Sign up for the MACH newsletter

You have been successfully added to our newsletter.

A daily newsletter charting the future: From technology to the scientific breakthroughs changing our lives.

The "Sounds of Earth" record is mounted on the Voyager 2 spacecraft at the Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 4, 1977.

Space

Far Out: 40 Years Later, Voyager Spacecraft Continue Grand Tour

The twin Voyagers have traveled farther than any other operating spacecraft built by humans.

 / Updated 11 PHOTOS
The antenna of NASA's Voyager spacecraft points towards Earth in this artist's conception.

As of Sept. 1, 2017, the Voyager 1 spacecraft was 12.97 billion miles from Earth -- more than 139 times the distance from our planet to the sun.

Above: The antenna of NASA's Voyager spacecraft points toward Earth in this artist's conception.

 

NASA/JPL
  • Share
NASA's Voyager 2, left, was launched on Aug. 20, 1977 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida where it was propelled into space on a Titan/Centaur rocket.
Voyager 1 was launched a few weeks later, on Sept. 5, 1977.

Staggered Launches

NASA's Voyager 2, left, was launched on Aug. 20, 1977 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it was propelled into space on a Titan/Centaur rocket. Voyager 1 was launched a few weeks later, on Sept. 5, 1977.

Though it launched later, Voyager 1 had a faster, shorter trajectory and has traveled farther than Voyager 2. 

Originally designed only to visit Saturn and Jupiter, additional flybys of the two outermost giant planets, Uranus and Neptune, were added to Voyager 2's mission after the first two flybys were successfully achieved. 

NASA
  • Share
The "Sounds of Earth" record is mounted on the Voyager 2 spacecraft at the Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 4, 1977.

Golden Record

The "Golden Record" is mounted on the Voyager 2 spacecraft at the Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 4, 1977.

Both Voyager spacecraft carry phonograph records that include music and other sounds from Earth and are intended to give any intelligent aliens who might encounter the craft a sense of what life on our planet was like during the latter part of the 20th Century. 

NASA via AP
  • Share
The "Golden Record" carried by Voyager was a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth.

Instructions for Extraterrestrials

The "Golden Record" was a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images. 

The cryptic drawings on the front of the record are instructions that explain how the record should be played. 

NASA via AP
  • Share
This color image of the Jovian moon Europa was acquired by NASA's Voyager 2 during its close encounter on July 9, 1979. Europa, the size of our moon, is thought to have a crust of ice perhaps 100 kilometers thick which overlies the silicate crust.

Jupiter's Moon

This color image of the Jovian moon Europa was acquired by NASA's Voyager 2 during its close encounter on July 9, 1979. Europa, the size of our moon, is thought to have a sheet of ice perhaps 100 kilometers thick that overlies a silicate crust.

NASA/JPL
  • Share
Possible variations in chemical composition from one part of Saturn's ring system to another are visible in this archival image from NASA's Voyager 2.

Saturn's Rings

Possible variations in chemical composition from one part of Saturn's ring system to another are visible in this archival image from NASA's Voyager 2.

NASA/JPL
  • Share
This approximate natural-color image shows Saturn, its rings, and four of its icy satellites. Three satellites (Tethys, Dione, and Rhea) are visible against the darkness of space, and another smaller satellite (Mimas) is visible against Saturn's cloud tops very near the left horizon and just below the rings. The dark shadows of Mimas and Tethys are also visible on Saturn's cloud tops, and the shadow of Saturn is seen across part of the rings. Saturn, second in size only to Jupiter in our Solar System, is 120,660 km (75,000 mi) in diameter at its equator (the ring plane) but, because of its rapid spin, Saturn is 10% smaller measured through its poles. Saturn's rings are composed mostly of ice particles ranging from microscopic dust to boulders in size. These particles orbit Saturn in a vast disk that is a mere 100 meters (330 feet) or so thick. The rings' thinness contrasts with their huge diameter--for instance 272,400 km (169,000 mi) for the outer part of the bright A ring, the outermost ring visible here. The pronounced concentric gap in the rings, the Cassini Division (named after its discoverer), is a 3500-km wide region (2200 mi, almost the width of the United States) that is much less populated with ring particles than the brighter B and A rings to either side of the gap. The rings also show some enigmatic radial structure ('spokes'), particularly at left. This image was synthesized from images taken in Voyager's blue and violet filters and was processed to recreate an approximately natural color and contrast. http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA00400

