Let's Talk About: Spacecraft mark 35 years of exploration
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It has been 35 years since NASA launched the Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 spacecrafts. Their mission has opened up our solar system and showed us how much there is to learn and how diverse the bodies are that share the solar system with our own planet Earth.
Voyager 2 was launched Aug. 20, 1977, and Voyager 1 was launched Sept. 5, 1977. Originally designed as a four-year mission to Jupiter and Saturn, the Voyager tours were extended to a four-planet grand tour because of their successful achievements and a rare planetary alignment.
During their first dozen years of flight, the Voyagers returned never-before-seen images and scientific data, making fundamental discoveries about the outer planets and their moons. The spacecraft revealed Jupiter's turbulent atmosphere, which includes dozens of interacting hurricane-like storm systems, and erupting volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io, which has 100 times the volcanic activity of Earth. Their images gave scientists an indication of an ocean beneath the cracked icy crust of Jupiter's moon Europa.
They also showed waves and fine structure in Saturn's icy rings from the tugs of nearby moons, and small moons shepherding the narrow F-ring. A deep, smoggy nitrogen atmosphere on Saturn's moon Titan was also discovered as well as minus 390 degrees Fahrenheit geysers erupting from the polar cap of Neptune's moon Triton.
The Voyagers are on different flight paths. Voyager 1 is the most distant human-made object in the universe. It's currently about 11 billion miles from the sun and is now speeding outward from the sun at nearly one million miles per day. Voyager 2 is about 9.3 billion miles away from the sun.
For the past 23 years, the twin Voyagers have been probing the sun's outer heliosphere and its boundary with interstellar space. Both Voyagers remain healthy and are returning important scientific data from the edge of the solar system.
First Published November 22, 2012 12:00 am