On the 5 September 1977 NASA’sVoyager 1 spacecraft was launched into space. It was designed to to explore the major planets of our solar system in particular Jupiter and Saturn.
Now some 40 years later Voyager 1 and its sibling Voyager 2 are defying all NASA’s expectations because not only are they still functioning perfectly, but they’ve become the first man-made objects to leave our solar system.
Equipped with humanity’s first message to alien life they could also be the messengers that first introduce us to a species from another solar system.
To accomplish such a landmark both Voyager spacecraft have become a collection of mind-blowing statistics and world firsts.
To celebrate 40 years of NASA’s incredible spacecraft here are just a few mind-blowing facts that sum up the incredible journey that’s taken place so far.
NASA clearly built the Voyager spacecraft hoping that they could reach interstellar space but just in case, they set the bar far lower. Initially Voyager's mission was simply to make it to Jupiter and Saturn, little did they know that both spacecraft would exceed all their expectations.
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When the Voyager spacecraft arrived at Jupiter in 1979 it started taking pictures, lots of them. Some 33,000 photos laters and scientists had made some incredible discoveries ranging from the erupting volcanoes of the Jupiter's moon IO to the hurricane-like storms that covered Jupiter's terrifying surface.
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Arriving at Saturn in 1981, both Voyager spacecraft altered our understanding of this ringed giant. Not only did we first discover that Europa had a vast subsurface ocean but it allowed us to actually measure the wind speed on Saturn revealing a gas giant that suffered from a permanent 1,100mph gale at its equator.
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Incredibly, Voyager 2 is still the only spacecraft to have visited both the planets Neptune and Uranus. When it arrived at Uranus in 1986 it made some incredible discoveries including 11 previously undiscovered moons around Uranus. When it arrived at Neptune in 1989 the records continued to be set as it discovered the planet's 'Great Dark Spot'. Later that year Voyager 2 would turn its cameras off, they will never be switched on again.
On February 14 1990 Voyager 1 would take one last look back at our solar system and capture one of the most famous pictures ever taken. 'Pale Blue Dot', is a part of the first ever 'portrait' of the solar system taken by Voyager 1. The spacecraft acquired a total of 60 frames for a mosaic of the solar system from a distance of more than 4 billion miles from Earth and about 32 degrees above the ecliptic. From Voyager's great distance Earth is a mere point of light, less than the size of a picture element even in the narrow-angle camera. Earth was a crescent only 0.12 pixel in size.
At around 5PM EST Voyager 1 passed Pioneer 10 and became the most distant man-made object in space. Travelling at a speed of around 39,000 km/h Voyager 1 was some 6.5 billion miles from the Sun.
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On the 25 August 2012 Voyager 1 becomes the first human-made object to leave the solar system and enter the vast blackness of interstellar space. It is now 11,600,000,000 miles from the Sun. In that same month Voyager 2 officially became NASA's longest-running mission in history.
40 years later Voyager 1 is now some 13 billion miles away. Despite what feels like an almost unimaginable distance, it is still transmitting back to Earth and will continue to do so well into the 2020s.