Saturn's Satellites

This approximate natural-color image from Voyager 2 shows Saturn, its rings, and four of its icy satellites. Three satellites (Tethys, Dione, and Rhea) are visible against the darkness of space, and another smaller satellite (Mimas) is visible against Saturn's cloud tops very near the left horizon and just below the rings. The two dark spots are shadows cast by Mimas and Tethys on Saturn's clouds.

Saturn, the second largest planet in our solar system, is 75,000 miles in diameter at its equator. Because of its rapid spin, however, Saturn is 10% smaller measured through its poles. Saturn's rings are composed mostly of ice particles ranging from microscopic dust to boulders in size.

NASA/JPL
  • Share
This is an image of the planet Uranus taken by the spacecraft Voyager 2 in 1986.

Expanded Mission: Uranus

Voyager 2 captured this image of Uranus in 1986.

As the spacecraft flew across the solar system, remote-control reprogramming was used to endow the Voyagers with greater capabilities than they possessed when they left Earth. Their two-planet mission became four. 

  • Share
This picture of Neptune was produced from the last whole planet images taken through the green and orange filters on NASA's Voyager 2 narrow angle camera. The images were taken at a range of 4.4 million miles from the planet, 4 days and 20 hours before closest approach. The picture shows the Great Dark Spot and its companion bright smudge; on the west limb the fast moving bright feature called Scooter and the little dark spot are visible. These clouds were seen to persist for as long as Voyager's cameras could resolve them. North of these, a bright cloud band similar to the south polar streak may be seen. http://photojournal.jpl.nasa.gov/catalog/PIA01492

Expanded Mission: Neptune

Neptune's "Great Dark Spot" and its companion bright smudge are visible in this image captured by Voyager 2.

The Voyager mission was designed to take advantage of a rare geometric arrangement of the outer planets in the late 1970s and the 1980s which allowed for a four-planet tour for a minimum of propellant and trip time. 

  • Share
P-34764 Voyager 2 obtained this high resolution color image of Neptune's large satellite Triton during its close flyby. Approximately a dozen individual images were combined to produce this comprehensive view of the Neptune-facing hemisphere of Triton. Fine detail is provided by high resolution, clear-filter images, with color information added from lower resolution frames. The large south polar cap at the bottom of the image is highly refective and slightly pink in color , and may consist of a slowly evaporating layer of nitrogen ice deposited during the previous winter. From the ragged edge of the polar cap northward the satellite's face is generously darker and redder in color. This coloring may be produced by the action of ultraviolet light and magnetospheric radiation upon methane in the atmosphere and surface. Running across this darker region , approximately parallel to the edge of the polar cap, is a band of brighter white material that is almost bluish in color. The underlying topography in this bright band is similiar, however to that in the darker, redder regions surrounding it.

Triton

Approximately a dozen individual images were combined to produce this view captured by Voyager 2 of the Neptune-facing hemisphere of Triton, the largest of Neptune's 13 moons.

Triton is unusual because it is the only large moon in our solar system that orbits in the opposite direction of its planet's rotation -- a retrograde orbit.

  • Share
This dramatic view of the crescents of Neptune and Triton was acquired by Voyager 2 approximately 3 days, 6 and one-half hours after its closest approach to Neptune (north is to the right).

Parting View

The crescents of Neptune and Triton appear in this image acquired by Voyager 2 some 3 days after its closest approach to Neptune in 1989. 

After completing their planetary flybys, the spacecraft continued on, flying toward the edge of the heliosphere, the huge bubble of charged particles and magnetic fields that the sun puffs out around itself. Voyager 1 popped free of this bubble in 20013, entering the unexplored realm of interstellar space. Voyager 2 is expected to follow suit in the next few years. 

Related: Voyager 1 Marks 40 Years in Space

Month in Space Pictures: Marvelling at the Eclipse, Harvey from Orbit and More

NASA/JPL
  • Share
1/11
MORE FROM mach