Voyager 2- Liftoff!
Forty-one years ago today, on August 20th, 1977, Voyager 2 launched from Cape Canaveral.
Voyager 2 has sent back some of the most spectacular images and astounding science of any mission, since its visited Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune.
The Voyager missions were possible because of a unique planetary alignment that allowed for a single spacecraft to visit the outer planets. The Grand Tour as it was called, was the name that NASA gave to the original program that would visit the outer planets. Due to its massive cost, it was canceled and replaced with the Mariner Jupiter-Saturn or the Voyager program.
The Voyager spacecraft were sent on trajectories that send them into interstellar space, and on the off-chance, an alien race ever encounters the probes, they each contain a Golden Record, that holds directions on how to play the sounds and pictures included in the record.
The one-way light time from Voyager 2 to earth is 16 hours 18 minutes, and this increases each day. Even crazier, is how weak the signals from the spacecraft are when they reach Earth. This quote from JPL will give you an idea of just how weak the signal is.
“The sensitivity of our deep-space tracking antennas located around the world is truly amazing. The antennas must capture Voyager information from a signal so weak that the power striking the antenna is only 10 exponent -16 watts (1 part in 10 quadrillion). A modern-day electronic digital watch operates at a power level 20 billion times greater than this feeble level.”
Let’s fast forward twelve years and a few days.
On August 25th, 1989, Voyager 2 flew past Neptune. This is the first and so far only time that this ice giant has been visited. There’s still so much to be learned from this world and its many moons.
Pictured above- Neptune.
The images that Voyager 2 obtained of Neptune still provide us with the best look we’ve had of this distant world.
During this flyby, Voyager 2 imaged a massive storm, called the “great dark spot,” Neptune’s rings, and discovered six new moons. After passing by Neptune, the spacecraft encountered Triton, one of the moons that orbit the planet.
Triton is slightly larger than Pluto, to give you a sense of how large that moon is. It was the last world that Voyager 2 visited during its mission in our solar system.
Voyager 2 will continue to operate into the mid-2020’s, nearly 50 years after its launch.
Triton as seen by Voyager 2.