MARK GARLICK / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY MARK GARLICK / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Animation of one of the two unmanned Voyager probes leaving Earth. A rare alignment of the outer planets meant that they could all be visited on the same mission. Voyager 2 left Earth in August 1977, and Voyager 1 launched two weeks later with a faster trajectory. They both encountered Jupiter (1979) and Saturn (1980/1981), but only Voyager 2 encountered Uranus (1985) and Neptune (1989). The probes beamed back the first close-up images of these planets, and vast amounts of scientific data. The probes have exceeded the solar system's escape velocity, and continue to beam back data as they head out into interstellar space.
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