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Voyager left NASA ‘happily bewildered’ by what it saw at Jupiter

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For centuries, humanity could view this giant world only through ground-based telescopes. But in 1973 and 1974, respectively, the Pioneer 10 and 11 spacecraft raced past the planet, providing the first close-up images of its stormy atmosphere, probing its internal structure, and charting its intense radiation belts and magnetic field. The Pioneer probes blazed a trail for further exploration of the outer solar system. Even as scientists reveled in the data the probes returned, NASA already was working on a far more ambitious encore.

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“It’s been a remarkable journey,” says Voyager project scientist Ed Stone at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. “We keep discovering things nobody knew we were going to discover.” He says both spacecraft may be able to return measurements from a single science instrument until 2030 if their power sources — called radioisotope thermoelectric generators — hold out as expected.

Encounter with Jove

On January 6, 1979, Voyager 1 was 36 million miles (58 million kilometers) from Jupiter and two months from its closest approach. Views of the planet’s cloudy, banded disk already exceeded the best images from Earth. Among other assignments, the probe began accumulating a time-lapse movie by taking images every 10 hours, one for each Jupiter rotation.

By early February, the resolution and image quality were comparable to the best pictures returned by the Pioneers. From that point on, Jupiter would be seen as never before.

When viewed from Earth through a small telescope, the planet’s atmosphere shows alternating bright white zones and darker brown belts. These are the visible manifestations of east-west jet streams that alternate direction from the equator to the poles and carry oval-shaped weather systems of all sizes.

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The planet’s largest feature, a vast southern storm called the Great Red Spot, had been observed continuously from Earth for 150 years. But now, for the first time, scientists could study its rotation and watch it interact with neighboring features. Large enough to hold a pair of Earth-sized planets, the Great Red Spot rolls between two jet streams and completes a rotation in about six days. It spins counterclockwise, the opposite direction as hurricanes in Earth’s Southern Hemisphere, classifying it as a high-pressure system. Its cloud tops extend nearly 5 miles (8km) above neighboring layers. Although winds whip around its periphery at 425 mph (680 km/h), the interior is calm. Its size and position vary slightly, and long-term ground-based monitoring shows that the longest-lived storm known to science is shrinking steadily.

Amy Simon at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, leads a team studying Jupiter with the Hubble Space Telescope. The observations show the storm’s long axis is half what was reported in the 1880s and about 30 percent smaller than during the Voyager flybys. And since 2014, the Great Red Spot has turned an unusually intense shade of orange.

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In 1998, two of three 60-year-old white oval storms in a cloud band south of the Great Red Spot merged, and in early 2000, the third oval joined them. The resulting weather system, named Oval BA, is about half the size of the Great Red Spot and persists today. In August 2005, amateur astronomers noticed it was acquiring a reddish color. The hue gradually deepened; by 2006, the storm was nicknamed “the Little Red Spot” and “Red Spot Jr.”

Yet despite the Voyager probes and later missions, vital questions about Jupiter’s atmosphere remain. Why are the jet streams and large storms stable for so long? What’s the energy source for the jets? And do the winds continue into the planet’s interior?

Diving into Jupiter

The top of Jupiter’s atmosphere consists of haze layers formed by complex hydrocarbons like ethane, ethylene, and acetylene. These chemicals assemble from the fragments of methane molecules broken apart by solar UV, a process similar to how smog forms in Earth’s atmosphere. About 25 miles (40km) deeper, the pressure approaches 60 percent of that at Earth’s surface (1 bar), but the temperature is only –193° F (–125° C). A deck of bright white clouds formed by ammonia ice crystals occupies this level.

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Minute frequency changes in spacecraft radio signals allow scientists to map the structure of Jupiter’s gravitational field; this enables them to develop models of what lies beneath the clouds. Pressures and temperatures increase steadily, but the hydrogen atmosphere simply grows denser and hotter with depth until, hundreds of miles beneath the clouds, molecular hydrogen starts to resemble a hot liquid. At depths 10 times greater, only 20 percent of the way to Jupiter’s center, pressures approach a million bars, and temperatures soar to 10,000° F (5,700° C) — nearly as hot as the Sun’s surface. Here the interior transforms into a more exotic substance called liquid metallic hydrogen, an electrically conductive soup of protons and electrons that makes up most of Jupiter’s mass.

Some 28,000 miles (45,000km) farther down, about 80 percent of the way to the planet’s center, the composition may change to a mix of water, methane, and ammonia at enormous temperatures and pressures. Another 4,400 miles (7,000km) down, and we’re 10 percent from the center; the pressure rises to around 40 million bars and the temperature to some 40,000° F (22,000° C). At this point, Jupiter’s composition may gradually morph into a dense core, perhaps containing up to 20 Earth masses in a mix of rock and iron that may also include water, methane, and ammonia.

At these pressures, dense materials may become soluble in liquid hydrogen, some scientists suggest. This means Jupiter’s original core may have dissolved partially or completely away, its high-density materials dispersed throughout a larger portion of the planet. One of the main goals of NASA’s Juno mission, which has been orbiting the planet since July 2016, is to answer the many remaining questions about how the solar system’s largest world is put together. (See “Under the veil,” above.)

Magnetic tango

Like Earth, Jupiter generates a magnetic field, which at the cloud tops is about 15 times stronger than our planet’s. The field traps, stores, and controls the flow of charged particles inside it, forming a vast, comet-shaped bubble — called a magnetosphere — that shields the planet from direct exposure to the solar wind. Pressure from the solar wind pushes the Sun-facing side into a rounded bow shock that slows and deflects most of the incoming charged particles in much the same way that water flows around the bow of a moving ship. The opposite side tapers into an immense magnetotail whose farthest portions wave and flap like the tattered end of a windsock.

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Between February 28 and March 2, 1979, the magnetosphere seemed to be playing hard to get with the approaching Voyager 1. The solar wind was gusty, producing unusually strong and variable pressures that pushed the bow shock closer to the planet. When the wind eased, the bow shock re-expanded. Pioneers 10 and 11 made their crossings 50 diameters from Jupiter, but Voyager 1 crossed it five times, the last at scarcely half that range (28 diameters).

On March 5, the spacecraft made its closest approach, passing within 128,400 miles (206,700km) of Jupiter’s cloud tops, barely one-third the distance at which Voyager 2 would pass July 9. Scientists selected this path so they could measure a hypothesized electrical circuit connecting Jupiter and its moon Io, and it took Voyager 1 deep into the most hazardous radiation belts in the solar system. Based on measurements from the Pioneers, the Voyager design included shielding that hardened sensitive electronics to the bombardment of high-energy electrons, protons, and ions stored in Jupiter’s equivalent of Earth’s Van Allen Belts. But an unprotected human passenger riding aboard Voyager 1 during closest approach would have received a thousand times the lethal radiation dose.

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Four new worlds

An extraordinary planet deserves extraordinary moons, and Jupiter’s four big satellites do not disappoint. Discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610, they are Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto (in order of distance from the planet). Ganymede, the largest and most massive moon in the solar system, is slightly bigger than Mercury, while Callisto is nearly the planet’s diameter. Both Io and Europa are roughly the size of Earth’s Moon.

The moons’ complexity and individuality, which scientists hardly suspected despite centuries of telescopic observations, proved a major surprise of the Voyager missions. Reporting their results in the journal Science three months after the Voyager 1 encounter, the imaging team noted that the large moons do not closely resemble either the planets in the inner solar system or one another. “The sense of novelty,” they wrote, “would probably not have been greater had we explored a different solar system.”

“They’re quite distinct,” says Stone, “and I think the one thing we have learned is that nature is remarkably diverse, and you don’t see replicas. Each body seems to have its own life history written on the surface and in its interior.”

