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With a mission to inspire, illuminate and teach, the National Geographic Society is one of the world’s largest nonprofit scientific and educational organizations. Time yourself and challenge your friends to solve these jigsaw puzzles created using map plates from our eighth-edition atlas.
Explore National Geographic's political and physical maps of the world from our eighth-edition atlas. This annual contest, hosted by Alex Trebek, is designed to encourage teachers to include geography in their classrooms, spark student interest in the subject, and increase public awareness about geography. In the late summer and early fall of 1977, twin spacecraft called Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 sailed into space, bound for the far reaches of the planets. They carried star sensors and plutonium batteries, new to exploration, that suddenly opened space's outer precincts to human inquiry. On the long, strange trip they started that year, the two Voyager spacecraft would reveal that the moons orbiting Jupiter were worlds in their own right, that Saturn's fabled rings boasted intricate weaves, and that Earth was but a pale blue dot set in the vastness of space. NASA scientists believe that Voyager 1 reached a goal without precedent—interstellar space, the uncharted sea beyond the planets, the realm of stars—on August 25, 2012. Until Voyager 1's feat, "all spacecraft, everything, all the planets, had been immersed in the solar wind, the wind from the sun," says Ed Stone, the rangy, 78-year-old Caltech professor who has headed the Voyager 1 and 2 science team for its entire 37 years of space exploration.
Voyager 1 found a distict change of neighborhood in interstellar space, where ashes from long-vanished stars float every three or so inches. Traveling more than 38,000 miles per hour (61,000 kilometers per hour), Voyager 1 dashes through interstellar space now as easily as it plunged past the planets.
The spacecraft sends staccato messages via radio waves that take more than 17 hours to find their way home.
All told, Voyager 1 has traveled an arc of more than 16 billion miles (26 billion kilometers), past Jupiter's moons and Saturn's gleaming rings.
Both vessels carry a copy of the "golden record," a 12-inch (30-centimeter), gold-plated copper disk that is meant to act as a kind of Rosetta Stone for any extraterrestrials seeking to understand life on Earth. Behind the disk is a phonograph record containing sounds and images from Earth in the era of Saturday Night Live and Star Wars. Luck—or perhaps the serendipity of exploration, to be more exact—had indeed a lot to do with it. John Casani, the mission's project manager, and Charley Kohlhase, Voyager mission adviser and navigation expert, watched from a Cape Kennedy control room as unwelcome readings reached them from the 15-stories-tall rocket climbing into space. Now with Voyager 1's launch, a tiny, initially undetected leak in a fuel line on the Titan's second stage was bleeding propellant from the massive rocket as it headed upward. The temperamental Centaur came within three seconds of fuel depletion, he says, before mercifully shutting itself off and sending Voyager 1 into the correct orbit, where it could fire yet another rocket stage, one built into the spacecraft, to send it to Jupiter.
The Centaur's navigation system had been programmed to calculate how much firing it needed to reach the right orbit in flight, cut off from commands from the ground during its ascent. Voyager 1's last-stage rocket fired without trouble, launching the spacecraft on its first leg of the trip to Jupiter and Saturn, while its twin, Voyager 2, was poised to take a "Grand Tour" of the solar system, an idea centuries in the making. Astronomy's patron saint, Galileo Galilei, first wrote in 1610 about his discovery of moons orbiting Jupiter.
Earning Galileo the attentions of the Roman Inquisition, his discovery of four satellites circling Jupiter in the sky dealt a deadly blow, albeit a long-delayed one, to the belief that the Earth was the center of the cosmos.
The Grand Tour taken by the Voyager spacecraft, however, owes its origins more closely to another astronomer, Johannes Kepler, who in 1614 suggested the names for the four largest moons of Jupiter that we know today: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, mythological paramours of the King of the Gods. To Kepler we also owe the simple, elegant mathematical laws that explain how planets sweep around stars and how spacecraft can tour the planets. In his 1609 magnum opus, Astronomia Nova, Kepler first described the curving geometry, circles and ellipses, followed by planets as they circumnavigate the sun and by moons as they loop around planets. This early view of the heavens was developed over the centuries with a big lift from Isaac Newton, whose geometric findings describe the arcs traced by comets, and later by spacecraft.
