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.
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.
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.
Just like a thin ring around Jupiter
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.
Next stop: Saturn
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.
Enceladus, Saturn’s moon, was seen in unprecedented detail by Voyager.
This photo, taken as the spacecraft flew, provided a unique view of the planet, letting us see the part in shadow.
In 86, Voyager 2 arrived at Uranus
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.
Here’s a picture of Miranda, the sixth largest moon of Uranus.
Voyager 2 was the first spacecraft to observe Neptune up close.
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 Triton’s rough surface.
Captured Triton, the moon of Neptune in unprecedented detail.
Another shows Triton’s southern hemisphere.
Captured Neptune’s rings.
Here, the crescent shape of Neptune’s south pole was seen by Voyager as it departed.
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.
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”
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
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
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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