Voyager 2

Voyager 2 is an unmanned interplanetary spacecraft launched on August 20, 1977. Identical in form to its sister Voyager program craft, Voyager 1, Voyager 2 followed a slower trajectory that allowed it to be kept in the ecliptic (the plane of the Solar System) so that it could be sent to Uranus and Neptune by means of gravity assist during the 1981 encounter at Saturn. Because of this trajectory, Voyager 2 could not see the moon Titan up close as its twin had, but the probe did become the first and only spacecraft to travel to Uranus and Neptune, thus completing the Planetary Grand Tour, a rare geometric arrangement of the outer planets that only occurs once every 176 years.[1]

Voyager 2 is perhaps the most productive space probe yet deployed, visiting four planets and their moons, including two primary visits to previously unexplored planets, with powerful cameras and a multitude of scientific instruments, at a fraction of the money later spent on specialized probes such as the Galileo spacecraft and the Cassini-Huygens probe.[citation needed] Along with Pioneer 10, Pioneer 11, Voyager 1 and New Horizons, Voyager 2 is an interstellar probe.

Mission profile

Voyager 2 was originally planned to be Mariner 12, part of the Mariner program.

Voyager 2 was launched on August 20, 1977, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard a Titan III-E Centaur rocket. Ground crews became engrossed in a launch problem with Voyager 1 and forgot to send an important activation code to Voyager 2. This caused the probe to shut down its main high-gain antenna. Fortunately, ground crews were able to establish contact through the craft's low-gain antenna and reactivate it.


The closest approach to Jupiter occurred on July 9, 1979. It came within 570,000 km (350,000 miles) of the planet's cloud tops. It discovered a few rings around Jupiter, as well as volcanic activity on the moon Io. That was the first time an active volcano has been observed on another celestial body.

The Great Red Spot was revealed as a complex storm moving in a counterclockwise direction. An array of other smaller storms and eddies were found throughout the banded clouds.

Discovery of active volcanism on the satellite Io was easily the greatest unexpected discovery at Jupiter. It was the first time active volcanoes had been seen on another body in the solar system. Together, the Voyagers observed the eruption of nine volcanoes on Io, and there is evidence that other eruptions occurred between the Voyager encounters.

Europa displayed a large number of intersecting linear features in the low-resolution photos from Voyager 1. At first, scientists believed the features might be deep cracks, caused by crustal rifting or tectonic processes. The closer high-resolution photos from Voyager 2, however, left scientists puzzled: The features were so lacking in topographic relief that as one scientist described them, they "might have been painted on with a felt marker." There is a possibility that Europa may be internally active due to tidal heating at a level one-tenth or less than that of Io. Europa is thought to have a thin crust (less than 30 kilometers or 18 miles thick) of water ice, possibly floating on a 50-kilometer-deep (30 mile) ocean.

Two new, small satellites, Adrastea and Metis, were found orbiting just outside the ring. A third new satellite, Thebe, was discovered between the orbits of Amalthea and Io.


The closest approach to Saturn occurred on August 25, 1981.

While behind Saturn (as viewed from Earth), Voyager 2 probed Saturn's upper atmosphere with its radar, to measure temperature and density profiles. Voyager 2 found that at the highest levels (7 kilopascals pressure) Saturn's temperature was 70 kelvins (−203 °C), while at the deepest levels measured (120 kilopascals) the temperature increased to 143 kelvins (−130 °C). The north pole was found to be 10 kelvins cooler, although this may be seasonal (see also Saturn Oppositions).

After the Saturn flyby, the camera platform on Voyager 2 locked up briefly, putting plans to officially extend the mission to Uranus and Neptune in jeopardy. Fortunately, the mission team was able to fix the problem — caused by overuse that temporarily depleted its lubricant — and the probe was given the go-ahead to examine Uranus.