Those new trajectories were the handiwork of a UCLA graduate student named Michael Minovitch who in 1961 wrote a technical memo called "A Method for Determining Interplanetary Free-Fall Reconnaissance Trajectories." In it, he boldly proposed for the first time to steer from planet to planet by using the gravity of each world to serve as the spacecraft's rudder and sails. As a demonstration, he showed how to send a spaceship from Earth to Venus to Earth to Mars to Saturn to Pluto to Jupiter to Earth without burning a drop of fuel. By the same token, when a tiny spacecraft nears a planet, the two objects engage in a gravitational tug of war.
The energy for this assistance comes at a tiny cost, a transfer of planetary inertia to the spacecraft that would cause less than a trillionth of a mile per hour decrease in the speed of the King of Planets as it circled the sun.
A rare planetary alignment offered gravity assists that cut the mission time by nearly 20 years. By the late 1960s, space mission planners at NASA knew that the right alignment was coming but would last for only three years. JPL and, soon enough, the public were keenly aware of the opportunity for a Grand Tour presented by the alignment, Kohlhase says.
As the world watched astronauts land on the moon during the space agency's Apollo missions from 1969 to 1972, National Research Council panels and JPL mission planners pondered the Grand Tour mission—first proposed in 1966—to explore the outer planets of the solar system. JPL's proposed five-spacecraft Outer Planet Grand Tour mission would have included two Jupiter-Saturn-Pluto trips, two Jupiter-Uranus-Neptune trips, and a Jupiter orbiter.
Those plans largely fell victim to NASA budget cuts as the moon race ended, says space historian John Logsdon, author of John F. The result was Mariner-Jupiter-Saturn 77 (MJS-77), a four-year plan to send two smaller spacecraft from the successful Mariner line of missions, which had already visited Mars, Venus, and Mercury, on to the next farther planets, Jupiter and Saturn. All the while, those mission planners were still thinking about how to travel beyond Saturn. On a previous Mariner mission, for example, a navigations tracker had just barely kept sight of Earth well enough to allow a Venus mission to succeed. By 1976, NASA headquarters "became more warmly disposed" to the possibility of a Uranus flyby, according to Henry C. In fact, if Voyager 1 missed its mark in peering at Titan, the idea was that Voyager 2 would alter its path to ensure an investigation of the moon, even at the cost of forestalling a trip to Uranus and Neptune. Two spacecraft allowed the mission to look at all four Jovian moons, both from the front side and the back side, coming and going from the planet. All the same, they kept Voyager 2 nearly twice as far away from Jupiter as its twin, just in case.
Such restrictions dictated by the science team were a blessing in disguise for the trajectory team.
Pioneer 10's encounter with Jupiter, which produced about 500 photos, also taught the team one other lesson. Fresh out of college and one of the newly hired women on the Voyager team, Spilker was drawn to the discoveries promised by the mission. Although Uranus was discovered in 1781 and Neptune in 1846, astronomers still didn't know a lot about the planets before the Voyager spacecraft visited them. Before the mission, Uranus and Neptune were drawn in textbooks as aquamarine fuzz balls with scant descriptions accompanying them. Jupiter and Saturn were thought to be better understood: big, boring balls of gas, one adorned with a red spot and surrounded by crater-battered ice moons, the other encircled by uncomplicated rings built of snowballs the size of a Volkswagen minibus.


At Jupiter in 1979, for example, a chance observation upended long-held expectations about Io, Jupiter's innermost large moon, one of the marvels first witnessed by Galileo in 1610. Planetary scientists had hoped to measure the craters on Io as a way to gauge the impact history of our solar system. A chance observation on March 9, 1979, by navigation team member Linda Morabito revealed volcanoes erupting on Io, stunning everyone. For one thing, NASA and University of California planetary scientists had just published a paper in Science suggesting that Io was the "most intensely heated terrestrial-type body in the solar system." Gases were known to come from the moon. Influenced by the Apollo landings, however, the team thought Io was a "dead ringer," Johnson says, for Earth's moon, which had been geologically dead for billions of years. Expecting to see a moonscape on Io, the team underexposed the first photos sent back from the moon and filtered the images to draw out the expected craters.
