The DownlinkMay 03, 2024

Wow! But also, yikes!

Space Snapshot

Total solar eclipse 2024 seen from ISS

It’s no surprise that images from April 8’s total solar eclipse are among our coolest space pictures of the month. This view from the International Space Station shows the Moon’s shadow over the Canadian provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick and the American state of Maine. Check out the rest of our picks, including an asteroid photobombing a shot of a galaxy, a close-up of a Mars sample, Io’s south pole, and more. Image credit: NASA.

Fact Worth Sharing

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The first humans to ever witness a total solar eclipse from space were astronauts Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin. Their Gemini 12 capsule passed through the Moon’s shadow on Nov. 12, 1966, as the total eclipse traveled across South America.

Mission Briefings

Space debris up close

A Japanese spacecraft is advancing orbital debris cleanup. The main objective of the Japanese company Astroscale’s ADRAS-J (short for "Active Debris Removal by Astroscale-Japan") mission is to rendezvous with and study a large piece of orbital debris — the upper stage of the Japanese H-2A rocket. It captured this image of the rocket stage while just a few hundred meters away. This mission is an important step forward in the effort to reduce orbital debris that could damage other satellites. Image credit: Astroscale.


Earth’s quasi-moon likely came from the Moon. The asteroid Kamo‘oalewa is called a quasi-moon because it appears to go around Earth as it traces its path around the Sun. An international team of researchers compared the reflectance of Kamo‘oalewa’s surface with that of samples from other near-Earth asteroids and the Moon, determining that Kamo‘oalewa is likely a chunk of the Moon that was ejected by an impact.

small bodies

Asteroid hunters announced 27,500 newly spotted asteroids. Asteroid Institute, a program of B612 Foundation, and Google Cloud worked together to use sophisticated algorithms to detect asteroids in old datasets. Most of the 27,500 asteroids they have found orbit the Sun between Mars and Jupiter, but more than 100 are near-Earth asteroids.


China’s Chang’e-6 mission is due to launch today. The spacecraft will embark on a 53-day journey to the far side of the Moon and back, returning lunar soil and rocks to Earth that will help us understand the Moon’s history. Here’s what to expect from the launch and the mission as a whole.

From The Planetary Society

Day of action group 2024
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The 2024 Day of Action was a great success. On Monday, April 29, nearly 100 Planetary Society members gathered in Washington, D.C., as part of our annual Day of Action. These advocates (pictured) traveled from across the United States to push for more funding and better support for the nation’s pioneering space science program. In addition to the in-person meetings, nearly 100 advocates from 19 states and the District of Columbia sent letters and made calls to their legislators in support of the Day of Action’s key advocacy messages. Image credit: The Planetary Society.

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NASA's Europa Clipper mission is almost ready for launch. This week’s Planetary Radio is all about the mission. Follow along on a visit to the clean room at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to see the spacecraft, and hear a chat with Bob Pappalardo, project scientist for Europa Clipper, about the mission's collection of messages to another world.

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You know that astronomy and astrology are two completely different things. But in case you ever encounter someone who doesn’t, here’s our explainer on the difference between astronomy and astrology, why their names are so similar, and their diverging paths throughout history. Plus, a good example of why one is a science and the other is not.

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We’re going beyond the horizon. Will you join us? As a supporter of The Planetary Society, you know that every success in space exploration results from the community of space enthusiasts, like you, who believe it is important. That's why we're looking for you to help us raise vital funds to expand our core mission and strengthen the Society. Your gift of any amount today is an investment in the future and will help us usher in the next great era of space exploration.

What's Up

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It’s a great week for skywatching! The Eta Aquarid meteor shower peaks overnight between May 4 and 5, with about 60 meteors per hour at its peak seen from a dark site, particularly from the Southern Hemisphere. Mercury reaches its highest point in the pre-dawn eastern skies on May 9, improving its visibility. While you’re out, look for yellowish Saturn and reddish Mars, also both in the pre-dawn east. Learn more about what May’s night skies have in store.

Wow of the Week

Space junk survives atmosphere

This week’s “Wow” is more of a “Yikes!” On the right you see a stanchion used to mount batteries on the International Space Station that survived re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere in March, compared to a pristine stanchion on the left. The “yikes” part is that the piece of space station hit a home in Naples, Florida, when it reached the Earth’s surface. NASA released this image on April 15, 2024, and we included it in our coolest space pictures of that month. Image credit: NASA.

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!