Voyager 1 Heads to Saturn

The late 1970s were a very active time for United States sponsored space programs. During the decade, NASA created a variety of projects including the first planetary landers to be sent to Mars in 1976. One of the most noteworthy programs coming from that time is the Voyager 1 mission. Voyager 1, a space probe, is equipped with a variety of scientific instruments designed to receive data and transmit it back to Earth, along with an audio record ecord, which is intended to play greetings from Earth and give examples of the planet’s diverse culture to possible extraterrestrial life. To date, Voyager 1 has been in operation for nearly 34 years. As the probe continues to hurl into interstellar space, every mile it travels is a first for space travel. Thanks to Voyager 1, scientists were able to see many planets and cosmic features for the first time. One such example is Voyager 1’s flyby of Saturn in 1977, which marked human beings first real encounter with the mysterious planet.

As Voyager 1 approached Saturn, there was a great deal of excitement. Though it may be taken for granted today, in 1977 a lot of details about Saturn were unknown, making Voyager 1’s encounter with the planet an awe-inspiring event. As Voyager 1 traveled at a speed of nearly 40,000 miles per hour, it took the first photographs of 5 of Saturn’s moons, along with the planets distinctive rings. Investigation into the composition of Saturn’s most prominent moon, Titan, led to many discoveries. Voyager 1 was able to use its instruments to detect the moon’s true diameter--which is often offset by dense clouds--and discovered an atmosphere rich in methane and nitrogen. After observing Titan and other moons, Voyager 1 would shift its attention to Saturn itself. After passing through the planet’s magnetic field, which also adds the benefit of protecting from solar wind, Voyager reached Saturn’s most easily recognized feature; its rings. Upon observing Saturn’s rings, Voyager 1 made another noteworthy discovery. While Saturn has nearly 100 rings, it was previously unknown that several of the rings are eccentric and irregular; a fact that was very surprising to scientists. There was one disappointing feature of the Saturn flybys however, lack of visibility of the moon Titan. Despite the many photographs taken by Voyager 1, a clear view of Titan’s surface was made impossible by the moon’s dense smog. To make the best of data collected, scientists used the photographs to try and learn about the cloud structure of Titan.

The investigation of Saturn also marked an important time for Voyager 1; it was the last planet that the probe would investigate. After providing scientists with new information about Saturn’s moons and unique rings, Voyager would leave the solar system forever. As the probe continues to project through space, hopes of further discoveries remain. Whether Voyager 1 will encounter extraterrestrial life or witness other unique cosmic events is yet to be seen, but one thing is certain; Voyager 1 will continue its journey.




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