Voyager 1 Encounters Saturn
No other generation has had the opportunity or the technology to reach beyond our world-to see, to touch, to hear the forces that shape our universe. In slightly over two decades, man has ingeniously explored five distant planets-and two dozen moons. We have seen their weather and surfaces, landed on some, probed the atmospheres of others, and listened to their radio noises.
Under the planetary exploration program of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Voyager Mission, begun in 1972, was designed to explore Jupiter, Saturn, their satellites, rings, magnetic fields, and interplanetary space. Two automated, reprogrammable spacecraft, Voyagers 1 and 2, were launched in late summer of 1977. Their goals: the outer planets.
Both spacecraft made astounding discoveries in the Jupiter system in 1979-a thin ring, a thick ionized sulfur and oxygen torus, an actively volcanic satellite-these were but a few of the treasures yielded by the two Jupiter flybys.
Now, Voyager 1 has completed exploration of its final target: the ringed planet Saturn and its enigmatic giant satellite, Titan. True to the generally unpredictable nature of planetary exploration, the treasures of the Saturn system far exceeded all expectations. We learned more about Saturn in one week than in all of recorded history, thanks to one trusty robot no larger than a compact car and to thousands of diligent and imaginative people.
Both spacecraft carry an assortment of optical, radiometric, and fields and particles sensing instruments. Taken together, their data present a comprehensive picture of a planetary system-and clues to what is happening, what has happened, and what may happen in our universe.
This publication presents the preliminary photographic results of Voyager 1's encounter with Saturn and its major satellites. Voyager 1 transmitted over 17,500 images in its four months of close observations of the system. Many of these images have been combined to produce mosaics and color pictures. Hundreds have yet to be closely examined.
The second Voyager spacecraft will begin its close Saturn observations in early June 1981 and make its closest approach to the planet's northern hemisphere on August 25. Then, due to its launch during a period of rare planetary alignment occurring only once every 175 years, Voyager 2 will be able to continue on to a rendezvous with the seventh planet, Uranus, in January 1986, and perhaps even the eighth planet, Neptune, in August 1989.
Voyager 1's primary mission is complete. But its usefulness is far from over. As we go about our daily business, Voyager 1 is searching for another frontier-the edge of our solar system. In 7 to 15 years, the spacecraft will cross the heliopause-the farthest reaches of our Sun's magnetic field influence. Then, high above our ecliptic plane, Voyager 1 will continue its flight toward the star Alpha Ophiuchus. Eventually, Voyager 1 will be too distant to communicate with Earth and will silently drift in space forever.