders Jacob Buffo (left) and Andrew Palmer (right). Image credits: Dr. Chris Carr/Georgia Tech (left), Florida Institute of Technology (right).

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Dive into the rivers of our Solar System. Assistant Professor Sam Birch from Brown University joins this week's Planetary Radio to navigate the river systems of Earth, Mars, and Saturn's moon Titan. His team's newest research uses mathematical relations to apply what we know about Earth's rivers to the waterways on other worlds and predict what the Dragonfly mission to Titan might find when it arrives at its target.

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International collaboration is planetary. The Embassy of Switzerland hosted The Planetary Society for an event in Washington, D.C. last month. Swiss Ambassador Jacques Pitteloud spoke with CEO Bill Nye during a fireside chat about the importance of international collaboration in achieving major advancements in space exploration, planetary defense, and the search for life. Representatives from over 30 nations attended the event, including officials with the U.S. Congress and Biden-Harris Administration.

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Dangerous asteroid impacts are rare, but they do happen. And they will continue to happen unless we can prevent them. That’s where you come in! You can support the team of astronomers defending Earth with a gift today. Plus, your gift will be matched up to $25,000.

What's Up

Venus illustration

Venus shines bright in the west after sunset. Higher up, Mars is dimmer and reddish, and near the crescent Moon on July 20. Saturn rises in the east in the middle of the night, with bright Jupiter in the east in the pre-dawn. Learn more at

Wow of the Week

Ksc birds nest

Rockets and wildlife have co-existed on the Florida coast since the 1950s. This occasionally leads to some interesting juxtapositions, such as on June 7, when a NASA photographer spotted two ospreys in a nest atop a sign in front of the Vehicle Assembly Building at the Kennedy Space Center, where the agency’s Artemis launch vehicles are assembled. This is one of our picks for the best space pictures from June 2023. Image credit: NASA/Ben Smegelsky.

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!