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Voyager 1 enters new region in far reaches of solar system (photos)

NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft is set to cross the interstellar magnetic field solar bubble and cross into interstellar space.

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James Martin

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1 of 12 NASA

Voyager 1 poised to break through to interstellar space

As NASA's robotic space probe Voyager 1 prepared for launch in August 1977 on a mission to locate and study the boundaries of our solar system, researchers could only imagine the scope of the project's success.
Since its launch on September 5, 1977, Voyager 1 has traveled more than 11 billion miles, photographing some of the most spectacular and iconic images of our solar system's planets and moons, and returning stunning pictures of our very own home planet.
Here, the Voyager 1 spacecraft, encapsulated in a Centaur Standard Shroud, is hoisted up the gantry to be mated with its Titan-Centaur launch vehicle at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
Moving at a speed of 10.5 miles per second, the equivalent of more than 38,000 miles per hour, Voyager 1 is now the most distant man-made object from Earth. NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft has entered a new region at the farthest reaches of our solar system that scientists feel is the final area the spacecraft has to break through before reaching interstellar space.
Before entering this region, the charged particles inside the solar bubble bounced around in all directions, as if trapped inside the heliosphere, but Voyager is not in an area scientists describe as "magnetic highway for charged particles".
This highway connects our sun's magnetic field lines to interstellar magnetic field lines, allowing the exchange of lower-energy charged particles that originate from inside our heliosphere -- or the bubble of charged particles the sun blows around itself -- to zoom out and allows higher-energy particles from outside to stream in.
Once the spacecraft crosses the magnetic bubble's scope, scientists predict the direction of these magnetic field lines will change completely, signaling Voyager has broken through to the other side, outside the Sun's environment -- something which may be a couple of months to a couple of years away.
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2 of 12 NASA

Voyager's "Sounds of Earth" recordings

In a series of messages and sounds of Earth intended as greetings for any extraterrestrial beings the spacecraft might encounter during its decades-long sojourn through outer space, NASA launched Voyager carrying 12-inch gold-plated copper discs.
Containing greetings in 60 languages with samples of music and natural sounds of Earth's natural world, technician John Casani displays the "Sounds of Earth" recording before its installation on the Voyager spacecraft.
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3 of 12 NASA

Crescent-shaped Earth and moon

For years, Voyager 1 has sent back stunning imagery from the distant corners of our solar system, transmitting information via NASA's Deep Space Network, an international network of large antennas and communication facilities that support interplanetary spacecraft missions.
Voyager 1 captured this iconic image of a crescent-shaped Earth and moon on September 18, 1977.
This was the first time Earth and its moon were photographed together in a single image, captured by Voyager 1 when it was 7.25 million miles from Earth.
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4 of 12 Voyager Project, JPL, NASA

First portrait of our solar system

By February 1990, when these images were taken, Voyager 1 was farther from the sun than Pluto, and approximately 4 billion miles from Earth.
These pictures were the first ever taken of our solar system's planets from beyond their orbit.
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5 of 12 Voyager Project, JPL, NASA

Saturn's moon Mimas

Voyager 1 snapped this image of Saturn's moon Mimas in November 1980.
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6 of 12 Credit: Voyager Project, JPL, NASA

"That's here. That's home. That's us."

One of the most famous images ever snapped by Voyager 1, taken on June 6, 1990, was dubbed the "pale blue dot," depicting Earth on a scale never before seen.
Of the "pale blue dot," astronomer Carl Sagan said:
"That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every 'superstar,' every 'supreme leader,' every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there--on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam."
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7 of 12 Voyager Project, JPL, NASA

Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto

In March 1979, as Voyager 1 cruised by Jupiter, the spacecraft captured photos of the planet's four largest moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.
Although Jupiter has 63 moons in all, these four large Galilean satellites are the largest, with diameters of around 3,000 to 5,000 kilometers, and were discovered in 1610 by Galileo Galilei.
The moons, shown in relative size to each other, were the first objects found to orbit a body other than the Earth or sun.
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8 of 12 Voyager Project, JPL, NASA

Titan

Looking across the edge of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, from a distance of about 22,000 kilometers, Voyager captured this brilliant orange and blue image of the hazy Titan atmosphere on November 12, 1980.
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9 of 12 Voyager Project, JPL, NASA

Great Red Spot

A picture of Jupiter's Great Red Spot taken by Voyager 1 in February 1979.
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10 of 12 Voyager Project, JPL, NASA

The closest approach to Saturn

The crinkly, wavy shape of one of Saturn's narrowest rings when NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft made its closest approach to Saturn was a surprise to NASA.
The image on the left from Voyager 1 was released on November 12, 1980, while the image on the right shows a closer view of the same F ring in a photograph shot by the Cassini spacecraft on April 13, 2005.
The moon Pandora can be seen to the left of the ring, and the moon Prometheus is to the right of the ring.
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11 of 12 Voyager Project, JPL, NASA

Jupiter's moon Callisto

A close view of Jupiter's moon Callisto, taken by Voyager 1 on March 6, 1979, at an altitude of just 350,000 kilometers.
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12 of 12 Voyager Project, JPL, NASA

Point of light

From Voyager's great distance, more than 4 billion miles from Earth, our planet is a mere point of light.
Look closely for the tiny white speck in the right-most strip of color: that's us.

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