NASA is slowly shutting down the Voyager probes.  Here are 18 groundbreaking photos from their 45-year mission.

NASA is slowly shutting down the Voyager probes. Here are 18 groundbreaking photos from their 45-year mission.

The thumb is a collage of four images taken by the Voyager spacecraft that appear in the piece.

This montage shows examples of stunning images of the solar system taken by Voyager 1 and 2 on their missions.NASA/JPL/Insider

The Voyager probes are pioneers of science, reaching farther into space than any other human-made object.

Originally sent on a four-year mission to Jupiter and Saturn in 1977, the twin probes surpassed all expectations and are still going 45 years later.

Among their achievements are the amazing photos of solar energy they uploaded before the cameras were turned off.

But now, they face a terminal problem: their power is running low, and NASA scientists are starting to shut down even more onboard instruments to save energy.

As they approach the end of their mission, here are 18 images from Voyager that changed science:

The Voyager probes were designed to visit Jupiter and Saturn.

A schematic shows the trajectories of the Voyager probes at the start of their mission.

Voyager probes zoomed through the solar system taking unprecedented pictures.NASA

The Voyager mission consisted of two probes, Voyager 1 and 2, which were launched in 1977 within a few months of each other.

The launches capitalized on a rare alignment of planets that allowed them to supercharge their travels into space.

They were originally built to last for five years, but they exceeded that lifespan many times over.

This is what Voyager saw on its approach to Jupiter.

This time-lapse video records Voyager 1's approach to Jupiter over a period of more than 60 Jupiter days.

A time lapse taken by Voyager 1 as it approached Jupiter in 1979.NASA/JPL

Voyagers 1 and 2 arrived at Jupiter in 1979. They took about 50,000 photos of the planet in total, which far exceeded the quality of photos taken from Earth, according to NASA.

The images taught scientists important facts about the planet’s atmosphere, magnetic forces and geology that would be difficult to decipher otherwise.

The probes discovered two new moons orbiting Jupiter: Thebe and Metis.

Jupiter and two of its moons are shown in a photo taken by Voyager.

Jupiter and two of its moons as seen by Voyager.NASA/JPL

Just like a thin ring around Jupiter

Jupiter's ring is shown, taken by Voyager.

A false-color image of Jupiter’s ring, discovered by Voyager.NASA/JPL

The spacecraft captured this image while looking at the sunlit planet.

Voyager 1’s biggest discovery was volcanic activity on the surface of Io, the moon of Jupiter.

Volcanic activity captured on the surface of Jupiter's moon Io by the Voyager spacecraft.

A photo taken by the Voyager spacecraft has discovered volcanoes on Io’s surface.NASA/JPL

Next stop: Saturn

A false-color image of Saturn taken by Voyager 2 shows features of the planet's atmosphere.

Three images of Voyager 2, taken through ultraviolet, violet and green filters, were combined to make this photograph.NASA/JPL

In 1980 and 1981, the probes arrived at Saturn. The flyby gave unprecedented insight into the planet’s ring structure, atmosphere and moons.

Voyager taught scientists about the details of Saturn’s rings, captured here in false colors.

Saturn's rings are shown in false colors in a photo taken by a Voyager spacecraft in 1981.

Saturn’s rings are shown in false colors in a photo taken by a Voyager spacecraft on August 23, 1981.NASA

Enceladus, Saturn’s moon, was seen in unprecedented detail by Voyager.

Encheladus, Saturn's moon, seen in unprecedented detail by Voyager.

Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons, is seen by Voyager.NASA/JPL

This photo, taken as the spacecraft flew, provided a unique view of the planet, letting us see the part in shadow.

Saturn seen by Voyager 1 on November 16, 1980, four days after the spacecraft passed the planet.

Voyager 1 looked at Saturn on November 16, 1980 to give this unique perspective of its rings.NASA/JPL

In 86, Voyager 2 arrived at Uranus

Neptune, seen in true and false colors by Voyager.