So they initially missed the discovery, until Morabito observed plume shapes visible in overexposed images of the moon taken to provide a fix on guiding stars as Voyager 1 looked back over its shoulder on departure from Jupiter. At Saturn in 1981, similar surprises awaited, this time from the planet's seemingly simple rings.
Voyager 1 also discovered the thin E ring circling Saturn along the orbit of the mysteriously smooth, icy moon, Enceladus—another puzzle. With every planetary encounter, every obstacle overcome, every discovery made, the Voyager team grew closer, with picnics and softball games binding them together as a family of sorts. With Voyager 2 leaving Saturn in 1981 and heading for Uranus, a five-year hiatus, she and others on the mission started their families. Voyager 2's departure from Saturn also saw "one of the toughest times for the team," she says, when the camera-holding platform, or scan platform, of the spacecraft jammed, leaving the cameras and other instruments fruitlessly clicking away on empty space instead of their intended targets.
After two anxious days of trying, the engineering team discovered that very slow, stronger-than-normal turns of the scan platform allowed low-speed pointing of the cameras. Uranus and Neptune, of course, were always in the plans for Voyager 2, but it wasn't until Voyager 1 carefully observed the haze-shrouded mini-world Titan, Saturn's largest moon, "an enigma," Miner said, that NASA headquarters released Voyager 2 for the rest of the Grand Tour. Already a great success, Voyager 2 arced toward Uranus, while Voyage 1 pursued a faster path out of the solar system. The spacecraft's closest encounter with Uranus, 50,600 miles (81,500 kilometers) above its blue clouds, would come on January 24, only four days ahead of the space shuttle Challenger disaster, which killed seven astronauts: Mike J. The Voyager team had ended its science meetings early that day to see the launch on television, only to watch in stunned silence as the disaster unfolded.
The unexpected star of the Uranus encounter was the planet's smallest major moon, Miranda, "the most bizarre body in the solar system," according to JPL's The Voyager Neptune Travel Guide. Planetary scientists now believe that Miranda escaped a tidal lock it had with another of Neptune's moons, which had wracked and heated its icy interior to produce its strange surface. Uranus also proved to have a magnetic north pole that pointed upward, toward its equator, and was off-center, another puzzle. Neptune, the last planet on Voyager's Grand Tour, was finally ready for its close-up in 1989. Voyager found a cobalt-colored world whose serene face hid winds of 1,242 miles (2,000 kilometers) per hour, the fastest yet seen on any planet. Its large moon, Triton, was covered with creeping frost and slush from ice volcanoes timed to the change of seasons. Most likely, the team concluded, Triton was a refugee from the comet belt, an ice ball that had been captured long ago by Neptune's gravity. Once again, Voyager opened the minds of scientists and the public to the vast variety of our solar system.
From the start, Stone had built a science team that worked cooperatively to squeeze as much science as possible out of each planetary encounter. Among them was the famous "pale blue dot" photo, showing the Earth as a tiny glint in the vastness of space.
On its flyby of Neptune, Voyager 2 skimmed over the northern half of that world, poised for a close look at Triton.
Years earlier, Voyager 1 had similarly passed somewhat "beneath" Saturn when it took its close look at its moon Titan. After more than a decade of exploring worlds and triumphing over showstopping challenges, "we'd developed a camaraderie, more like a family than co-workers," Miner says.
In 1990, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 started their "interstellar mission." In a modern-day version of finding the source of the Nile, the spacecraft sought the edges of the solar wind. Past the planets, the Voyager spacecraft aim to explore interstellar space, by first crossing the "termination shock," where the solar wind slows abruptly, and then heading past the "heliopause," where the solar wind and interstellar wind meet. The endeavor pitted the fading plutonium battery power of the spacecraft against the strength of the sun's solar wind. Over time, radioactive decay meant that the battery power needed to operate the spacecraft's instruments was fading, from 475 watts at launch to 370 watts by the time Voyager 2 reached Neptune. That wasn't a big deal initially, when Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 headed off on their interstellar mission. The Voyager team chewed on a vexing question: Would the spacecraft find the edge of the solar wind before they ran out of the battery power needed for their instruments to make the discovery? The solar wind flows outward from the sun traveling at one million miles (1.6 million kilometers) per hour, made up of energetic particles blasted off the solar surface and into space, where the wind surrounds our star like a bubble. In 2004, Voyager 1 entered the boundary region between the solar wind and the interstellar wind. Making matters more complicated, however, was the breakdown in 1980 of an instrument for directly detecting that transition, which forced mission scientists to rely on indirect signs of Voyager 1 crossing into interstellar space.
