Relive the Mind-Blowing Photos From the Voyager Missions

Image: NASA/Voyager 1
Image: NASA/Voyager 1

The universe is very good at making us feel both extremely insignificant and lucky enough to be part of something huge. No missions have made this clearer than NASA’s Voyager spacecraft, which have been exploring the cosmos for 40 years. Today, Voyager 1 officially turns the big 4-0, which it’s celebrating by cruising through interstellar space.

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Together, the Voyager missions have ventured past Jupiter, Saturn, the ice giants Neptune and Uranus, and even crossed the termination shock, into the outskirt’s of the Sun’s influence. These triumphant chunks of metal are still sending us back all sorts of scientific information and will continue to do so until they can’t/are swarmed by aliens.

Besides this video of someone playing “Despacito” on two calculators, Voyagers 1 and 2 represent the peak of human achievement. For Voyager 1's anniversary—and Voyager 2's belated, it launched on August 20th—we’ve compiled their greatest snapshots from the final frontier:

Saturn’s C and B Rings on Display. Taken August 23rd, 1981

Image: NASA
Image: NASA
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Voyager 2 took this incredible shot during its sojourn in the Saturnian system, while it was about 1.7 million miles (2.7 million kilometers) from the planet.

Uranus in true and false color. Taken January 17th, 1986.

Image: NASA
Image: NASA

According to NASA, Voyager 2 made its closest approach to Uranus a few days after this image was taken, on January 24th, 1986. The spacecraft came within 50,600 miles (81,500 km) of Uranus.

Neptune’s Great Dark Spot. Taken in August of 1989.

Image: NASA
Image: NASA
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Voyager 2 spotted this massive storm that was somewhat similar in size to the Great Red Spot on Jupiter. In 1994, Hubble found that although this storm mysteriously disappeared—a new one had cropped up in the planet’s Northern Hemisphere. Mysterious, enormous storm systems have continued to crop up on Neptune ever since.

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot

Image: NASA
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Voyager 1 studied the Jovian system from January to February in 1979, famously capturing the horrifying beauty of a storm known as the Great Red Spot. This massive, hurricane-like weather pattern could fit three Earths inside it.

Saturn and its moons, Tethys and Dione. Taken November 3rd, 1980.

Image: NASA
Image: NASA
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Voyager 1 arrived in the Saturnian system in November of 1980. It found three new moons on its trip: Prometheus, Pandora, and Atlas.

And of course, the Pale Blue Dot. Taken February 14th, 1990 by Voyager 1.

Image: NASA
Image: NASA
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On Valentine’s Day in 1990, Voyager 1 took this image, now immortalized in Carl Sagan’s 1994 book of the same name: The Pale Blue Dot. At the time, Voyager 1 was 40 AU from the Sun, plunging forward but looking back at us.

After all these years, we’re still that beautiful blue speck—our own little nest in the cosmos.

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Ad astra, Voyagers!

Space Writer, Gizmodo

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DISCUSSION

Dr Emilio Lizardo

Rae, I love your stuff, but you can’t post the Pale Blue Dot without all the Sagan quote. And you can’t post Sagan without getting choked up. It gets more appropriate with each passing year.

“Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space