Journey Through Time: Voyager’s Encounter with Jupiter 45 Years Ago, a Fascinating Comparison with Modern-day Planet Imagery

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.

Then and Now: First Jupiter Photo vs James Webb's Latest Shot | PetaPixel

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.

Video:

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.

Sia

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