Main article: Exploration of Uranus

The closest approach to Uranus occurred on January 24, 1986. Voyager 2 discovered 10 previously unknown moons; studied the planet's unique atmosphere, caused by its axial tilt of 97.77°; and examined its ring system. In its first solo planetary flyby, Voyager 2 made its closest approach to Uranus on January 24, 1986, coming within 81,500 kilometers (50,600 miles) of the planet's cloud tops.

Uranus is the third largest planet in the solar system. It orbits the Sun at a distance of about 2.8 billion kilometers (1.7 billion miles) and completes one orbit every 84 years. The length of a day on Uranus as measured by Voyager 2 is 17 hours, 14 minutes. Uranus is distinguished by the fact that it is tipped on its side. Its unusual position is thought to be the result of a collision with a planet-sized body early in the solar system's history. Given its odd orientation, with its polar regions exposed to sunlight or darkness for long periods, scientists were not sure what to expect at Uranus.

Voyager 2 found that one of the most striking influences of Uranus' sideways position is its effect on the tail of the magnetic field, which is itself tilted 60 degrees from the planet's axis of rotation. The magnetotail was shown to be twisted by the planet's rotation into a long corkscrew shape behind the planet. The presence of a magnetic field at Uranus was not known until Voyager's arrival.

Radiation belts at Uranus were found to be of an intensity similar to those at Saturn. The intensity of radiation within the belts is such that irradiation would quickly darken (within 100,000 years) any methane trapped in the icy surfaces of the inner moons and ring particles. This may have contributed to the darkened surfaces of the moons and ring particles, which are almost uniformly gray in color.

A high layer of haze was detected around the sunlit pole, which also was found to radiate large amounts of ultraviolet light, a phenomenon dubbed "dayglow." The average temperature is about 60 kelvins (-350 degrees Fahrenheit). Surprisingly, the illuminated and dark poles, and most of the planet, show nearly the same temperature at the cloud tops.

The moon Miranda, innermost of the five large moons, was revealed to be one of the strangest bodies yet seen in the solar system. Detailed images from Voyager's flyby of the moon showed huge fault canyons as deep as 20 kilometers (12 miles), terraced layers, and a mixture of old and young surfaces. One theory holds that Miranda may be a reaggregation of material from an earlier time when the moon was fractured by a violent impact.

All nine previously known rings were studied by the spacecraft and showed the Uranian rings to be distinctly different from those at Jupiter and Saturn. The ring system may be relatively young and did not form at the same time as Uranus. Particles that make up the rings may be remnants of a moon that was broken by a high-velocity impact or torn up by gravitational effects.


Main article: Exploration of Neptune

The closest approach to Neptune occurred on August 25, 1989. Since this was the last major planet Voyager 2 could visit, it was decided to make a close flyby of the moon Triton, regardless of the consequences to the trajectory, as with Voyager 1's encounter with Saturn and its moon Titan.

The probe also discovered the Great Dark Spot, which has since disappeared, according to Hubble Space Telescope observations. Originally thought to be a large cloud itself, it was later postulated to be a hole in the visible cloud deck.

With the 2006 decision of the International Astronomical Union to reclassify Pluto as a "dwarf planet", the 1989 flyby of Neptune by Voyager 2 became the point when every planet in the solar system had been visited at least once by spacecraft.

Escaping the solar system

Since its planetary mission is over, Voyager 2 is now described as working on an interstellar mission, which NASA is using to find out what the solar system is like beyond the heliosphere. Like Voyager 1 around three years before, Voyager 2 crossed into the heliosheath, the last section of the heliosphere before interstellar space, in October 2007. Each Voyager carries a gold-plated audio-visual disc in the event that either spacecraft is ever found by intelligent aliens. The disc carries images of Earth and its lifeforms, a range of scientific information, and a medley, "Sounds of Earth", that includes the sounds of whales, a baby crying, waves breaking on a shore and a variety of music.

As of March 7, 2008, Voyager 2 is at a distance of around 85.52 AU (approximately 12.761 terameters) from the Sun, deep in the scattered disc, and traveling outward at roughly 3.3 AUs a year. [2] It is more than twice as far from the Sun as Pluto, and far beyond the perihelion of 90377 Sedna, but not yet beyond the outer limits of the orbit of Eris.

