×

More help, more resources, more learning.

KidsAstronomy.com will be joining the Education.com family!

We're so excited to continue to grow and support the parents and teachers championing children's education.
Read press release
KidsKnowIt Network is now part of Education.com!

Voyager 1

Voyager 1 is a space probe launched by NASA. Its mission is to study the outer Solar System. It’s now the most distant spacecraft from Earth.

An imaged of a model of the Voyager craft.

Image Credit: NASA

What is Voyager 1?

In the 1960’s, a program began at NASA to study the outer planets of the Solar System. To reach this goal, Voyager 1 was made at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Voyager 1 (and its twin, Voyager 2) had several mission objectives.
 
The main goal was to explore Jupiter and Saturn. Voyager 1 flew by both planets. Voyager 2 visited Uranus and Neptune as well as Jupiter and Saturn. Upon visiting Neptune, the first mission of Voyager ended in 1989.
 

What is Voyager 1 Doing Now?

The Voyager craft are now in the second phase of their mission. This phase is the Voyager Interstellar Mission. The purpose of this mission is to explore beyond the outer planets.
 
This region, called interstellar space, is filled with material from dead stars. It is also past the reach of the Sun’s solar winds. Scientists hope that the probe will shed light on this unknown region of the Universe!
 

Voyager’s Equipment

Voyager 1 weighs 773 kilograms. This includes 105 kilograms of scientific equipment. The probe uses sixteen thrusters to move. It has a radio communication system to transmit data back to earth. This can take over 19 hours! To power the probe, Voyager uses a nuclear reactor.
 
Voyager has scientific instruments that allow it to complete its objectives. Spectrometers, for example, allow Voyager to analyze the atmosphere and composition of planets.
 

Launch and Journey

Voyager 1 launched on September 5th, 1997 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. About a year later, it began photographing the surface of Jupiter.

An image of Voyager 1 being launched into space.

Voyager 1 launches into space, attached to a rocket. (Image Credit: NASA)

 

After leaving Jupiter, both Voyager spacecraft flew by Saturn. Voyager 1 encountered Saturn in 1980. By 1990, Voyager 1 was ready to leave the solar system! Before it moves on, it turned around and captured the first “family portrait” of the solar system.
 
At approximately the same time, Voyager 1 captured the famous “Pale Blue Dot” image, shown below. This picture was taken at the request of the astronomer Carl Sagan. The image continues to spark wonder in those who can finally see how small our planet really is!

An image taken by Voyager 1, called Pale Blue Dot, of the Earth from near the edge of the solar system.

The famous Pale Blue Dot photo. You can see Earth circled. (Image Credit: NASA)

Where is Voyager 1 Now?

Voyager 1 is now in an area called the “interstellar medium”. This is the area of space that exists between star systems. Voyager 1 is the first man-made object to ever reach this part of the galaxy.
 
This region plays an important role in how stars form. Dust and gas from the death of stars long ago floats throughout the medium. In the densest areas of the interstellar medium, stars form. NASA expects that Voyager 1 will continue to study this area until 2025 when it runs out of power.
 

What did Voyager find?

Voyager 1 has made many important scientific discoveries. One of the earliest occurred when it flew by Jupiter. When looking down at Jupiter’s moon Io, Voyager found volcanic activity. This was the first time volcanic activity was found on any place in the Solar System other than our earth!
 
Voyager also explored another moon of Jupiter, Europa. Voyager found evidence of an ocean beneath Europa’s crust. As Voyager 1 explored Saturn, it showed the composition of its rings in detail for the first time.
 
Its twin, Voyager 2, explored Neptune’s Great Dark Spot. It also found geysers in the polar cap of Neptune’s moon, Triton. Both Voyager probes have left our Solar System. Scientists hope they will make discoveries in the outer frontier of our Solar System.
 

The Golden Record

If you met an alien today, what would you tell them about Earth? Would you talk about what types of plants and animals we have? Maybe you’d tell them about humans themselves. Before Voyager launched, scientists asked themselves the very same question.
 
NASA compiled information intended to represent Earth on a golden phonograph record. They added photographs and diagrams that depicted life on earth. These represented a wide variety of human cultures. They ranged from portraits of people to food and architecture. They put music on the record, as well as spoken greetings in 55 ancient and modern languages.

An image of the golden record sent out into space.

The Golden Record

The record also includes an hour-long recording of the brainwaves of Ann Druyan. During the session, Duryan thought of many topics. These included human civilization, history, and what it was like to fall in love.
 
NASA hopes that if aliens found this record, they would understand what life on Earth was like.

Other Great Resources

Voyager – JPL: https://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/

(Video) The 116 images NASA wants Aliens to See – Vox: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAN1kt4SG9E

(Video) Where are the Voyagers now? – Fraser Cain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AbZ-6CcKw5M

Written By: Francis Aguisanda