NASA is slowly shutting down the Voyager probes.  Here are 18 groundbreaking photos from their 45-year mission.

NASA is slowly shutting down the Voyager probes. Here are 18 groundbreaking photos from their 45-year mission.

The thumb is a collage of four images taken by the Voyager probes featured in the piece.

This montage shows examples of impressive images of the Solar System captured by Voyager 1 and 2 on their missions.NASA/JPL/Insiders

The Voyager probes are pioneers of science, going further into space than any other man-made object.

Originally sent on a four-year mission to Jupiter and Saturn in 1977, the twin probes exceeded all expectations and are still on the move 45 years later.

Among their accomplishments are the amazing photos of the sun they returned before the cameras shut down.

But now they face an incurable problem: They’re running out of power, and NASA scientists are beginning to shut down even more onboard instruments to conserve energy.

As they near the end of their mission, here are 18 images from Voyager that changed science:

The Voyager probes were designed to visit Jupiter and Saturn.

A schematic shows the trajectories of Voyager probes at the beginning of their mission.

The Voyager probes flew through the solar system and took unprecedented pictures.NASA

The Voyager mission consisted of two probes, Voyager 1 and 2, launched within a few months in 1977.

The launches took advantage of a rare alignment of planets that allowed them to launch their voyages into space with a turbocharger.

They were originally built to last five years, but have exceeded that lifespan many times over.

This is what Voyager saw as it approached Jupiter.

This time-lapse video records Voyager 1's approach to Jupiter over a period of over 60 Jupiter days.

A time-lapse image of Voyager 1 as it approached Jupiter in 1979.NASA/JPL

Voyager 1 and 2 reached Jupiter in 1979. They took a total of about 50,000 images of the planet, which NASA says far exceeded the quality of images taken of Earth.

The images taught scientists important facts about the planet’s atmosphere, magnetic forces and geology that would otherwise have been difficult to decipher.

The probes discovered two new moons orbiting Jupiter: Thebe and Metis.

Jupiter and two of its moons are visible in an image captured by Voyager.

Jupiter and two of its moons as seen from Voyager.NASA/JPL

As well as a thin ring around Jupiter

Jupiter's ring is shown as captured by Voyager.

A false color image of Jupiter’s ring discovered by Voyager.NASA/JPL

The probe captured this image while looking at the planet backlit by the Sun.

Voyager 1’s biggest discovery was volcanic activity on the surface of Jupiter’s moon Io.

Volcanic activity detected by the Voyager probes on the surface of Io, Jupiter's moon.

An image captured by the Voyager probes revealed volcanoes on Io’s surface.NASA/JPL

Next stop: Saturn

A false-color image of Saturn captured by Voyager 2 shows features of the planet's atmosphere.

Three Voyager 2 images taken through ultraviolet, violet and green filters were combined into this photo.NASA/JPL

The probes reached Saturn in 1980 and 1981. The flyby provided unprecedented insights into the planet’s ring structure, atmosphere and moons.

Voyager taught scientists the details of Saturn’s rings, captured here in false color.

Saturn's rings are shown in false color in an image taken by a Voyager spacecraft in 1981.

Saturn’s rings are shown in false color in an image taken on August 23, 1981 by a Voyager spacecraft.NASA

Enceladus, Saturn’s moon, was seen by Voyager in unprecedented detail.

Encheladus, Saturn's moon, seen by Voyager in unprecedented detail.

Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons, is seen from Voyager.NASA/JPL

This image, taken as the probe flew away, offered a unique view of the planet, letting us see the part in the shadows.

Saturn as seen by Voyager 1 looking back on November 16, 1980, four days after the spacecraft flew by the planet.

Voyager 1 looked back at Saturn on November 16, 1980 to give this unique perspective of its rings.NASA/JPL

By 1986, Voyager 2 had reached Uranus

Neptune as seen by Voyager in true and false colors.