Voyager 2 captured these true-color (left) and false-color (right) images of Neptune in 1986.NASA/JPL

Voyager 1 continued forward and would not encounter another planet on its journey out of the solar system.

But Voyager 2 continued its exploration of our nearest planets, passing within 50,600 miles of Uranus in January 1986.

It discovered two extra rings around Uranus, revealing that the planet had at least 11, not 9.

His photos of Uranus’ largest moons revealed its complicated geological past. He also discovered 11 never-before-seen moons.

Miranda, the moon of Uranus, as seen by Voyager.

Miranda, the moon of Uranus.NASA/JPL

Here’s a picture of Miranda, the sixth largest moon of Uranus.

Voyager 2 was the first spacecraft to observe Neptune up close.

Neptune seen in false colors by Voyager

Neptune, seen in false colors by Voyager 2 in 1989. Here the red or white color means that sunlight is passing through a methane-rich atmosphere.NASA/JPL

In 1989, 12 years after its launch, Voyager 2 passed within 3,000 miles of Neptune.

One image shows blue Neptune in its entirety.

One image shows blue Neptune in its entirety.

Neptune, seen by Voyager 2 in 1989NASA/JPL

One image shows Triton’s rough surface.

One image shows Triton's rough surface.

Triton, seen by Voyager 2 in 1989NASA/JPL

Captured Triton, the moon of Neptune in unprecedented detail.

Another shows Triton’s southern hemisphere.

One image shows Triton's southern hemisphere, which appears irregular.

Neptune, seen by Voyager 2 in 1989NASA/JPL

Captured Neptune’s rings.

Neptune's Rings as Seen by Voyager

Neptune’s Rings.NASA/JPL

Here, the crescent shape of Neptune’s south pole was seen by Voyager as it departed.

the crescent shape of Neptune's south pole is seen by the traveler as he departs.

Neptune, seen by Voyager 2 in 1989NASA/JPL

Voyager 2 would never take pictures again. As it would not encounter another planet on its ongoing journey, NASA turned off its cameras after the Neptune flyby to save power for other instruments.

Voyager took 60 images of the solar system about 4 billion kilometers away.

Voyager 1's solar system portrait, composed of 60 images taken from 4 billion kilometers away.

The solar system portrait was provided by Voyager 1 in 1990.NASA/JPL

As its final photographic hurray, Voyager 1 took 60 images of the solar system 4 billion kilometers away in 1990.

Gave us the most distant self-portrait from Earth, dubbed the “pale blue dot”

traveler's pale blue dot

This is Earth, seen from 4 billion kilometers away.NASA

This is likely to be the longest selfie in human history for quite some time, a portrait of Earth 6 billion kilometers away.

After this photo, Voyager 1’s cameras were also turned off to save energy. It is possible that the probes’ cameras will be turned back on, but it is not a priority for the mission.

beyond the solar system

voyager 1 nasa on the heliopause

This artist’s concept shows the general locations of NASA’s two Voyager spacecraft. Voyager 1 (top) sailed beyond our solar bubble into interstellar space, the space between the stars.NASA/JPL-Caltech

While the probes are no longer sending pictures, they haven’t stopped sending crucial information about space.

In 2012, Voyager 1 became the first man-made instrument to cross interstellar space, passing through the heliopause, the boundary between our solar system and the rest of the universe.

Voyager 2 was the second, crossing the boundary in 2018. It then revealed that there was an extra boundary around our solar bubble.

The probes continue to send measurements of interstellar space, with strange hums likely coming from vibrations made by neighboring stars.

Even after their instruments are turned off, the probes’ mission continues

Both sides of NASA's gold record aboard the Voyager spacecraft are shown here.

A collage shows the two sides of NASA’s gold disk, which is aboard the Voyager spacecraft.NASA/Insider

Now NASA is starting to shut down the spacecraft’s last instruments in hopes of extending their lifespan into the 2030s.

But even after all the instruments are quiet, the probes will still drift away carrying the golden disk, which could provide crucial information about humanity if intelligent extraterrestrial life does come across the probes.

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