The DownlinkDec 11, 2020

Wish upon a shooting star (or a descending asteroid sample)

Space Snapshot

Hayabusa2 container streaking through sky

Observers may have thought they’d seen a meteor streaking through the sky on 5 December, but this particular flash was something more special: a container with samples from asteroid Ryugu, plummeting to the ground after being dropped off by Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft. Image credit: JAXA/Edited by The Planetary Society

You love space, now take action

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

Meteors illustration

Meteor showers happen when the Earth passes through a cloud of debris shed by a comet that flew by sometime in the past. From our perspective, it looks like the meteors are hitting us; in fact, we are the ones plowing into them.

Mission Briefings

Hayabusa2 ryugu samples back on earth

Samples from asteroid Ryugu arrived safely on Earth. Japan’s Hayabusa2 spacecraft dropped off the samples on 5 December, snapping a beautiful photo of Earth as it sped toward its landing site in Woomera, Australia (pictured). Hayabusa2 now begins an extended mission to visit two more asteroids over the next 10 years. Learn more about Hayabusa2. Image credit: JAXA.


The astronauts NASA plans to land on the Moon in the mid-2020s now have science goals. The agency released a report recommending the crew take Apollo-style geology training courses to help them identify scientifically interesting samples. Meanwhile, NASA is preparing to test-fire the core stage of its Space Launch System rocket later this month. SLS will eventually be used to blast astronauts to the Moon.


China’s Chang’e-5 spacecraft is almost ready to bring its Moon samples home. The vehicle’s lunar orbiter is expected to depart for Earth Saturday, having received samples collected by a lander and ascent vehicle. The ascent vehicle blasted off on 4 December and rendevouzed with the orbiter. The orbiter then released the ascent vehicle, which intentionally crashed itself into the surface. Learn more about Chang’e-5.


Double dragons are docked at the International Space Station. An upgraded cargo version of SpaceX’s Dragon vehicle arrived on 7 December carrying science and supplies, joining its crew-carrying counterpart that arrived last month.

From The Planetary Society

Comet neowise aligned to stars
Planetary Society logo bullet

The results are in for the Best of 2020! In November we asked members and supporters like you to vote for the year's planetary science and exploration highlights. Over 3,000 people participated and chose these winners in a tight race between phenomenal feats of exploration. Pictured: The winning image of comet NEOWISE from July. Image credit: SimgDe.

Planetary Society logo bullet

Meet our new president! This week The Planetary Society announced the appointment of Bethany Ehlmann, professor of planetary science at the California Institute of Technology, as our next president. Bringing a wealth of experience in planetary science, advocacy, and outreach, Bethany will no doubt help us do even more to empower people like you to advance space science and exploration.

Planetary Society logo bullet

This week on Planetary Radio: Join host Mat Kaplan in welcoming Bethany Ehlmann to her new role, and get the full scoop on China’s lunar sample return effort and other space missions. Plus check out last week’s Planetary Radio: Space Policy Edition for a deep dive into the politics and public relations involved in NASA’s Apollo program, with Teasel Muir-Harmony, author of the new book Operation Moonglow: A Political History of Apollo. If you love the podcast, sign up for the monthly e-newsletter that takes you behind-the-scenes of Planetary Radio, sharing favorite episodes, guest insights, and more.

What's Up

Meteors illustration

Sample return containers aren’t the only things streaking through the sky this week: the Geminids meteor shower peaks on 13-14 December, with over 100 meteors per hour visible from a dark sky site. A total solar eclipse will also be visible from portions of Chile and Argentina on 14 December, with a partial eclipse visible from much of South America. Jupiter and Saturn continue to shine bright, very close to one another in the western evening sky. Reddish Mars twinkles further to the east in the evening, as does Venus in the predawn. Learn more at

Wow of the Week

Orion from sequoias

Planetary Society member Cobey Cobb captured this photo of the Orion constellation above the giant sequoia trees of the Sequoia National Park in California in November. See more of Cobey’s astrophotography, and try it yourself with the help of our guide to night sky photography for beginners.

Do you have a suggestion for the Wow of the Week? We’re looking for space-related art, music, gadgets, quotes, fashion, burning questions, brief sci-fi passages, or anything else that will make our readers go “Wow!” Send us your idea by replying to any Downlink email or writing to [email protected], and please let us know if you’re a Planetary Society member.