There had long been hints that the big moons might be doing something interesting. Galileo’s 17th-century plots showed that Europa and Io always meet up on the side of Jupiter exactly opposite from where Europa and Ganymede do. In the 7.15 days it takes Ganymede to go around Jupiter once, Europa orbits twice and Io four times. This 1:2:4 resonance forces the moons’ orbits to maintain a slight eccentricity, which in turn causes their bodies to flex slightly due to tides raised by Jupiter’s gravity. Just as repeatedly bending a paper clip warms up the metal, this forced flexing warms the interiors of Jupiter’s big moons.

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On March 8, as Voyager 1 raced out of the Jupiter system, its camera captured a routine navigation image of a crescent Io as part of a program to refine knowledge of the spacecraft’s trajectory. The next day, JPL engineer Linda Morabito enhanced this image to locate background stars and uncovered another crescent shape on Io’s sunlit limb. It looked like the edge of another satellite peeking out from behind Io, but scientists determined that an unknown satellite so large would have been detectable from Earth. “No one understood what they were seeing, reinforcing the degree of difficulty associated with interpreting this image,” she later wrote.

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Scientists now know of at least 150 active volcanoes on Io. Some of them blast umbrella-shaped plumes containing sodium, potassium, sulfur, sulfur dioxide, and more to altitudes as high as 310 miles (500km). Some of the ejecta falls back to paint Io’s terrain in garish hues, and the rest forms a thin, distended atmosphere around the moon. Particle interactions ionize some of these atoms, and they then become swept up in Jupiter’s fast-moving magnetic field, which rotates with the planet’s 10-hour rotation. “About a ton per second of that material is picked up by the jovian magnetic field, and that mass of stuff inflates the Jupiter magnetosphere to about twice the size it should be,” Stone says.

The ionized gas spreads along Io’s orbit to form a doughnut-shaped cloud called the Io plasma torus. Some of the heavy ions in the torus migrate outward, and their pressure supersizes the magnetosphere. As Io moves through the torus, it continuously generates an electrical current that flows along a conduit, called the Io flux tube, linked to Jupiter’s upper atmosphere. Two billion kilowatts flow through the flux tube, comparable to the average global power consumption on Earth. The Voyager 1 team deliberately tried to pass through the tube, but the material around Io shifted its position from what was expected, and the spacecraft instead flew alongside it.

While imaging from Earth in 1993, Connerney and his colleagues discovered a spot of infrared emission in Jupiter’s polar atmosphere. The glow tracked with Io in its orbit and arose from energy coursing down the flux tube. But Io isn’t alone in this regard. In 2002, Hubble imaged Io’s spot in the UV and found two more glows from Europa and Ganymede, showing they generate their own flux tubes. “The system is highly coupled and connected, where the magnetic fields and the particles are all interacting with the moons,” Stone says. And the phenomenon isn’t unique to Jupiter. In 2011, scientists identified a UV spot associated with the active moon Enceladus in images from the Cassini mission orbiting Saturn.

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The outer trio

Europa, the next moon out from Jupiter, couldn’t be more different from its siblings. Low-resolution images from Voyager 1 showed a bright surface of frozen water with no discernible craters, along with hints of dark linear features. Voyager 2 passed much closer to Europa on July 9, and its images revealed frozen plains crisscrossed by dark streaks, giving it the look of a cracked egg. Europa’s surface is the smoothest in the solar system. Features display so little topographical relief that imaging team member Larry Soderblom compared the moon to a billiard ball. Later that year, the scientists who explained the heating of Io suggested that tidal flexing of Europa could provide enough heat to sustain an ocean beneath its icy shell, which is widely thought to be 10 to 15 miles (16 to 24km) thick. The ocean itself may be at least 30 miles (48km) deep, or more than 10 times the average depth of Earth’s seas.

In fact, several lines of evidence now support the presence of briny global oceans within Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, each containing more water than Earth’s seas. NASA’s Galileo spacecraft, which in 1995 became the first to orbit Jupiter, flew close to these moons and found that Jupiter’s rotating magnetic field induces currents in electrically conducting layers within them. These currents, in turn, generate secondary magnetic fields Galileo could detect. Europa’s induced response matches what researchers would expect for a salty subsurface ocean many miles thick. And different teams using Hubble in 2012 and 2016 discovered tantalizing evidence that Europa occasionally erupts plumes of water vapor reaching heights of 125 miles (200km), suggesting the icy shell may be quite thin in some locations.

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The Galileo mission revealed in 1996 that Ganymede generates its own permanent magnetic field, the only moon in the solar system known to do so, and therefore makes its own miniature magnetosphere. This complicates the interpretation of its induced field, but recent models, as well as Hubble observations of Ganymede’s aurorae, suggest the interior contains shells of different phases of water ice separated by salty seas.

Callisto, the farthest of Jupiter’s big moons, hosts the solar system’s most heavily cratered and geologically ancient surface. Its terrain is nearly saturated with bright impact craters. The largest visible feature, named Valhalla, resembles a bull’s-eye about 2,200 miles (3,600km) across, the frozen remnant of a giant impact. Galileo spacecraft observations indicate the presence of a salty, subsurface global ocean despite little tidal heating at Callisto now. Perhaps ammonia and other contaminants lower the freezing point enough for a liquid layer to survive. Opening act

The Jupiter flybys mark the first chapter in the Voyagers’ exploration of the outer solar system. They provided new views of an enormous, complex, and dynamic atmosphere that is still far from understood. They explored a vast magnetosphere loaded with particles from its moons, especially Io, and intimately connected to them. Close-ups of unique new worlds uncovered incredible properties, including the first example of active extraterrestrial volcanism and the first clues that frozen moons could sport internal seas. Further discoveries included a faint ring of dust extending 80,000 miles (129,000km) from the planet’s center, and two new moons, Metis and Adrastea, orbiting just beyond it. The probes also found a third satellite, Thebe, in a more distant orbit, though still well inside Io’s.

With Jupiter now in the rearview mirror, Voyager scientists could begin digging deeper into the data — and wondering what awaited them at their next destination, Saturn.

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Jupiter approach.

First close up view of Jupiter from Voyager 1

NASA launched the two Voyager spacecraft to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune in the late summer of 1977. Voyager 1's closest approach to Jupiter occurred March 5, 1979. Voyager 2's closest approach was July 9, 1979.

Photography of Jupiter began in January 1979, when images of the brightly banded planet already exceeded the best taken from Earth. Voyager 1 completed its Jupiter encounter in early April, after taking almost 19,000 pictures and many other scientific measurements. Voyager 2 picked up the baton in late April and its encounter continued into August. They took more than 33,000 pictures of Jupiter and its five major satellites.

Although astronomers had studied Jupiter from Earth for several centuries, scientists were surprised by many of Voyager 1 and 2's findings. They now understand that important physical, geological, and atmospheric processes go on - in the planet, its satellites, and magnetosphere - that were new to observers.

Discovery of active volcanism on the satellite Io was probably the greatest surprise. It was the first time active volcanoes had been seen on another body in the solar system. It appears that activity on Io affects the entire Jovian system. Io appears to be the primary source of matter that pervades the Jovian magnetosphere -- the region of space that surrounds the planet, primarily influenced by the planet's strong magnetic field. Sulfur, oxygen, and sodium, apparently erupted by Io's volcanoes and sputtered off the surface by impact of high-energy particles, were detected at the outer edge of the magnetosphere.

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40 years ago: voyager 1 explores jupiter, johnson space center.

