The DownlinkJan 19, 2024

Twice as nice

Space Snapshot

Great conjunction 2020 peach

When the Cosmos offers a two-for-one deal, take it! Planetary conjunctions happen when two or more planets are lined up — with one another and with Earth — in their orbits around the Sun, making them appear close together from our perspective on Earth. Despite being more than 640 million kilometers (400 million miles) apart in space, in the Great Conjunction of 2020 Jupiter and Saturn snuggled up together in the night sky. Astrophotographer Damian Peach captured this shot of the two planets and some of their moons during that conjunction. Image credit: Damian Peach.

Fact Worth Sharing

Jupiter illustration

When two planets line up perfectly from Earth’s perspective, one will pass in front of the other causing what’s called an occultation. This is very rare; the next planetary occultation won’t be until Nov. 22, 2065, when Venus will occult Jupiter.

Mission Briefings

Slim on the moon

Japan’s SLIM spacecraft is attempting a lunar landing today. The mission was scheduled to attempt its landing on the Moon at 10:00 a.m. ET on Friday, Jan. 19. If successful, this will make Japan the fifth country to land on the Moon. The SLIM lander is designed to demonstrate a technology for landing on much more precise lunar targets. Pictured: An artist’s concept of SLIM on the Moon. Image credit: JAXA.


Another Japanese mission is having a harder time. The Martian Moons eXploration, or MMX, mission has been delayed by up to two years, JAXA announced this week, in part due to problems with the rocket that will launch it. MMX will now likely launch in 2026, arriving at Mars to study the planet and its moons and return samples from Phobos to Earth. One of MMX’s two sample collection devices is PlanetVac, a technology Planetary Society supporters helped enable by funding tests in 2013 and 2018.

From The Planetary Society

2024 eclipse degrees
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A total solar eclipse is 12 weeks away! Another kind of occultation is happening this year, when the Moon occults the Sun creating a solar eclipse. On April 8, 2024, an estimated 635 million people will be able to watch the Moon cover at least part of the Sun. Find out more about what The Planetary Society is doing to celebrate and share this very special cosmic event. Pictured: A map of the 2024 solar eclipse. Image credit: The Eclipse Company.

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Want to ask Bill Nye questions about the Cosmos and our place within it? Well, now is your chance! You could be the lucky science enthusiast who joins Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye on an exclusive virtual video call. When you enter for your chance to win, you’ll also automatically be in the running to win a trip to meet Bill in person at The Planetary Society’s Eclipse-O-Rama festival this April in Fredericksburg, Texas for a VIP experience. Enter today! Each entry supports our mission to advance discovery in our Solar System and beyond.

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Kids can enjoy eclipses too! We’ve prepared instructions for a simple and fun eclipse activity you can do with kids. Plus, our chief scientist Dr. Bruce Betts has just released a book, in partnership with Lerner Publishing Group, all about eclipses for kids. Aimed at reading levels for grades 2 through 4, “Casting Shadows: Solar and Lunar Eclipses with The Planetary Society” introduces kids to the different kinds of eclipses, when they happen, how to watch them, and cool things to look out for during an eclipse.

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What lies in the hearts of planets? Sabine Stanley, professor of planetary physics at Johns Hopkins University and author of the new book "What's Hidden Inside Planets?" joins this week’s Planetary Radio to discuss some of the amazing things that we know are beneath the surfaces of the worlds in our Solar System.

What's Up

Jupiter illustration

Jupiter shines brightly, high in the sky starting in the early evening. Yellowish Saturn is lower down in the evening west. In the pre-dawn, look for super-bright Venus in the east. Find out what else the rest of January's night skies have in store.

Wow of the Week

Wonder and awe jeff lundeen

Planetary conjunctions aren’t limited to our Solar System — any star system with multiple planets will experience them. This painting from Jeff Lundeen shows two imagined worlds, snuggling up from the viewer’s perspective with a nebula in the background. Image credit: Jeff Lundeen.

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!