Voyager 2 captured these true-color (left) and false-color (right) images of Neptune in 1986.NASA/JPL

Voyager 1 continued straight ahead and would not hit any other planet on its journey out of the solar system.

But Voyager 2 continued its exploration of our nearest planets, passing within 50,600 miles of Uranus in January 1986.

It discovered two additional rings around Uranus, revealing that the planet had at least 11, not 9.

His images of the largest moons of Uranus revealed their complicated geological past. It also revealed 11 previously invisible moons.

Miranda, the moon of Uranus, as seen from Voyager.

Miranda, the moon of Uranus.NASA/JPL

Here is an image of Miranda, the sixth largest moon of Uranus.

Voyager 2 was the first spacecraft to observe Neptune up close.

Neptune seen in false color from Voyager

Neptune seen in false color by Voyager 2 in 1989. Here, the red or white color means the sunlight is passing through a methane-rich atmosphere.NASA/JPL

In 1989, 12 years after its launch, Voyager 2 passed within 3,000 miles of Neptune.

One image shows blue Neptune in full.

One image shows blue Neptune in full.

Neptune as seen by Voyager 2 in 1989NASA/JPL

A picture shows Triton’s rough surface.

A picture shows Triton's rough surface.

Triton as seen by Voyager 2 in 1989NASA/JPL

It captured Triton, Neptune’s moon, in unprecedented detail.

Another shows Triton’s southern hemisphere.

An image shows Triton's southern hemisphere looking uneven.

Neptune as seen by Voyager 2 in 1989NASA/JPL

It captured Neptune’s rings.

Neptune's rings as seen from Voyager

Neptune’s rings.NASA/JPL

Here the crescent shape of Neptune’s south pole was seen by Voyager as it departed.

The crescent shape of Neptune's south pole is seen by the traveler on departure.

Neptune as seen by Voyager 2 in 1989NASA/JPL

Voyager 2 would never take pictures again. Since it would not hit another planet on its further journey, NASA turned off its cameras after the Neptune flyby to save energy for other instruments.

Voyager took 60 images of the solar system from a distance of about 4 billion miles.

Voyager 1's portrait of the solar system, composed of 60 images taken from a distance of 4 billion miles.

The portrait of the solar system was created by Voyager 1 in 1990.NASA/JPL

As the last photographic hooray, in 1990 Voyager 1 took 60 images of the solar system from a distance of 4 billion miles.

It gave us the most distant self-portrait on Earth, dubbed the “pale blue dot.”

Voyager light blue dot

This is Earth seen from 4 billion miles away.NASA

This will likely remain the longest-range selfie in human history for some time, a portrait of Earth from 4 billion miles away.

After this image, Voyager 1’s cameras were also turned off to conserve power. It’s possible that the probes’ cameras will turn back on, but it’s not a priority for the mission.

Beyond the solar system

Voyager 1 NASA in the heliopause

This artist’s concept shows the general locations of NASA’s two Voyager spacecraft. Voyager 1 (above) has sailed beyond our solar bubble into interstellar space, the space between the stars.NASA/JPL-Caltech

Although the probes are no longer sending images, they haven’t stopped sending important information about space.

In 2012, Voyager 1 became the first man-made instrument to traverse interstellar space by crossing the heliopause, the boundary between our solar system and the rest of the universe.

Voyager 2 was the second to cross the border in 2018. Then it turned out that there was an additional boundary around our solar bubble.

The probes are constantly sending back readings from interstellar space, like strange humming, that likely stem from vibrations from nearby stars.

Even after their instruments have been switched off, the probes’ mission continues

The two sides of NASA's gold disc on board the Voyager probes can be seen here.

A collage shows the two sides of NASA’s gold disc, which is on board the Voyager probes.NASA/Insiders

Now NASA is beginning to shut down the probes’ last instruments in hopes of extending their lifespan into the 2030s.

But even after all instruments have gone silent, the probes will still drift away with the gold disc that could yield crucial information about humanity if intelligent extraterrestrial life exists and it stumbles upon the probes.

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