The DownlinkFeb 10, 2023

What does a bear have in common with a megatsunami?

Space Snapshot

Sunset viking 1 lander site

This vintage space snapshot represents a scientific question that researchers are still trying to answer. NASA’s Viking Lander 1 took this photo shortly after touching down on the surface of Mars in August 1976. Viking landed in a channel was once filled with water, so the mission team expected to see smooth terrain showing the effects of long-ago erosion. Instead, they saw the angular boulders visible in this image. One possible explanation is that they were carried there by a megatsunami. Learn more about this fascinating possibility in this week’s Planetary Radio, featuring a conversation with Mars expert, geologist, and Outer Space Institute Fellow Tanya Harrison. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

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Fact Worth Sharing

Mars illustration

Asteroid impacts could have caused megatsunamis in ancient Mars’ oceans because of their shallow depths. A large impactor could have gone through the water all the way to the sea floor, greatly amplifying the effect of the impact.

Mission Briefings

Jwst asteroid illustration
small bodies

JWST accidentally discovered a tiny asteroid. A team of European scientists were looking at calibration images from the space telescope’s observations of another main-belt asteroid when they noticed a previously unknown asteroid about 100-200 meters (approximately 320-650 feet) in diameter. Small main-belt asteroids like this have not been well studied because they are difficult to observe, but by spotting this small asteroid from around 100 million kilometers (more than 60 million miles) away, JWST has once again proven its game-changing capabilities. Pictured: An artist’s impression of the newly discovered asteroid. Image credit: N. Bartmann (ESA/Webb), ESO/M. Kornmesser and S. Brunier, N. Risinger (


The United States and India are expanding their cooperation in space. Officials from both countries announced this week that NASA and ISRO (the Indian Space Research Organization) will work together on civil space activities in the coming years. This includes training an Indian astronaut at NASA’s Johnson Space Center and cooperating on NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, in which NASA sends research payloads to the Moon aboard commercial lunar landers.


Astronomers have detected a new Earth-like exoplanet. A team using the 3.5-meter (11.5-foot) telescope at the Calar Alto Observatory in Spain have found a rocky exoplanet orbiting within its red dwarf star’s habitable zone (where liquid water could be possible on the surface). The discovery was made using the radial velocity method, in which small wobbles in a star's location indicate the presence of a planet.


NASA has a new chief astronaut. The space agency announced this week that it has selected veteran astronaut Joe Acaba as chief of the Astronaut Office. Among other responsibilities, he will select the astronauts who will fly on Artemis missions to the Moon. A decorated veteran of multiple spaceflights, Acaba is the first person of Hispanic heritage selected to lead the office.

From The Planetary Society

Miranda from voyager 2
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We’ve picked our favorite moons. Is yours on the list? Impossible as it may seem, we’ve narrowed the Solar System’s 240+ moons down to the eight moons we think are the most interesting. From our own familiar satellite to the wholly alien Io, from possible havens of life to a tiny and icy Frankenstein’s monster, there’s an astonishing diversity of worlds in orbit around our Solar System’s planets. Pictured: Uranus’ moon Miranda as seen by NASA’s Voyager 2 probe. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Ted Stryk.

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The White House has a new strategy for exploring the Moon. The new, whole-of-government strategy will help various public and private actors explore and make use of the Moon and cislunar space. Dr. Matt Daniels, the chair of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy group that defined this new policy, joins this month’s Planetary Radio: Space Policy Edition to discuss the strategy, its ambitions, and implications for the future of lunar exploration and development.

What's Up

Venus illustration

Venus shines very bright low in the west in the early evening, with Jupiter above it. Much higher in the sky look for two reddish objects; Mars is the brighter of the two, and the other is the star Aldebaran. Nearby look for the Green Comet (2022 E3 ZTF), which you’ll need binoculars or a telescope to spot. Find out what else February’s night skies have in store.

Wow of the Week

Bear on mars

In late January 2023, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured this image of a feature on Mars that bears the uncanny resemblance to… well, a bear! Although they aren’t totally sure yet, the mission team thinks the nose may be a hill with a V-shaped collapse structure, the eyes may be craters, and the head may be a circular fracture pattern. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona.

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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!