Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Tonight's Sky for July 9: Voyager 2 Visits Jupiter (1979)


On this date 35 years ago, the Voyager 2 space probe, which would become the only space probe in history to encounter all 4 gas giant planets, made its first planetary encounter when it flew past Jupiter, fifth planet from the Sun, coming within 350,000 miles of the cloud tops. While exciting in itself for professional and amateur astronomers, for the greater public, there was not an overwhelming wave of attention for this mission thanks to the fact that Voyager 1 had done the same in March.

Although observed for centuries by astronomers, the Voyagers helped scientists learn more about the planet in the 48 hours of either side of close approach than had been discovered since Galileo first turned his telescope on the planet more than 350 years beforehand at the start of the Renaissance.

In all, the Voyagers discovered volcanism on Io, a probable ocean on Europa, rings around the planet, more moons, and radiation belts, all while providing the first up close pictures of the Jovian system.

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