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It’s Been 32 Years Since We Last Explored Uranus

The blue-green crescent of Uranus imaged by a departing Voyager 2 on January 25, 1986 (NASA)

The blue-green crescent of Uranus imaged by a departing Voyager 2 on January 25, 1986 (NASA)

Voyager 2 may have been the second of NASA’s famous twin exploration spacecraft but it actually launched first, on August 20, 1977. Eight and a half years later it became the first (and, to date, last) spacecraft to visit Uranus, at 31,500 miles across the third largest planet in the Solar System. Voyager 2 made its closest pass by Uranus 32 years ago, giving us our best views ever of the enormous ice giant planet and its moons.

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It’s Been 31 Years Since We Last Visited Uranus

The blue-green crescent of Uranus imaged by a departing Voyager 2 on January 25, 1986 (NASA)

The blue-green crescent of Uranus imaged by a departing Voyager 2 on January 25, 1986 (NASA)

Voyager 2 may have been the second of NASA’s famous twin exploration spacecraft but it launched first, on August 20, 1977. Eight and a half years later it became the first (and last) spacecraft to visit Uranus, at 31,500 miles across the third largest planet in the Solar System. Voyager 2 made its closest pass by Uranus 31 years ago, giving us our best views to this day of the enormous ice giant and its moons.

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Voyager’s Visit to Uranus

The blue-green crescent of a sunlit Uranus, seen by a departing Voyager on January 25, 1986 (NASA)

Voyager 2 may have been the second of NASA’s twin exploration spacecraft but it launched first, 35 years ago today on August 20, 1977. 8 1/2 years later it became the first (and last!) spacecraft to visit the gas giant Uranus, the third largest planet in the Solar System.

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Moons Near and Far…and More to Come!

Mimas and Epimetheus

246-mile-wide Mimas (foreground) and 70-mile-wide Epimetheus bracket a section of Saturn’s rings in this color-calibrated image from the Cassini spacecraft, taken in October 2009.

Cassini discovered ice geysers on Enceladus in 2005

Happily, we can expect to see beautiful images like this for another  7 years…NASA has extended the Cassini mission until at least 2017! During that time Cassini will transition into its “Solstice” mission, observing Saturn as its summer season approaches and performing more flybys of its moons Titan and Enceladus.

This will allow scientists to study the Saturnian system for the first time over the course of a full seasonal period, winter to summer.

The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft arrived at Saturn in 2004 after a seven-year journey from Earth. Since then it has sent back over 210,000 images, landed the Huygens probe on Titan, executed 67 flybys of Titan and 8 of Enceladus and several of other moons as well, and discovered countless amazing and unexpected details about the planet’s ring system and atmosphere. And, after traveling over 2.6 billion miles, it’s still performing very well.

“This is a mission that never stops providing us surprising scientific results and showing us eye popping new vistas. The historic traveler’s stunning discoveries and images have revolutionized our knowledge of Saturn and its moons.”

– Jim Green, director of NASA’s planetary science division

Read more about the Cassini mission’s extension here, or visit the main mission site.

Image: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

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