The Downlink • Jun 11, 2021
Venusian Probes and UFOs
This color-enhanced picture, originally taken by NASA’s Magellan spacecraft, shows part of Alpha Regio, a tessera on Venus. Tesserae are extremely distressed areas of terrain that may be the oldest regions of the Venusian surface, having survived a period of extreme volcanic activity that re-surfaced the rest of the planet. DAVINCI+, one of NASA’s two new Discovery-class missions to Venus, will study Alpha Regio to test the hypothesis that the tessera plateaus are analogs of Earth’s continents, one of the many intriguing questions this pair of missions will seek to answer. Image credit: NASA/JPL.
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NASA’s Juno spacecraft completed a flyby of Jupiter’s moon Ganymede, and yes, the pictures are breathtaking. On June 7, Juno got a good look at the enormous moon — an icy world bigger than Mercury. The new photos (including the one pictured) show Ganymede’s surface features and craters in stunning detail. Data from the flyby will help scientists learn more about Ganymede’s ionosphere and magnetosphere, as well as inform future missions to the Jupiter system. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/MSSS.
The European Space Agency is going to Venus. The EnVision orbiter, launching in the early 2030s, will conduct a holistic study of Venus from its inner core to its upper atmosphere. The mission will aim to understand how and why Venus and Earth evolved so differently.
NASA’s InSight lander cleaned dust off itself — with sand. InSight had been struggling with dust buildup on its solar panels, which it relies on for energy. The Mars lander used its robotic arm to spill sand near the panels; from there, Martian wind picked up the sand grains, causing them to hit the dust and knock it off. Sounds counterintuitive, but it seems to have worked.
Jeff Bezos is going to space. The Amazon CEO announced on Instagram that he and his brother, Mark, will be on board the first crewed flight of Blue Origin’s New Shepard. It’s unclear who the other passengers will be, but bidding for one of the seats is already in the millions. Passengers are expected to blast off into suborbital space on July 20.
Mark your calendars: International Space Station astronauts will conduct two spacewalks this month — one on June 16 and the other on June 20. During both spacewalks, NASA flight engineer Shane Kimbrough and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet will install solar panels. The spacewalks are expected to last about 6.5 hours each.
From The Planetary Society
UFOs are in the news. Here’s how to evaluate the claims. As an organization that champions the search for life in the cosmos, we are nonetheless cautious when considering claims that aliens have visited Earth. With the U.S. government now publicly discussing UFOs (or unidentified aerial phenomena), this is a good time to brush up on some basic questions to ask when presented with video or photo “evidence” of alien spacecraft. Pictured: A still from a video of an unidentified aerial phenomenon. Image credit: U.S. Navy.
Biden's 2022 NASA budget says yes to pretty much everything. Released in full on May 28th, this is the second-best budget proposal for the space agency in 25 years. It would allocate $24.8 billion to NASA — 6.6% more than provided by Congress last year. Congress still needs to approve it, but for now we’re revelling in how much this budget could do for space science, exploration, and planetary defense. Chief advocate Casey Dreier joined the most recent Planetary Radio: Space Policy Edition to break down the details and discuss what's next for NASA as Congress takes up this request.
How did the universe begin? Why do galaxies look the way they do? These are some of the questions that drive Simons Observatory director Brian Keating. He also thinks deeply about the existential challenges faced by young scientists and how the Nobel Prize for Physics should be reformed. Tune into this week’s Planetary Radio for a fascinating hour with Keating and a visit to his lab with fellow physicists James Benford and Paul Davies.
Venus is very bright but low in the western sky just after sunset. To its upper left, Mars shines much dimmer. In the predawn, Jupiter shines bright in the east with yellowish Saturn to its upper right. Learn more at planetary.org/night-sky.
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Wow of the Week
Planetary Society supporter Andrew C. Stewart shared this painting of an imagined settlement on one of Jupiter’s moons, with the gas giant looming in the distance. As Juno peers down at Ganymede, we can imagine what it might look like to gaze back up from the icy surface.