NASA is slowly shutting down the Voyager probes.  Here are 18 groundbreaking photos from their 45-year mission.

NASA is slowly shutting down the Voyager probes. Here are 18 groundbreaking photos from their 45-year mission.

Voyager probes are pioneers of science, reaching farther into space than any other man-made object.

NASA originally sent the twin probes on a four-year mission to Jupiter and Saturn in 1977; they exceeded all expectations and are still lasting 45 years later.

Amazing photos of the solar system are among the accomplishments they transmitted before NASA shut down the cameras.

But now they face a terminal problem: their power is running out and NASA scientists are starting to shut down even more onboard instruments to conserve energy.

As they near the end of their mission, here are 18 images from Voyager that changed science:

The Voyager probes were designed to visit Jupiter and Saturn.

A diagram shows the trajectories of the Voyager probes at the start of their mission.

The traveling probes traversed the solar system taking unprecedented pictures.Nasa

The Voyager mission included two probes – Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 – which NASA launched in 1977 within months of each other.

The launches capitalized on a rare alignment of planets that allowed them to turbocharge their space travels.

NASA originally built the probes to last five years, but exceeded that lifespan several times.

This is what Voyager 1 saw on its approach to Jupiter.

This time-lapse video records Voyager 1's approach to Jupiter over a period of more than 60 Jupiter days.

A time-lapse taken by Voyager 1 as it approaches Jupiter in 1979.NASA/JPL

Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 reached Jupiter in 1979. They took about 50,000 photos of the planet in total, which far exceeded the quality of the photos scientists took of Earth, according to NASA.

The images taught scientists important facts about the planet’s atmosphere, magnetic forces and geology that would have been difficult to decipher otherwise.

The probes have discovered two new moons orbiting Jupiter: Thebe and Metis…

Jupiter and two of its moons are shown in a photo taken by Voyager.

Jupiter and two of its satellites, seen by the Voyager probes.NASA/JPL

…as well as a thin ring around Jupiter.

Jupiter's ring is shown, as taken by Voyager.

A false-color image of Jupiter’s ring, discovered by the Voyager probes.NASA/JPL

The probe captured this image as it gazed at the planet backlit by the Sun.

Voyager 1’s biggest discovery was the volcanic activity on the surface of Io, one of Jupiter’s moons.

Volcanic activity captured on the surface of Io, Jupiter's moon, by Voyager probes.

A photo taken by the Voyager probes discovered volcanoes on the surface of Io.NASA/JPL

Next stop: Saturn

A false-color image of Saturn taken by Voyager 2 shows features of the planet's atmosphere.

NASA used three Voyager 2 images – taken through ultraviolet, violet and green filters – to make this photograph.NASA/JPL

In 1980 and 1981, the probes reached Saturn. The flyby gave scientists unprecedented insight into the planet’s ring structure, atmosphere and moons.

Voyager taught scientists the details of Saturn’s rings.

Saturn's rings are shown in false color in a photo taken by a Voyager probe in 1981.

A Voyager probe took this false-color image of Saturn’s rings on August 23, 1981.Nasa

Voyager captured Saturn’s moon Enceladus in unprecedented detail.

Encheladus, Saturn's moon, seen in unprecedented detail by Voyager.

Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons, seen by Voyager.NASA/JPL

This photo, taken as the probe lifted off, offered a unique view of the planet.

Saturn as seen by Voyager 1 on November 16, 1980, four days after the spacecraft flew past the planet.

Voyager 1 returned to Saturn on November 16, 1980 to give this unique perspective on its rings, partially covered in shadow.NASA/JPL

In 1986, Voyager 2 had reached Uranus

Neptune, seen in true and false color by Voyager.

Voyager 2 captured these images, in true color (left) and false color (right) of Neptune in 1986.NASA/JPL

Voyager 1 continued straight ahead and would not encounter another planet on its journey out of the solar system.

But Voyager 2 continued its exploration of our nearest planets, passing within 50,600 miles of Uranus in January 1986.

He discovered two more rings around Uranus, revealing that the planet had at least 11, not 9.

His images of Uranus’ largest moons also revealed 11 never-before-seen moons.

Miranda, the moon of Uranus, as seen by Voyager.

Voyager images of Uranus’ moon Miranda have revealed its complicated geological past.NASA/JPL

Here is a photo of a Miranda, the sixth largest moon of Uranus.

Voyager 2 was the first spacecraft to observe Neptune up close.

Neptune seen in false color by Voyager

Neptune, seen in false color by Voyager 2 in 1989. Here, the red or white coloration means that sunlight is passing through a methane-rich atmosphere.NASA/JPL

In 1989, 12 years after its launch, Voyager 2 passed within 3,000 miles of Neptune.

An image shows the entire blue Neptune.

An image shows the entire blue Neptune.

Neptune, seen by Voyager 2 in 1989.NASA/JPL

An image shows the rough surface of Triton.

An image shows the rough surface of Triton.

Triton, seen by Voyager 2 in 1989.NASA/JPL

It captured Neptune’s moon Triton in unprecedented detail.

Another shows the southern hemisphere of Triton.

An image shows Triton's southern hemisphere, which appears uneven.

Neptune, seen by Voyager 2 in 1989.NASA/JPL

He captured the rings of Neptune.

The rings of Neptune, seen by Voyager

Neptune’s rings.NASA/JPL

Here, Voyager saw the crescent shape of Neptune’s south pole as it departed.

the crescent shape of Neptune's south pole is seen by the traveler as he departs.

Neptune, seen by Voyager 2 in 1989.NASA/JPL

Voyager 2 would never take pictures again. Since it would not encounter another planet during its current journey, NASA turned off its cameras after its flyby of Neptune to conserve power for other instruments.

Voyager took 60 images of the solar system about 4 billion miles away.

Voyager 1's portrait of the solar system, made up of 60 images taken 4 billion kilometers away.

Voyager 1 provided the portrait of the solar system in 1990.NASA/JPL

As the last photographic lap, Voyager 1 took 60 images of the solar system 4 billion miles away in 1990.

He gave us the most distant self-portrait on Earth, nicknamed the “pale blue dot”.

traveler pale blue point

This is the Earth, seen from 4 billion kilometers away.Nasa

This will probably remain for some time the longest range selfie in human history: a portrait of the Earth from 4 billion kilometers away.

After this image, NASA turned off Voyager 1’s cameras to save power. NASA could turn the probes’ cameras back on, but that’s not a priority for the mission.

beyond the solar system

travel 1 nasa in the heliopause

This artist’s concept shows the general locations of NASA’s two Voyager spacecraft. Voyager 1 (top) sailed past our solar bubble into interstellar space, the space between the stars.NASA/JPL-Caltech

Although the probes are no longer sending images, they have not stopped sending crucial information about space.

In 2012, Voyager 1 became the first man-made instrument to traverse interstellar space, passing the heliopause, the boundary between our solar system and the rest of the universe.

Voyager 2 was the second, crossing the boundary in 2018. It then revealed that there was an additional boundary surrounding our solar bubble.

The probes continue to return measurements from interstellar space, like eerie buzzes likely coming from the vibrations of nearby stars.

Even after the extinction of their instruments, the mission of the probes continues.

Both sides of NASA's gold record aboard the Voyager probes are shown here.

A collage shows the two sides of NASA’s gold disk, which sits aboard the Voyager probes.NASA/Insider

Now, NASA is starting to shut down the last of the probes’ instruments in hopes of extending their lifespans into the 2030s.

But even after all the instruments have gone silent, the probes will continue to drift carrying away the golden disk, which could provide crucial information about humanity if intelligent extraterrestrial life existed and should it encounter the probes.

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