Today, Voyager 1 is the most distant spacecraft from Earth, more than 13 billion miles away. Forty years ago, fairly close to the beginning of its incredible journey through and out of our solar system, it was making its closest approach to Jupiter. Although it was not the first to explore the giant planet, Pioneer 10 and 11 completed earlier flybys in 1973 and 1974, respectively, Voyager carried sophisticated instruments to conduct more in-depth investigations. Managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the Voyagers were a pair of spacecraft launched in 1977 to explore the outer planets. Initially targeted only to visit Jupiter and Saturn, Voyager 2 went on to investigate Uranus and Neptune as well, taking advantage of a rare planetary alignment that occurs once every 175 years to use the gravity of one planet to redirect it to the next.

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                              Left: Launch of Voyager 1. Middle: Model of the Voyager spacecraft. Right: The first single-frame image of the                               Earth-Moon system, taken by Voyager 1.

The suite of 11 instruments included: an imaging science system consisting of narrow-angle and wide-angle cameras to photograph the planet and its satellites; a radio science system to determine the planet’s physical properties; an infrared interferometer spectrometer to investigate local and global energy balance and atmospheric composition; an ultraviolet spectrometer to measure atmospheric properties; a magnetometer to analyze the planet’s magnetic field and interaction with the solar wind; a plasma spectrometer to investigate microscopic properties of plasma ions; a low energy charged particle device to measure fluxes and distributions of ions; a cosmic ray detection system to determine the origin and behavior of cosmic radiation; a planetary radio astronomy investigation to study radio emissions from Jupiter; a photopolarimeter to measure the planet’s surface composition; and a plasma wave system to study the planet’s magnetosphere.

voyager_instruments

                          Left: Schematic of the Voyager spacecraft, illustrating the science experiments . Right: Trajectory of Voyager 1 through the                          Jovian system.

Two weeks after its launch from Florida on Sep. 5, 1977, Voyager 1 turned its cameras back toward its home planet and took the first single-frame image of the Earth-Moon system, providing a taste of future discoveries at the outer planets. It successfully crossed the asteroid belt between Dec. 10, 1977, and Sep. 8, 1978. The spacecraft began its encounter phase with the Jovian system on Jan. 6, 1979, sending back its first images and taking the first science measurements. On Mar. 5, still inbound toward the planet, it flew at 262,000 miles of Jupiter’s small inner moon Amalthea, taking the first close-up photograph of that satellite revealing it to be oblong in shape and reddish in color. About five hours later, Voyager 1 made its closest approach to Jupiter, flying within 174,000 miles of the planet’s cloud tops. On the outbound leg of its encounter, it flew by and imaged the large satellites Io (closest approach of 12,800 miles), Europa (456,000 miles), Ganymede (71,300 miles), and Callisto (78,600 miles), all discovered by Italian astronomer Galileo in 1610 using his newly invented telescope. The Voyager images revealed each satellite to have a unique appearance, the most remarkable discovery being an active volcano on Io. Voyager 1 also discovered two previously unknown moons orbiting Jupiter, later named Thebe and Metis.  Looking back at Jupiter as it was backlit by the Sun, Voyager 1 discovered that the planet is surrounded by a thin ring. Observations of Jupiter concluded on Apr. 13.

jupiter_with_io_and_europa_from_voyager_1

                                   Left: Voyager 1 image of Jupiter and its Great Red Spot, with Io (at left) and Europa transiting in front of the planet.                                  Right: Composite image of Jupiter’s four large Galilean satellites, shown to scale (clockwise from top left) Io, Europa,                                  Callisto, and Ganymede.

After its successful exploration of the Jovian system, Voyager 1 sailed on toward Saturn. During its encounter in November 1980, the spacecraft returned a wealth of information about the planet, its spectacular rings and its satellites especially Titan, known to have a dense atmosphere. Saturn’s gravity imparted enough acceleration on Voyager 1 that it achieved escape velocity from the solar system.  More than 41 years after its launch, several of the spacecraft’s instruments are still returning useful data about conditions on the very edges of the solar system and even beyond.  In August 2012, Voyager 1 crossed the heliopause, the boundary between the heliosphere, the bubble-like region of space created by the Sun, and the interstellar medium.  It is expected that Voyager 1 will continue to return data from interstellar space until about 2025. And just in case it may one day be found by an alien intelligence, Voyager 1 and its twin carry gold plated records that contain information about its home planet, including recordings of terrestrial sounds, music and greetings in 55 languages. Instructions on how to play the record are also included.

jupiter_ring_from_voyager_1

                                  Left: Voyager 1 took the image of Jupiter backlit by the Sun, and discovered that the planet has a thin ring system.                                  Right: The gold disc carried by each Voyager.

voyager series spacecraft visited jupiter and its moons

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45 years ago, nasa's voyager spacecraft flew past jupiter. see how the iconic video compares to photos of the planet today..

NASA's Voyager 1 spacecraft flew past Jupiter 45 years ago, capturing iconic footage.

The Voyager probe's movie of Jupiter made history, revealing the planet like never before.

See how those images compare to Jupiter pictures from NASA's Juno mission today.

Voyager was one of NASA's most ambitious missions , and Jupiter is arguably our solar system's most beautiful planet. So when the two met for the first time, it was history — and art — in the making.

NASA launched its twin Voyager spacecrafts in the summer of 1977. Voyager 1 was first to approach Jupiter, entering the gas giant's orbit in March 1979.

As the probe approached our solar system 's largest and swirliest planet that spring, it captured the iconic video below. It's a time-lapse movie made of 66 images.

"Jupiter is far more complex in its atmospheric motions than we had ever imagined," Bradford Smith, who was leading the imaging team, said in a press briefing that February, even before Voyager had gotten close enough to make this video, according to Astronomy.com .

He added that his team was "happily bewildered."

The spacecraft made its closest approach to Jupiter on March 5, 1979.

The footage was monumental. To put it in perspective, prior to Voyager, the best close-up images of Jupiter were from the Pioneer 10 spacecraft. They looked like this:

Voyager was a major upgrade.

The first probe photographed Jupiter for 4 months, capturing 19,000 pictures. Voyager 2 entered Jupiter's orbit as Voyager 1 was on its way out and took an additional 14,000 photos before completing its Jupiter encounter in August 1979.

That was 45 years ago. Today we have a wealth of stunningly detailed, colorful snapshots of Jupiter and its moons , thanks to NASA's more modern Juno spacecraft, which has been orbiting the gas giant since 2016.

Compared to Voyager's first glimpse of Jupiter, Juno's portraits capture its intricate features in finer detail. With the help of modern image processing, Jupiter's colors, patterns, and violent weather are on full display.

The planet's iconic Great Red Spot is an anticyclone large enough to swallow Earth. Juno data has revealed that it extends up to 310 miles below the visible surface of the Jovian atmosphere.

That's greater than the distance between you and the International Space Station when it's overhead.

Juno even spots Jupiter's moons up close sometimes — such as Io, which Voyager discovered to have active volcanoes spewing lava into space .

Juno has even spotted Io's shadow gliding over Jupiter's turbulent surface.

The Voyager spacecrafts are now in interstellar space, the only human-made objects to ever leave our solar system. They are both slowly losing their power supply.

Juno should still be circling Jupiter, and sending back gorgeous images like this, until at least September 2025.

That's when Juno's current mission ends, but if it's still functional NASA might keep it going for more years to come.

Read the original article on Business Insider

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Voyager at Jupiter

Photography of Jupiter began in January 1979, when images of the brightly banded planet already exceeded the best taken from Earth. Voyager 1 completed its Jupiter encounter in early April, after taking almost 19,000 pictures and many other scientific measurements. Voyager 2 picked up the baton in late April and its encounter continued into August. They took more than 33,000 pictures of Jupiter and its five major satellites.

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Criscrossing lines and squiggles mark the reddish surface of Europa.

