Enjoy some Jovian eye candy on the anniversary of Voyager 1’s closest approach to the planet on March 5, 1979

By Tom Yulsman | March 5, 2016 3:33 pm
Voyager approach

A time-lapse movie uses images taken from Jan. 6 to Feb. 3 1979 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft as it was heading toward it’s closest approach to the planet on March 5, 19979. (Source: NASA Planetary Photojournal)

It has been 37 years since the Voyager 1 spacecraft began sending back glorious, up-close imagery of Jupiter and its coterie of moons. And today, March 5th, marks the actual anniversary of the spacecraft’s closest approach to the giant gaseous planet.

So I thought I’d share this animation of images taken by the spacecraft as it was making its final approach to Jupiter. It’s known as the Voyager “Blue Movie,” because it was built from images acquired through a blue filter.

The sequence consists of 66 images taken each time Jupiter rotated once on its axis. (Each of these Jovian days lasted about 10 hours.) At the start of the approach documented in the animation, on Jan. 6, 1979, the spacecraft was 36 million miles from Jupiter. At the end of the animation it was 19 million miles away, on Feb. 3.

A little over a month later, Voyager 1 came within 128,400 miles of Jupiter during its closest approach. It finally left the Jovian system in early April, having taken almost 19,000 images.

Voyager 1 Portrait of Io

Voyager 1 captured this image of the plume from an enormous volcanic eruption on Io on March 4, 1979, about 11 hours before it made its closest approach to this moon of Jupiter. (Source: NASA Planetary Photojournal)

Here’s one of the more memorable ones: a portrait of Io, one of Jupiter’s moons, just as an incredibly violent volcanic eruption was spewing material 100 miles high — with an ejection velocity calculated at 1,200 miles per hour. NASA describes this volcanism as “one of the most surprising discoveries of the Voyager 1 mission.”

The plume is that greenish feature erupting against the blackness of space, toward the upper left. (NASA used digital processing to boost its brightness, otherwise it would have been very faint.) The photograph was made from a distance of about 304,000 miles as Voyager 1 was approaching.

After its Jovian tour, Voyager 1 flew on to Saturn, arriving there on Nov. 12, 1980. It flew close to Titan, a large moon, and behind Saturn’s rings. Ultimately, this trajectory bent the spacecraft’s path northward out of the plane in which most of our solar system’s planets orbit the Sun.

Voyager 1 became the first manmade object to make it into interstellar space, probably on Aug. 25, 2012, according to NASA. You can hear what that sounded like to the spacecraft by checking out the video above.

On Feb. 27, 2016, it was about 12.5 billion miles from the Sun, and speeding ever outward.

  • Mike Richardson

    Jupiter’s in pretty good view for telescopes right now, too. Spent a while relaxing and watching the bands and Red Spot through mine tonight, thanks to the mild weather. Stay out for an hour or two, and you can actually notice the movement of the Great Red Spot and other weather patterns, and even the positions of the Galilean moons. It’s quite the sight.

    • LEX

      Who could miss the “Movement of the Great Red Spot?” I don’t trust anything that bleeds for five days and doesn’t die.

      • Mike Richardson

        It’s been bleeding for centuries, so to speak. But the intensity fluctuates, and the spot itself has been shrinking in recent years. It may die, eventually.

  • Brandon Castor

    I agree. It is fun to watch

    • LEX

      I’m watching myself having an orgasm right this second.

  • Elizabeth Jean Sullivan

    At 8 years old in 1980 I was glued to the TV as the pictures came back from Saturn, making it my favorite planet. I’ve been fascinated by outer space ever since.

    • LEX

      Who would glue an 8 year old to a TV? That’s just wrong–unless you’re catholic, of course.

      • Elizabeth Jean Sullivan


  • LEX

    In zero gravity, stray fecal material from gay sex is called an “escapee.” I’m dead serious. Look it up.

  • Neil Armstrong

    Picture I processed from March 25th. My other photos can be seen here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/67226664@N08/ Give me a follow as I have just purchased a couple of new scopes and more pics will follow, weather permitting!



ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.


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