Voyager Celebrated its 20-Year-Old Valentine to the Solar System on 02.13.10 Click on either photo to enlarge.
These six narrow-angle color images were made from the first ever 'portrait' of the solar system taken by Voyager 1, which was more than 4 billion miles from Earth and about 32 degrees above the ecliptic. The spacecraft acquired a total of 60 frames for a mosaic of the solar system which shows six of the planets. Mercury is too close to the sun to be seen. Mars was not detectable by the Voyager cameras due to scattered sunlight in the optics, and Pluto was not included in the mosaic because of its small size and distance from the sun. These blown-up images, left to right and top to bottom are Venus, Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn, Uranus, Neptune. The background features in the images are artifacts resulting from the magnification. The images were taken through three color filters -- violet, blue and green -- and recombined to produce the color images. Jupiter and Saturn were resolved by the camera but Uranus and Neptune appear larger than they really are because of image smear due to spacecraft motion during the long (15 second) exposure times. Earth appears to be in a band of light because it coincidentally lies right in the center of the scattered light rays resulting from taking the image so close to the sun. Earth was a crescent only 0.12 pixels in size. Venus was 0.11 pixel in diameter. The planetary images were taken with the narrow-angle camera (1500 mm focal length).
This narrow-angle color image of the Earth, dubbed 'Pale Blue Dot', is a part of the first ever 'portrait' of the solar system taken by Voyager 1. Image credit: NASA/JPL Earth is in the yellowy-orangy stripe on the right side of the photo about 2/3's down. You'll see a light blue dot. Easier to see if you click on the photo to enlarge.
In the years since the twin Voyager spacecraft were launched in 1977, they had already sent back breathtaking, groundbreaking pictures of the gas giants Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. It took Voyager 1 more than 12 years to reach the place where it took the group portrait, 6 billion kilometers (almost 4 billion miles) away from the sun. The imaging team started snapping images of the outer planets first because they were worried that pointing the camera near the sun would blind it and prevent more picture-taking.
After these images were taken, mission managers started powering down the cameras. The spacecraft weren't going to fly near anything else, and other instruments that were still collecting data needed power for the long journey to interstellar space that was ahead.
The Voyagers are still transmitting data daily back to Earth. Voyager 1 is now nearly 17 billion kilometers (more than 10 billion miles) away from the sun. The spacecraft have continued on to the next leg of their interstellar mission, closing in on the boundary of the bubble created by the sun that envelops all the planets. Scientists eagerly await the time when the Voyagers will leave that bubble and enter interstellar space.
For more information, see: http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/voyager/voyager-20100212.html
Voyager has played an epic part in our discovery and exploration of space ... and it's still going. Amazing.
What's amazed you lately?
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