Science | May 22, 2024

The Seven Most Amazing Discoveries We’ve Made by Exploring Jupiter

The giant planet is a world of extremes

Jupiter

Among the planets in our solar system, Jupiter is the eldest and largest, and it often appears as the second brightest in the night sky after Venus. Scientists have long tracked this streaked gas giant ever since they started constructing simple telescopes. In 1610, Galileo Galilei observed Jupiter through his telescope and discovered four large moons. The finding prompted him to suggest the then-heretical notion that Earth, like these four Galilean satellites, may be encircling some larger astronomical body instead of being surrounded by minions at the center of the universe.

Jupiter’s extreme heft is its most characteristic feature. Owing to its gravitational prowess, Jupiter plays a “big brother” role in the solar system—it has had a hand in many historical events. Four billion years ago, the behemoth conspired with Saturn to combine their gravitational might to hurl comets and asteroids across the solar system. Such an event may have even brought about a cataclysmic period known as the Late Heavy Bombardment—when planetesimals peppered the inner solar system and potentially forged many of the craters that pockmark the surface of the moon today.

In the last 50 years, spacefaring missions and the development of more powerful telescopes have allowed scientists to peer past Jupiter’s clouds and dissect the planet with unprecedented clarity. Scientists have found that Jupiter’s environment is extremely hostile. Long-lasting storms jet around the planet and paint the surface in multicolor bands. Lethal levels of radiation threaten to fry any interloper. Like their mother planet, the Galilean moons are also far from being placid worlds.

With its gorgeous swirling overcoat and nature of extremes, Jupiter has long captured the public imagination and continues to inspire scientific study. Recent discoveries have only heightened Jupiter’s mystique, enticing researchers to probe this far-flung realm. Here are some of the most enthralling findings scientists have made about Jupiter and its moons in the last five decades.

Jupiter has a strange core

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As a gas giant, Jupiter isn’t terra firma—all the way down to its fuzzy core. At its center is a diluted mixture of heavy-element solids and gases squeezed beyond recognition by gravity. Imagine biting into day-old boba that’s still soft on the outside but has hardened somewhat in the middle—Jupiter has a similar consistency, one of a fluffy outer layer that transitions into a dense core in one continuum.

Jupiter’s strange interior was discovered by the Juno mission in 2017 through gravity field measurements , a technique that maps the subtle variations in the gravitational tug on a spacecraft as it skims all across the planet. The gravity data looked nothing like that for planets with a sharp solid-fluid boundary, prompting scientists to propose that Jupiter has a fuzzy core. “We still don't fully understand exactly what is going on,” says Heidi Becker, a NASA planetary scientist and one of Juno’s co-investigative leads.

Understanding the core provides clues into Jupiter’s formation. Most proto-planets start accreting solids first until they become massive enough to switch to recruiting gases. To explain the Jupiter data, scientists theorize that perhaps Jupiter never stopped accreting solids as it grew. As a result, the planet may be an uneven mixture of solids and gases from center to surface. Another speculation is that a giant impactor, one that formidably matched Jupiter in size and heft, fell into Jupiter and stirred up the planet’s insides, blurring out the core-mantle boundary.

A powerful magnetosphere creates energetic streams

voyager series spacecraft visited jupiter and its moons

Earth’s magnetic field arises from swirling molten iron in its core that generates a dynamo. On Jupiter, a curious form of matter known as metallic hydrogen powers the magnetic field instead.

Jupiter’s heft translates to immense pressures deep inside its heart, which fashions exotic matter found nowhere else in the solar system. Hydrogen, the lightest element on the periodic table and typically a gas, is pinched inside the planet until its electrons detach from the atoms and swarm freely. This sea of mobile electrons creates the dynamo that gives Jupiter its powerful magnetic field. Jupiter’s sphere of magnetic influence is the largest object in the solar system, several times wid er than the sun . This magnetosphere is mammoth enough to protect the planet from solar winds, sweeping the sun-flung particles as far as Saturn’s orbit .

Jupiter may be untouchable by solar winds, but the Jovian system—Jupiter and its moons— generates its own energetic particles. They are trapped and accelerated by the very magnetic field that protects the planet from external ionic bombardment.

“The presence of the magnetic field has pros and cons,” says Cheng Li, a planetary scientist at the University of Michigan and a Juno co-investigator.

The charged particles come from Jupiter’s most volatile moon, Io, whose volcanic spew becomes electrified as the magnetic field rips electrons from its molecules. The stray electrons zip around Jupiter near the speed of light and release radio waves. These radio emissions are a nuisance from a scientific perspective, because they drown out radar signals from scientists aiming to probe the planet’s interior from Earth. The electron shield also creates a radiation belt that pummels visiting spacecrafts. With this hazard in mind, scientists built Juno “like an armored tank,” Becker says—all its sensitive electronics sit inside an electron-shielding titanium vault that weighs almost 400 pounds .

Nevertheless, Jupiter’s strong-arm magnetosphere creates spectacular auroras when the electrons it directs invariably smash into other atoms in the atmosphere to release bursts of light. Given that the magnetic field is large enough to envelop the moons, it also ferries ejecta from Io elsewhere. Scientists have detected contaminants all the way on Europa, another Jovian moon that’s hundreds of thousands of miles from Io.

Jupiter runs hot

Jupiter's North Pole

Jupiter isn’t done cooling off from its primordial days. Heat still emanates from the planet billions of years after it formed. Scientists think that this heat helps drive the intense storms that hog Jupiter’s atmosphere.

The Voyager mission measured how much warmth Jupiter was giving off when it skimmed past the gas giant in 1979 . Scientists realized then that Jupiter was shedding more heat than models had predicted: Some parts of the planet were burning at nearly 800 degrees Fahrenheit above what researchers had expected.

The mystery of the clandestine heat was resolved four decades later when scientists at the Keck Observatory mapped Jupiter’s temperatures . The planet ran coldest near the equator and hottest near the magnetic poles, where the auroras flared most intensely. This demonstrated that the auroras present an additional heat source. Plasma from Io collides with Jupiter’s atmosphere to create spectacular auroras, and it rubs against Jupiter’s fast-moving winds to generate enough friction that it raises temperatures globally.

Jupiter boasts eclectic moons

Jupiter's Moons

Jupiter does more than help shuffle chemicals between its moons. The planet can also heat its moons from a distance through its gravitational field.

This long-range heating is apparent among its four Galilean moons. Jupiter’s gravitational influence has remade these moons into the tantalizing worlds they are today. “They’re not just these static rocks that are sitting around in space gradually getting bombarded,” says Michael H. Wong, a planetary scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who’s also involved in the Juno mission.

The Galilean moons stay geologically active through a mechanism known as tidal heating. As the moons dance near and away from Jupiter along their elliptical orbits, a gravitational tug-of-war between the moons and Jupiter generates levels of friction large enough to cook the satellites. “It’s almost like they’re being drawn and quartered,” Becker says.

As a result, the Galilean moons look nothing like dead worlds such as Earth’s own moon. Of the quartet, Io is the closest, so it experiences the full wrath of Jupiter’s gravity. A speck compared to its mother planet, Io is the most volcanically active locale in all of the solar system. Its icy sibling, Europa, may look nothing like Io, but it hides a vast ocean of liquid water under a frozen shell. Europa is a prime target for exploring planetary habitability, thanks to Jupiter’s tidal heating processes that keep Europa balmy enough to potentially harbor life.

Jupiter’s clouds and atmosphere are nothing like Earth’s

Jupiter Close-Up

Although Jupiter’s atmosphere is 90 percent hydrogen , the air is rich with other compounds that give the planet its iconic hues of white and orange. At the surface, acetylene , hydrogen sulfides and phosphine molecules brush the planet into varied swirls that ring the planet.

