NASA’s interstellar Voyager 1 and 2 probes have now been in space for 45 years


Jupiter image taken by Voyager 2.

On its flyby of Jupiter, Voyager 2 captured images of the gas giant’s Great Red Spot and also took detailed images of the planet’s satellites. Voyager 1 and 2 both discovered moons orbiting Jupiter, including Thebe, Metis, and Adrastea. Adrastea is estimated to measure only about 19 miles (30.5 kilometers) in diameter.

Voyager 2: The only human spacecraft to visit Neptune

After also capturing many images of Saturn and taking in new details of its icy moons and its rings, Voyager 2 used a gravity assist to travel on to Uranus. This is where its path altered from Voyager 1, which was to focus on Jupiter and Saturn before traveling, making its way to the boundary of our solar system.

Voyager 2 became the first spacecraft to visit the ice giant Uranus when it made a close approach on January 24, 1986. The spacecraft’s readings showed that Uranus’ atmosphere is roughly 85% hydrogen and 15% helium. It also discovered 10 moons orbiting Uranus as well as a magnetic field that was, strangely, 55 degrees off the planet’s axis — scientists are still unsure today why Uranus’ magnetic field is off kilter. Voyager 2 also captured impressive images of Uranus’ moon Miranda, revealing its strikingly uneven surface.

NASA's interstellar Voyager 1 and 2 probes have now been in space for 45 years

Neptune image taken by Voyager 2.

After Uranus, Voyager 2 then went on to make its closest flyby of Neptune on August 25, 1989, flying roughly 3,000 miles above the planet’s surface. The spacecraft discovered five new moons and four rings around what is now considered the most distant planet from the sun in our solar system — Pluto hadn’t been disqualified at the time. Voyager 2 is the only human spacecraft to have flown past Neptune, making its data invaluable even today.