Mission Voyager: A Timeless Journey Through Space

By Karan Pillai

May 20, 2022

Chasing infinity

Voyager 1 and 2 are two ambitious missions undertaken by NASA in the 1970s to fly only up to Saturn, but these sophisticated spacecraft managed to extend their courses far into the outer realms of our Solar System. Presently, the Voyagers are at a distance of over 20 billion km from Earth, travelling at over 54000 km/h.

Image source: NASA

The Golden Record

In an attempt to communicate with extraterrestrial civilisations, two phonograph records were equipped onboard the Voyagers carrying photographs, music and speech representing our society. Here we see the cover of the records, showing instructions in binary and pictorial code.

Image source: NASA

Great expectations

On August 20, 1977, NASA launched Voyager 2, a month before Voyager 1, as the latter had a shorter trajectory. In the subsequent years, they went on to take breathtaking photos of neighbouring planets and moons while also relaying information vital to scientific research.

Image source: NASA

Final look back

As both spacecraft charged into space towards their destinations, Voyager 1 managed to take the first-ever photograph of the Earth and the Moon in the same frame. At the time the photo was taken, it was at a distance of around 11.66 million km from our home planet.

Image source: NASA

Of bolts and flames

In 1979, NASA stunned the world with this incredible video of Voyager 1 approaching the gas giant Jupiter. It discovered lightning on the planet (the first-ever evidence outside Earth) and over 400 volcanoes on its moon, Io, making it the most geologically active celestial object in the Solar System.

Video source: NASA

Ringside view

When Voyager 1 first approached Saturn, it was a sea of unprecedented findings. Besides a hexagonal-shaped weather pattern at the North Pole, there was also the presence of a nitrogen-rich atmosphere on its moon Titan, just like the one found on Earth.

Image source: NASA

A cold welcome

In 1986, Voyager 2 gave us the first glimpse of the seventh planet in our Solar System, Uranus. While temperatures as low as -353℉ certified the gas giant as the coldest planet, its magnetic field was found tilted, which led to the magnetic poles being closer to the equator than its rotational poles.

Image source: NASA

Stormy encounter

The fourth and last gas giant in the Solar System, Neptune, was the last planet to be observed by Voyager 2 before it drifted further into space. The planet's fly-by in 1989 featured the discovery of its rings and six moons. It also captured The Great Dark Spot, a raging storm that rotates counter-clockwise.

Image source: NASA

Pale Blue Dot

Months after crossing Neptune, Voyager 2 switched off its cameras in 1989 to conserve power for the coming years. In the February of 1990, Voyager 1 also turned its cameras off, but not before taking this awe-inspiring photo of the Earth through scattered sunlight, over a distance of more than  6000 million kilometres.

Image source: NASA

Cosmic crossover

In 2012, Voyager 1 became the first human-made object to enter interstellar space, followed by Voyager 2 in 2018. Interstellar space is the threshold of the protective solar bubble created by our Sun where its cosmic rays meet matter ejected by other stars, thus creating a turbulent region also known as the Heliopause.

Image source: NASA

Signalling the future

NASA established the Deep Space Network (DSN), comprising three observation facilities strategically located in the USA, Spain and Australia – at a longitudinal distance of 120° from each other. The dish antennas at each site were intended to step in once the incoming signals grew weaker after the Voyagers crossed Neptune. At present, data from the spacecraft is getting updated every five seconds by the DNA.

Image source: NASA