In 1995, the Galileo Probe descended into Jupiter’s gaseous body and took a whiff. It found that Jupiter had three kinds of clouds: those made up of ammonia, ammonium hydrosulfide and water ice . As such, different kinds of rain fall through Jupiter’s skies, depending on the altitude.

The probe also detected enriched levels of heavy gases —more than scientists had initially thought Jupiter should harbor, given its present size and position. This chemical clue points at a peripatetic past: Jupiter may have formed farther away from the sun, where it was cold enough to attract ice and frozen gases. Then, scientists theorize, it gradually drifted closer to the sun until it was held back by Saturn’s gravity. “Saturn helped Jupiter move outward,” Li says, “otherwise Jupiter probably would have been engulfed by the sun.”

Exotic weather patterns abound

Electrical Storms on Jupiter

Jupiter brews up some impressive storms. One of the most recognizable features is the Great Red Storm, a vortex clocking 400 miles per hour and extending as deep as 300 miles . Although the Great Red Storm has persisted for over two centuries, it is shrinking—the eye of the storm used to be as large as three Earths linked together; now, its width can barely fit one , though this size still makes it the largest living tempest in the solar system.

Jupiter’s upper atmosphere also hosts shallow bursts of lightning. That discovery came in 2020 when Juno pointed its camera at the dark side of the planet and caught weak flashes of light. On Earth, lightning occurs when colliding ice particles and water droplets inside clouds build up a separation of positive and negative charges. Scientists initially thought such lightning on Jupiter was impossible, as they suspected that the temperatures at these heights were too frigid to host liquid water. But Jupiter has managed to whip up liquid water high up in its atmosphere, thanks to the presence of ammonia gas that acts as an antifreeze.

Storms also hurl ice particles up from the deep, and the ice encounters ammonia and forms what scientists think are ammonia-water “ mushballs ,” a kind of hailstone containing both solid ice and liquid water. Though scientists haven’t directly observed these mushballs, they can speculate—“in my imagination, it would be like if you got a Slurpee and formed it into a ball,” Wong says. When the clouds rain out, the mushballs capture other ammonia gases on the way down, which explains the pockets of missing ammonia throughout the atmosphere that Juno has also observed.

Yes, Jupiter has a ring

Jupiter's Ring

“A lot of people don’t even realize it has one,” Becker says. Too puny to be observed with a backyard telescope, Jupiter’s dusty wreath remained undetected for a long time. Discovered only in 1979 during the Voyager 1 flyby, the ring has since been viewed with more powerful ground telescopes and other visiting spacecraft.

Like any ring encircling other planets in the solar system, Jupiter’s is a glorified debris field. Detritus from crash-landed meteorites congregate around Jupiter. This loose mélange of ice, dust and rock spans 32,000 to 130,000 miles in width from the planetary surface.

When other celestial objects pass through the ring, they can leave behind tracks in the dust stream. One of the most famous of wakes came from the Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 crashing into Jupiter in 1994. Years later, the Galileo and New Horizons spacecraft found ripples in Jupiter’s ring that were kicked up by shards from the comet, the celestial equivalent of footsteps in freshly fallen snow.

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Shi En Kim

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Shi En Kim is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance science journalist. Her work has appeared in  National Geographic ,  Scientific American , the  Atlantic ,  Popular Science  and others. In 2021, she interned at  Smithsonian  magazine as an AAAS Mass Media Fellow.

Why Does NASA Want to Explore Jupiter’s Ocean Moon? (Europa Clipper Science Overview)

Everywhere there’s water on Earth, there’s life. Does that hold true elsewhere in our solar system? NASA’s Europa Clipper mission will investigate Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, which — with its subsurface ocean — is one of the most promising places in our solar system to find environments capable of supporting life.

While Europa Clipper isn’t a life-detection mission, it will be the first to conduct a detailed survey of this icy moon to answer questions about Europa’s potential habitability and composition. The mission’s main goals are to determine the thickness of Europa’s icy shell; confirm the presence of an ocean; investigate the make-up of that ocean; and characterize the geology of the surface. The spacecraft will orbit Jupiter and make approximately 50 flybys of Europa. It’s equipped with a powerful suite of instruments that will work in sync to gather measurements and high-resolution images.

Europa Clipper is expected to launch in October 2024 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It will arrive at the Jupiter system in 2030.

For more information on the mission go to: https://europa.nasa.gov/ .

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/APL

Robert Pappalardo, Europa Clipper Project Scientist Everywhere on earth that there's water, there's life. We have several ocean worlds in our solar system, and by exploring Europa we're getting a taste of what these ocean worlds are like.

Bonnie Buratti, Europa Clipper Deputy Project Scientist Europa is one of the moons of Jupiter. It's about the same size as our own Moon, a little bit smaller, but it's so much different. It's an ice world.

Robert Pappalardo Europa probably has, beneath its icy surface, a global ocean of water.

Bonnie Buratti We think there are thermal vents in this vast subsurface ocean. There may be primitive organisms there, similar to the original primitive organisms on Earth from which we all evolved.

Kate Craft, Europa Clipper Staff Scientist, Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory When we first discovered the hydrothermal vents on our sea floors on the Earth, we also discovered life. There was no sunlight that was penetrating down that deep, but yet there was life living there.

Bonnie Buratti On Europa, we're not looking for life itself, we're just looking for an environment in which life could thrive.

Erin Leonard, Europa Clipper Staff Scientist I just love Europa's surface. I think it's one of the most complex surfaces in our solar system. Typically, when you look at another planetary surface, it's covered with craters, just like our Moon.

Shawn Brooks, Europa Clipper Investigation Scientist There are very few, shockingly few impact craters. That means something is going on to erase the craters, just like happens here on Earth — and on Earth we call that geology. One of the key questions right now that we have about Europa is whether or not there is plume activity.

Erin Leonard Plumes are one way that you can definitely get ocean material to the surface. We really need a spacecraft in the system that's watching Europa to see when those plumes are happening, if they're happening.

Robert Pappalardo The Europa Clipper mission will be the first in-depth exploration of an ocean world.

Erin Leonard Europa Clipper is orbiting Jupiter, and it's performing 49 flybys of Europa. And the main reason it's doing that is to stay mostly outside of Jupiter's really intense radiation belts.

Robert Pappalardo Each time we make a flyby, we turn on all of the instruments at once.

Bonnie Buratti Most of us know about cameras because that's what our eyes see. But there is a whole slew of other instruments on board Europa Clipper that expands our vision.

Erin Leonard We have four different instruments that we're really using to take images of Europa’s surface. We have the visible wavelength, the near infrared, the far infrared, and the UV — the ultraviolet.

Kate Craft We're hoping to see evidence of change — new cracks, new surface colors that indicate different materials, maybe have moved around or come up from the subsurface.

Robert Pappalardo We have an instrument that can sniff the very thin atmosphere, the gasses, and determine the composition with extreme precision. We're looking for signs of organics at Europa. Are there materials that contain carbon and hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen? And we have another instrument that can tell us the composition of dust particles. We're pretty sure there are salts on Europa's surface. The salts may have come out of the ocean. We want to understand, what are those salts?

Erin Leonard We have a magnetometer and a plasma instrument that are going to be studying that magnetosphere environment that Europa is sitting in and Jupiter's magnetosphere environment.

Robert Pappalardo The magnetic field of Europa, in turn, can tell us about the properties of the ocean. How thick is it and how salty is it?

Bonnie Buratti And then we have this novel ice-penetrating radar that will try to get below the ice shell.

Robert Pappalardo Last but not least, we have a gravity experiment using the communications system of the spacecraft. And from that, we can get, essentially, a map of the gravity field.

