Voyager I flies near Saturn - HISTORY
Year
1980

Voyager I flies near Saturn

More than three years after its launch, the U.S. planetary probe Voyager 1 edges within 77,000 miles of Saturn, the second-largest planet in the solar system. The photos, beamed 950 million miles back to California, stunned scientists. The high-resolution images showed a world that seemed to confound all known laws of physics. Saturn had not six, but hundreds of rings. The rings appeared to dance, buckle, and interlock in ways never thought possible. Two rings were intertwined, or “braided,” and pictures showed dark radial “spokes” moving inside the rings in the direction of rotation. Voyager 2, a sister spacecraft, arrived at Saturn in August 1981. The Voyagers also discovered three new moons around Saturn and a substantial atmosphere around Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

Voyager 1 was preceded to Saturn by Pioneer 11, a smaller and less sophisticated U.S. spacecraft that flew by the gas giant in September 1979. The Voyager spacecrafts were equipped with high-resolution television cameras that sent back more than 30,000 images of Saturn, its rings, and satellite. Voyager 1 was actually launched 16 days after Voyager 2, but its trajectory followed a quicker path to the outer planets.

Voyager 1 flew by Jupiter in March 1979, followed by Voyager 2 four months later. Both spacecraft then continued on to Saturn, with Voyager 1 arriving in November 1980 and Voyager 2 in August 1981. Voyager 2 was then diverted to the remaining gas giants, arriving at Uranus in January 1986 and Neptune in August 1989. Voyager 1, meanwhile, studied interplanetary space and continued on to the edge of the solar system.

In February 1998, Voyager 1 became the most distant man-made object from the sun, surpassing the distance of Pioneer 10. Voyager 2 is also traveling out of the solar system but at a slower pace. Both Voyager spacecrafts contain a gold-plated copper disk that has on it recorded sounds and images of Earth. Along with 115 analog images, the disk features sound selections that include greetings in 55 languages, 35 natural and man-made sounds, and portions of 27 musical pieces. The Voyagers are expected to remain operable until about the year 2020, periodically sending back data on the edge of the solar system.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Japanese war criminals sentenced

An international war crimes tribunal in Tokyo passes death sentences on seven Japanese military and government officials, including General Hideki Tojo, who served as premier of Japan from 1941 to 1944. Eight days before, the trial ended after 30 months with all 25 Japanese ...read more

First meteor shower on record

Andrew Ellicott Douglass, an early American astronomer born in Vermont, witnesses the Leonids meteor shower from a ship off the Florida Keys. Douglass, who later became an assistant to the famous astronomer Percival Lowell, wrote in his journal that the “whole heaven appeared as ...read more

Ellis Island closes

On this day in 1954, Ellis Island, the gateway to America, shuts it doors after processing more than 12 million immigrants since opening in 1892. Today, an estimated 40 percent of all Americans can trace their roots through Ellis Island, located in New York Harbor off the New ...read more

Seymour Hersh breaks My Lai story

Seymour Hersh, an independent investigative journalist, in a cable filed through Dispatch News Service and picked up by more than 30 newspapers, reveals the extent of the U.S. Army’s charges against 1st Lt. William L. Calley at My Lai. Hersh wrote: “The Army says he [Calley] ...read more

Carter shuts down oil imports from Iran

On this day in 1979, President Jimmy Carter responds to a potential threat to national security by stopping the importation of petroleum from Iran.Earlier that month, on November 4, 66 Americans at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran had been taken hostage by a radical Islamic group. The ...read more

U.S. reconsiders war with Plains Indians

After more than a decade of ineffective military campaigns and infamous atrocities, a conference begins at Fort Laramie to discuss alternative solutions to the “Indian problem” and to initiate peace negotiations with the Sioux.The United States had been fighting periodic battles ...read more

Plane crashes in Rockaway, New York

An American Airlines flight out of John F. Kennedy (JFK) Airport in New York City crashes into a Queens neighborhood after takeoff on this day in 2001, killing 265 people. Although some initially speculated that the crash was the result of terrorism, as it came exactly two months ...read more

Scott Peterson convicted

On this day in 2004, Scott Peterson is convicted of murdering his wife Laci and their unborn son. A jury of six men and six women delivered the verdict 23 months after Laci Peterson, who was pregnant, disappeared on Christmas Eve from Modesto, California. The case captivated ...read more

The destruction of Atlanta begins

On this day in 1864, Union General William T. Sherman orders the business district of Atlanta, Georgia,destroyed before he embarks on his famous March to the Sea.When Sherman captured Atlanta in early September 1864, he knew that he could not remain there for long. His tenuous ...read more

Goldenrod sets the land-speed record

On this day in 1965, brothers Bill and Bob Summers set a world land-speed record—409.277 miles per hour—on the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah. They did it in an amazing, hemi-powered hot rod they called the Goldenrod. (The car got its name from the ’57 Chevy gold paint the ...read more