On October 30, 2007, Voyager 2 passed the termination shock into the heliosheath, approximately 1 billion miles (1.6 billion km) closer to the Sun than Voyager 1 did.[3] This is due to the local interstellar magnetic field of deep space. The southern hemisphere of the solar system's heliosphere is being pushed in.[4]

Voyager 2 is not headed toward any particular star. It will pass by the star Sirius at a distance of 1.32 parsecs (4.3 ly, 25 trillion mi) in about 296,000 years.[5]

Voyager 2 is expected to keep transmitting into the 2020s.

Year End of specific capabilities as a result of the available electrical power limitations

1998 Terminate scan platform and UV observations

~2012 Termination of gyro operations

~2012 Termination of DTR operations (limited by ability to capture 1.4 kbit/s data using a 70 m/34 m antenna array)

~2016 Initiate instrument power sharing

> 2020 Can no longer power any single instrument[6]

Current status

Voyager 2, as of 19 September 2007, is at −53.72° declination and 19.674 h Right Ascension, placing it in the constellation Telescopium as observed from Earth.

On November 30, 2006, a command was incorrectly decoded by the spacecraft as an instruction to turn on heaters associated with the probe's magnetometer. The heaters remained on until December 4, 2006, resulting in extremely high temperatures (above 130 °C), and in sensor rotation away from the correct orientation. It has not been possible to fully diagnose and correct for the damage to the Voyager 2 magnetometer, although efforts to do so are ongoing.[7]

Information about ongoing telemetry exchanges with Voyager 2 is available from Voyager Weekly Reports. Information on the current location of Voyager 2 can be found at this Web site.

Voyager 2 in fiction and popular culture

This section contains specific references to Voyager 2. For other references to the Voyagers, see Voyager in fiction and popular culture in the Voyager program article.

* "Voyager 2" is the title of a song by the band Virginia Coalition. It appeared on the "Ok To Go" Album.

* "Thinking Voyager 2 Type Things" is the title of a song by Bob Geldof, on the album "The Vegetarians of Love."

* The motion picture Starman portrayed Voyager 2 as having been located by an alien intelligence who subsequently sent one of their own race to investigate intelligent life on Earth.

* In the episode "Parasites Lost" of the animated show Futurama, Leela scrubs the remains of Voyager 2 off the windshield of her spaceship while refueling at an interplanetary service station.

* The introduction movie for the computer game Battlezone II depicts Voyager 2 as a discreetly armed reconnaissance probe, and is subsequently destroyed by an anti-satellite missile after discovering a secret military base on the undiscovered Dark Planet.

* In the television series "Beast Wars" Megatron mentions that the Golden Disk (which was a major plot element of the second season) shown in the series was from the Voyager 2 (and even shows an animated Voyager 2 launching from earth).



  • ^ Planetary Voyage NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory - California Institute of Technology. 23 March 2004. Retrieved 8 April 2007.
  • ^ Voyager Mission Operations Status Report # 2007-12-07, Week Ending December 7, 2007. Retrieved 7 Feb 2008.
  • ^ Voyager 2 Proves Solar System Is Squashed #2007-12-10
  • ^ Voyager 2 finds solar system's shape is 'dented' # 2007-12-10, Week Ending December 14, 2007. Retrieved 12 Dec 2007.
  • ^ Voyager - Mission - Interstellar Mission
  • ^ Voyager – Spacecraft – Spacecraft Lifetime. NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (2003-01-14). Retrieved on 2007-11-04.
  • ^ Notes on Voyager 2 Quick Look Data: Data after Nov 29, 2006


  • NASA Voyager website
  • Voyager Spacecraft Lifetime
  • Voyager 2 Mission Profile by NASA's Solar System Exploration
  • Voyager 2 (NSSDC Master Catalog)
  • Spacecraft Escaping the Solar System - current positions and diagrams
  • Mission state
  • Voyager 2 Detects Odd Shape of Solar System's Edge 23 May 2006

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