Bonnie Buratti We can get the shape, understand what's underneath, maybe even get some information on the depths of the ocean. It's really a sophisticated payload.

Kate Craft So there really has not been a mission like Europa Clipper. The pictures that we are going to get back are going to be just fantastic.

Shawn Brooks The legacy of Europa Clipper will be just a treasure trove of knowledge about this, this world.

Bonnie Buratti Just to find an environment that is similar to the one from which life arose on Earth would really be groundbreaking. It would be awesome.

Erin Leonard I have no idea what we are going to detect beneath Europa's icy surface, but all I know is it's going to be wonderful.

Robert Pappalardo We do this work of exploration for the next generation. We don't know if Earth is the only place that life got started, or if it's really common. And a really important way to get at that is to understand, is there life elsewhere in our solar system?

What Voyager 1 Learned at Jupiter 40 Years Ago

It was 40 years ago today (March 5) that Voyager 1 flew past Jupiter, revealing a surprising planetary system that includes moons of ice and fire. And scientists are still looking at some of these moons for signs of habitability for microbes.

Voyager 1 and its twin spacecraft, Voyager 2, both left Earth in 1977 on the trail of an unusual planetary alignment that happens every 175 years, according to NASA . The gas giant planets Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune lined up in such a way that a spacecraft could use the gravitational field of one planet to swing on to the next. Voyager 2 flew past all four planets, while Voyager 1 instead traveled high above the plane of the solar system after visiting Jupiter and Saturn.

Between them, the two spacecraft garnered basic knowledge about these large planets — measuring their atmospheres, their ring systems, their magnetic fields (including Jupiter's especially strong one) and how their inner cores may function. Jupiter had already been visited by the Pioneer spacecraft , but it still held surprises for Voyager 1 when it flew by in 1979.

Related: Voyager 1's Most Amazing Photos of Jupiter

Voyager 1 captured this image of Jupiter and its moon Ganymede (bottom left) when it was just over a month away from its closest approach to the planet in 1979.

Related: Voyager at 40: 40 Photos from NASA's Epic 'Grand Tour' Mission

"Jupiter's atmosphere was found to be more active than during the visits of Pioneer 10 and 11, sparking a rethinking of the earlier atmospheric models which could not explain the new features. The spacecraft imaged the moons Amalthea, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, showing details of their terrain for the first time," NASA officials said in a statement .

"Possibly the most stunning of Voyager 1's discoveries was that Io has extremely active volcanoes, powered by heat generated by the stretching and relaxing the moon endures every 42 hours as its elliptical orbit brings it closer to and then farther from Jupiter," NASA officials added. "The spacecraft also discovered a thin ring around the planet (then making it the second planet known to have a ring), and two new moons: Thebe and Metis."

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Io's volcanic plumes are now being imaged regularly by NASA's Juno spacecraft . And Voyager's discoveries at Europa, Ganymede and Callisto will soon result in a more close-up examination of these bodies. These moons have icy surfaces and probable global oceans underneath, according to joint observations from the Voyager spacecraft, Galileo mission (which orbited Jupiter between 1995 and 2002); and even the Hubble Space Telescope, which spotted periodic spurts of what appears to be water emanating from Europa. Thanks to the intense flexing these moons' interiors receive as they orbit Jupiter, it's possible that the oceans host all the ingredients necessary for life. But scientists need more spacecraft observations to confirm this.

NASA is hard at work on the Europa Clipper , which is expected to go into orbit around Europa in the 2030s to see if this icy moon is host to conditions that could support microbial life. The European Space Agency's JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) mission will launch from Earth in 2022 to study all three icy moons, but most especially Ganymede. JUICE will study the moons' oceans, ice layers and general geology, as well as learn more about their exospheres (tenuous atmospheres) and magnetic fields.

  • 5 Facts About NASA's Far-Flung Voyager Spacecraft
  • Voyager 1 Just Fired Up its Backup Thrusters for the 1st Time in 37 Years
  • Massive Storms Swirl on Jupiter in This Awesome NASA Photo

Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace . Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook . 

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected].

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, " Why Am I Taller ?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace

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voyager series spacecraft visited jupiter and its moons

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Why does nasa want to explore jupiter's ocean moon.

Everywhere there’s water on Earth, there’s life. Does that hold true elsewhere in our solar system?

NASA’s Europa Clipper mission will investigate Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, which — with its subsurface ocean — is one of the most promising places in our solar system to find environments capable of supporting life. While Europa Clipper isn’t a life-detection mission, it will be the first to conduct a detailed survey of this icy moon to answer questions about Europa’s potential habitability and composition.

The mission’s main goals are to determine the thickness of Europa’s icy shell; confirm the presence of an ocean; investigate the make-up of that ocean; and characterize the geology of the surface. The spacecraft will orbit Jupiter and make approximately 50 flybys of Europa. It’s equipped with a powerful suite of instruments that will work in sync to gather measurements and high-resolution images.

Europa Clipper is expected to launch in October 2024 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It will arrive at the Jupiter system in 2030.

For more information on the mission go to: https://europa.nasa.gov/ . Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/APL

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Things are finally looking up for the Voyager 1 interstellar spacecraft

Two of the four science instruments aboard the Voyager 1 spacecraft are now returning usable data after months of transmitting only gibberish, NASA scientists have announced.

Voyager 1

I was once sitting with my father while Googling how far away various things in the solar system are from Earth. He was looking for exact numbers, and very obviously grew more invested with each new figure I shouted out. I was thrilled. The moon? On average, 238,855 miles (384,400 kilometers) away. The James Webb Space Telescope ? Bump that up to about a million miles (1,609,344 km) away. The sun? 93 million miles (149,668,992 km) away.  Neptune ? 2.8  billion  miles (4.5 billion km) away. "Well, wait until you hear about Voyager 1," I eventually said, assuming he was aware of what was coming. He was not.

"NASA's  Voyager 1  interstellar spacecraft actually isn't even in the solar system anymore," I announced. "Nope, it's more than 15 billion miles (24 billion km)  away from us  — and it's getting even farther as we speak." I can't quite remember his response, but I do indeed recall an expression of sheer disbelief. There were immediate inquiries about how that's even physically possible. There were bewildered laughs, different ways of saying "wow," and mostly, there was a contagious sense of awe. And just like that, a new Voyager 1 fan was born.

It is easy to see why Voyager 1 is among the most beloved robotic space explorers we have — and it is thus easy to understand why so many people felt a pang to their hearts several months ago, when Voyager 1 stopped talking to us.

Related:  After months of sending gibberish to NASA, Voyager 1 is finally making sense again

For reasons unknown at the time, this spacecraft began sending back gibberish in place of the neatly organized and data-rich 0's and 1's it had been providing since its  launch in 1977 . It was this classic computer language which allowed Voyager 1 to converse with its creators while earning the title of "farthest human made object." It's how the spacecraft relayed vital insight that led to the discovery of new Jovian moons and, thanks to this sort of binary podcast, scientists incredibly identified a new ring of Saturn and created the solar system's first and only "family portrait." This code, in essence, is crucial to Voyager 1's very being.

Plus, to make matters worse, the issue behind the glitch turned out to be associated with the craft's Flight Data System, which is literally the system that transmits information about Voyager 1's health so scientists can correct any issues that arise. Issues like this one. Furthermore, because of the spacecraft's immense distance from its operators on Earth, it takes about 22.5 hours for a transmission to reach the spacecraft, and then 22.5 hours to receive a transmission back. Alas, things weren't looking good for a while — for about five months, to be precise.

But then, on April 20, Voyager 1  finally phoned home  with legible 0's and legible 1's.

