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1989: Voyager spacecraft reaches Neptune

VIDEO : Stunning images sent back from Neptune

The unmanned Voyager 2 spacecraft has sent back the first close-up pictures of Neptune and its satellite planets.

Neptune is over two billion miles from Earth - the most distant planet in our solar system.

Scientists at Mission Control in Florida have called it the "culmination of the greatest journey of exploration this century".

Voyager 2 has already sent back pictures and information from Jupiter, Saturn and Uranus.

But its trip to Neptune has provided the most spectacular so far.

Neptune's blue hue is clearly visible - it comes from the planet's mainly methane atmosphere.

Scientists have been astounded by the discovery of a storm the size of Earth hovering over Neptune.

Six new moons have also been identified.

Voyager 2 blasted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida in August 1977.

It is a twin to Voyager 1 which was launched the following month.

Originally their trip was only designed to take in Jupiter and Saturn but scientists later decided to extend their journey and reprogrammed them by remote control.

Voyager 2 is due to leave our solar system soon and begin a journey of exploration of the stars - it is the last we will hear of it for many years.

Voyager 1 is already on its way to conduct studies of interplanetary space.

Both spacecraft carry an disk of recorded sounds and images from Earth.

Included are greetings from many languages, images of life on our planet and human achievements.

In Context
Between them, Voyager 1 and 2 explored all the giant outer planets of our solar system.

Although originally designed to last just five years, both Voyagers are still in communication with the Earth and will remain so until at least 2020.

Voyager 1 is now the most distant human-made object in the universe with Voyager 2 not far behind.

Their eventual goal is to become the first spacecraft to escape the Sun's influence.

Both spacecraft are heading towards the heliopause, the boundary between the Sun's influence and interstellar space.

That will probably be their final mission but long after they stop communicating with Earth, the two Voyagers will keep speeding away from our solar system.


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