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Earth as a

"The team had gathered early on a weekend morning to see whether telemetry would return," Bob Rasmussen, a member of the Voyager flight team, told Space.com. "It was nice to have everyone assembled in one place like this to share in the moment of learning that our efforts had been successful. Our cheer was both for the intrepid spacecraft and for the comradery that enabled its recovery."

And  then,  on May 22 , Voyager scientists released the welcome announcement that the spacecraft has successfully resumed returning science data from two of its four instruments, the plasma wave subsystem and magnetometer instrument. They're now working on getting the other two, the cosmic ray subsystem and low energy charged particle instrument, back online as well. Though there technically are six other instruments onboard Voyager, those had been out of commission for some time.

The comeback

Rasmussen was actually a member of the Voyager team in the 1970s, having worked on the project as a computer engineer before leaving for other missions including  Cassini , which launched the spacecraft that taught us almost everything we currently know about Saturn. In 2022, however, he returned to Voyager because of a separate dilemma with the mission — and has remained on the team ever since.

"There are many of the original people who were there when Voyager launched, or even before, who were part of both the flight team and the science team," Linda Spilker, a planetary scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory , who also worked on the Voyager mission, told Space.com in the This Week from Space podcast on the TWiT network. "It's a real tribute to Voyager — the longevity not only of the spacecraft, but of the people on the team."

To get Voyager 1 back online, in rather cinematic fashion, the team devised a complex workaround that prompted the FDS to send a copy of its memory back to Earth. Within that memory readout, operators managed to discover the crux of the problem — a corrupted code spanning a single chip — which was then remedied through another (honestly,  super interesting ) process to modify the code. On the day Voyager 1 finally spoke again, "you could have heard a pin drop in the room," Spilker said. "It was very silent. Everybody's looking at the screen, waiting and watching." 

The rocket that launched Voyager 1 in 1977.

Of course, Spilker also brought in some peanuts for the team to munch on — but not just any peanuts. Lucky peanuts. 

It's a longstanding tradition at JPL to have a peanut feast before major mission events like launches, milestones and, well, the possible resurrection of Voyager 1. It  began  in the 1960s, when the agency was trying to launch the Ranger 7 mission that was meant to take pictures of and collect data about the moon's surface. Rangers 1 through 6 had all failed, so Ranger 7 was a big deal. As such, the mission's trajectory engineer, Dick Wallace, brought lots of peanuts for the team to nibble on and relax. Sure enough, Ranger 7 was a success and, as Wallace once said, "the rest is history." 

Voyager 1 needed some of those positive snacky vibes. 

"It'd been five months since we'd had any information," Spilker explained. So, in this room of silence besides peanut-eating-noises, Voyager 1 operators sat at their respective system screens, waiting. 

"All of a sudden it started to populate — the data," Spilker said. That's when the programmers who had been staring at those screens in anticipation leapt out of their seats and began to cheer: "They were the happiest people in the room, I think, and there was just a sense of joy that we had Voyager 1 back."

flight team of voyager 1

Eventually, Rasmussen says the team was able to conclude that the failure probably occurred due to a combination of aging and radiation damage by which energetic particles in space bombarded the craft. This is also why he believes it wouldn't be terribly surprising to see a similar failure occur in the future, seeing as Voyager 1 is still roaming beyond the distant boundaries of our stellar neighborhood just like its spacecraft twin,  Voyager 2 .

To be sure, the spacecraft isn't fully fixed yet — but it's lovely to know things are finally looking up, especially with the recent news that some of its science instruments are back on track. And, at the very least, Rasmussen assures that nothing the team has learned so far has been alarming. "We're confident that we understand the problem well," he said, "and we remain optimistic about getting everything back to normal — but we also expect this won't be the last."

The trajectory of the Voyagers.

In fact, as Rasmussen explains, Voyager 1 operators first became optimistic about the situation just after the root cause of the glitch had been determined with certainty. He also emphasizes that the team's spirits were never down. "We knew from indirect evidence that we had a spacecraft that was mostly healthy," he said. "Saying goodbye was not on our minds."

"Rather," he continued, "we wanted to push toward a solution as quickly as possible so other matters on board that had been neglected for months could be addressed. We're now calmly moving toward that goal."

The future of Voyager's voyage

It can't be ignored that, over the last few months, there has been an air of anxiety and fear across the public sphere that Voyager 1 was slowly moving toward sending us its final 0 and final 1. Headlines all over the internet, one written by  myself included , have carried clear, negative weight. I think it's because even if Voyager 2 could technically carry the interstellar torch post-Voyager 1, the prospect of losing Voyager 1 felt like the prospect of losing a piece of history. 

"We've crossed this boundary called the heliopause," Spilker explained of the Voyagers. "Voyager 1 crossed this boundary in 2012; Voyager 2 crossed it in 2018 — and, since that time, were the first spacecraft ever to make direct measurements of the interstellar medium." That medium basically refers to material that fills the space between stars. In this case, that's the space between other stars and our sun, which, though we don't always think of it as one, is simply another star in the universe. A drop in the cosmic ocean.

"JPL started building the two Voyager spacecraft in 1972," Spilker explained. "For context, that was only three years after we had the first human walk on the moon — and the reason we started that early is that we had this rare alignment of the planets that happens once every  176 years ." It was this alignment that could promise the spacecraft checkpoints across the solar system, including at Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Those checkpoints were important for the Voyagers in particular. Alongside planetary visits come gravity assists, and gravity assists can help fling stuff within the solar system — and, now we know, beyond.

As the first humanmade object to leave the solar system, as a relic of America's early space program, and as a testament to how robust even decades-old technology can be, Voyager 1 has carved out the kind of legacy usually reserved for remarkable things lost to time.

The

"Our scientists are eager to see what they’ve been missing," Rasmussen remarked. "Everyone on the team is self-motivated by their commitment to this unique and important project. That's where the real pressure comes from." 

Still, in terms of energy, the team's approach has been clinical and determined. 

— NASA's Voyager 1 sends readable message to Earth after 4 nail-biting months of gibberish

— NASA engineers discover why Voyager 1 is sending a stream of gibberish from outside our solar system

— NASA's Voyager 1 probe hasn't 'spoken' in 3 months and needs a 'miracle' to save it

"No one was ever especially excited or depressed," he said. "We're confident that we can get back to business as usual soon, but we also know that we're dealing with an aging spacecraft that is bound to have trouble again in the future. That's just a fact of life on this mission, so not worth getting worked up about."

Nonetheless, I imagine it's always a delight for Voyager 1's engineers to remember this robotic explorer occupies curious minds around the globe. (Including my dad's mind now, thanks to me and Google.)

As Rasmussen puts it: "It's wonderful to know how much the world appreciates this mission."

Originally posted on Space.com .

Monisha Ravisetti is Space.com's Astronomy Editor. She covers black holes, star explosions, gravitational waves, exoplanet discoveries and other enigmas hidden across the fabric of space and time. Previously, she was a science writer at CNET, and before that, reported for The Academic Times. Prior to becoming a writer, she was an immunology researcher at Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York. She graduated from New York University in 2018 with a B.A. in philosophy, physics and chemistry. She spends too much time playing online chess. Her favorite planet is Earth.

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  1. Voyager 2 Transformed Our Ideas of Jupiter's Moons 40 Years Ago

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  2. The Voyager Mission

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  3. NASA’s Juno Spacecraft Exploring Jupiter’s Inner Moons During Extended

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  4. A look back at the volcanoes, hidden oceans and other incredible

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  5. Voyager

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  6. Voyager 1: Facts about Earth's farthest spacecraft

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VIDEO

  1. NASA Warns That Voyager 1 Has Made “Impossible” Discovery Before Shutting It Down!

  2. Voyager 1 Announced that it is time to return to Earth!

  3. Location of Voyager spacecraft. #space #cosmoknowledge #voyager #nasa #spacecraft

  4. #shorts First Spacecraft Visit to Jupiter #short #youtubeshort

  5. Journey to Jupiter: NASA's Voyager 2 Encounter in 1979 #Technology

COMMENTS

  1. Voyager left NASA 'happily bewildered' by what it saw at Jupiter

    A storm-wracked world and moons with erupting volcanoes and underground oceans were just some of the surprises the Voyager spacecraft revealed with Jupiter.

  2. 40 Years Ago: Voyager 2 Explores Jupiter

    Forty years ago, the Voyager 2 spacecraft made its closest approach to Jupiter. Managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the Voyagers were a pair of spacecraft launched in 1977 to explore the outer planets. Initially targeted only to visit Jupiter and Saturn, Voyager 2 went on to investigate Uranus and Neptune as well ...

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    Voyager 2 returned images of Jupiter, as well as its moons Amalthea, Io, Callisto, Ganymede, and Europa. During a 10-hour "volcano watch", it confirmed Voyager 1 ' s observations of active volcanism on the moon Io, and revealed how the moon's surface had changed in the four months since the previous visit.

  4. Voyager 2

    Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft to study all four of the solar system's giant planets at close range. Voyager 2 discovered a 14th moon at Jupiter. Voyager 2 was the first human-made object to fly past Uranus. At Uranus, Voyager 2 discovered 10 new moons and two new rings. Voyager 2 was the first human-made object to fly by Neptune.

  5. Voyager 2 Transformed Our Ideas of Jupiter's Moons 40 Years Ago

    It was 40 years ago today that a NASA spacecraft revealed strong evidence that an icy moon of Jupiter may be able to host life. Voyager 2 flew by the Jupiter system on July 9, 1979, and discovered ...

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    Right: Voyager 2 image of Saturn, its rings, and several of its moons. Voyager 2 conducted its observations of Jupiter between April 24 and Aug. 5, 1979, making its closest approach of 350,000 miles above the planet's cloud tops on July 9. The spacecraft returned 17,000 images of Jupiter, many of its satellites, and confirmed Voyager 1's ...

  7. Voyager

    The primary mission was the exploration of Jupiter and Saturn. After making a string of discoveries there — such as active volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io and intricacies of Saturn's rings — the mission was extended. Voyager 2 went on to explore Uranus and Neptune, and is still the only spacecraft to have visited those outer planets.

  8. Mission Overview

    The primary mission was the exploration of Jupiter and Saturn. After making a string of discoveries there — such as active volcanoes on Jupiter's moon Io and intricacies of Saturn's rings — the mission was extended. Voyager 2 went on to explore Uranus and Neptune, and is still the only spacecraft to have visited those outer planets.

  9. Voyager

    Voyager 1's closest approach to Jupiter occurred March 5, 1979. Voyager 2's closest approach was July 9, 1979. Photography of Jupiter began in January 1979, when images of the brightly banded planet already exceeded the best taken from Earth. Voyager 1 completed its Jupiter encounter in early April, after taking almost 19,000 pictures and many ...

  10. 45 Years Ago: Voyager 2 Begins Its Epic Journey to the Outer Planets

    Voyager 2 conducted its observations of Jupiter between April 24 and Aug. 5, 1979, making its closest approach of 350,000 miles above the planet's cloud tops on July 9. The spacecraft returned 17,000 images of Jupiter, many of its satellites, and confirmed Voyager 1's discovery of a thin ring encircling the planet.

  11. Voyager program

    A poster of the planets and moons visited during the Voyager program. The Voyager program is an American scientific program that employs two interstellar probes, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2.They were launched in 1977 to take advantage of a favorable alignment of the two gas giants Jupiter and Saturn and the ice giants, Uranus and Neptune, to fly near them while collecting data for transmission ...

  12. 25 Years Later, Voyager Mission Keeps Pushing the Space Envelope

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  13. 40 Years Ago: Voyager 1 Explores Jupiter

    On Mar. 5, still inbound toward the planet, it flew at 262,000 miles of Jupiter's small inner moon Amalthea, taking the first close-up photograph of that satellite revealing it to be oblong in shape and reddish in color. About five hours later, Voyager 1 made its closest approach to Jupiter, flying within 174,000 miles of the planet's cloud ...

  14. Exploration of Jupiter

    The Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes visited the planet in 1979, and studied its moons and the ring system, ... The subsequent and far more technologically advanced Voyager spacecraft had to be redesigned to cope with the radiation ... The Europa Jupiter System Mission (EJSM) was a joint NASA/ESA proposal for exploration of Jupiter and its moons.

  15. 45 years ago, NASA's Voyager spacecraft flew past Jupiter. See how the

    Voyager 2 entered Jupiter's orbit as Voyager 1 was on its way out and took an additional 14,000 photos before completing its Jupiter encounter in August 1979. That was 45 years ago. Today we have a wealth of stunningly detailed, colorful snapshots of Jupiter and its moons , thanks to NASA's more modern Juno spacecraft, which has been orbiting ...

  16. Jupiter missions

    The spacecraft captured more than 18,000 images of the gas giant and its moons. Voyager 1's first pictures of Jupiter beamed back to Earth in April 1978, when the probe was 165 million miles (266 ...

  17. Voyager turns 45: What the iconic mission taught us and what's next

    In April, the National Academies Planetary Science Decadal Survey recommended that NASA send a $4.2 billion Uranus Orbiter and Probe mission to unveil the mysterious ice giant planet and its moons ...

  18. Jupiter System Montage

    Jupiter and its four planet-size moons, called the Galilean satellites, were photographed in early March 1979 by Voyager 1 and assembled into this collage. They are not to scale but are in their relative positions. ... This image of the Jovian moon Europa was taken by Voyager 2 the spacecraft passed within 139,800 miles (225,000 kilometers) on ...

  19. Jupiter and the Voyager mission

    In 1977, the United States launched two unmanned Voyager spacecraft that were to take part in an extensive reconnaissance of the outer planets over a 12-year period visiting the environs of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Their first encounter was with the complex Jupiter planetary system 400 million miles away. Sweeping by Jupiter and its five moons in 1979, the two spacecraft have sent bac

  20. Voyager at Jupiter

    Voyager at Jupiter. Photography of Jupiter began in January 1979, when images of the brightly banded planet already exceeded the best taken from Earth. Voyager 1 completed its Jupiter encounter in early April, after taking almost 19,000 pictures and many other scientific measurements. Voyager 2 picked up the baton in late April and its ...

  21. The Seven Most Amazing Discoveries We've Made by Exploring Jupiter

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  23. Moons of Jupiter

    A montage of Jupiter and its four largest moons (distance and sizes not to scale) ... Nine spacecraft have visited Jupiter. The first were Pioneer 10 in 1973, ... The Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 probes visited Jupiter in 1979, discovering the volcanic activity on Io and the presence of water ice on the surface of Europa.

  24. Voyagers in Space Flashcards

    5. As of 2014, Voyager 1 is about how many miles away. twelve billion miles. Signals from Voyager 1 take about how long to arrive? 17 hours. Unfortunately, the rockets that launched the Voyagers into space could only get them to ______________. Jupiter.

  25. What Voyager 1 Learned at Jupiter Forty Years Ago

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    After a corrupted chip rendered Voyager 1's transmissions unintelligible in November 2023, engineers nursed the spacecraft back to health. It began transmitting engineering data and then, on 17 May, science communications for two of its four remaining instruments. "It was a nail biter," says Jamie Rankin, an astrophysicist at Princeton ...

  27. Why Does NASA Want to Explore Jupiter's Ocean Moon?

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  28. Things are finally looking up for the Voyager 1 interstellar spacecraft

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