The big break came from a pair of solar storms, powerful outbursts from the sun, which caught up to the spacecraft in October 2013 and then again in April of this year. In a report published in Science in September 2013, Gurnett's team reported that measured changes in electrical activity around Voyager did indeed correspond to interstellar space, roughly 40 times more dense than the solar wind. Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 still have time to make a few more discoveries before their battery power fades out around 2025. Early in July, for example, Voyager 1 recorded more "tsunami waves" from solar storms in interstellar space, electrical rumblings lashing out past the edges of the solar wind. Stone told comedian Stephen Colbert on his television show The Colbert Report last December.
Through creative use of National Geographic images and content, users are encouraged to travel the globe, unlocking new locations and experiences.
The member-supported Society, which believes in the power of science, exploration and storytelling to change the world, reaches over 600 million people each month through its media platforms, products and events. Like the ancient mariners, they would navigate a vast ocean, the solar system, in a pathbreaking bid to explore the mysterious outer planets. Their navigators sat in a faraway place, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, where they sent piecemeal instructions to the spacecraft's steering computers. The spacecraft had far outstripped Voyager 2, which trailed its twin by more than 300 million miles (483 million kilometers).
It was an environment with more particles than the solar wind, the stream of charged particles forever racing off the sun's surface and into space.
Falling short meant that even if Voyager 1 made it into orbit, it wouldn't be high enough to successfully head on to its next destination, Jupiter. They sat and waited for the spacecraft's third-stage Centaur rocket to coast partway around Earth to its final departure location, and then fire its engines one final time to achieve escape. It had performed the corrective maneuver flawlessly on its own, burning an extra 1,200 pounds (544 kilograms) of propellant to make up the shortfall and achieve parking orbit.
To a rider on that spaceship, it would seem like the vessel was simply falling from one planet to the next.


Some of the spacecraft would be powered by nuclear rockets, which would cut trip times to Pluto from nine years to six. One was a spare in case the first failed to properly observe Saturn's enigmatic moon, Titan. On the first-ever flyby of the planet in 1973, the Pioneer 10 probe had revealed shockingly high amounts of radiation—one million times stronger than the levels in Earth's Van Allen radiation belts—emanating from Jupiter.
The radiation was strong enough to trigger a false command in Pioneer 10's onboard computer, which led to the loss of a close-up picture of the moon Io.
The advent of digital computers meant the trajectory team had 10,000 possible trajectories to choose from as they contemplated planetary passages, but they whittled the number down to 98 after consulting with the science team. Now a project scientist for the Cassini spacecraft mission orbiting Saturn today, she recalls that when Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 launched, not a lot was known about the outer planets of our solar system. Uranus rolled on its side, unlike any other planet, but no one knew the length of its day, or of Neptune's. Instead, they puzzled over its curiously mottled surface, which resembled nothing so much as an orange left to spoil in the back recess of a refrigerator.
And from their own work, the mission team knew that Io's orbit around Jupiter was out-of-round, which might produce heating tides.
The filtering, it turns out, washed out all the plume activity: "a perfect anti-plume filter," he says.
The discovery riveted the public's attention on Jupiter's moons, Galileo's storied discoveries. The "gap" in Saturn's rings, discovered in the 16th century, proved to be filled with evenly spaced arcs of dust and ice. There were so many that imaging team leader Smith gave up counting them all for reporters at the daily briefing on Voyager 1's Saturn encounter. Radio signals sent through the hazy atmosphere of Saturn's big moon, Titan, revealed that the orb's atmosphere was so thick it had fooled astronomers into thinking it was the largest satellite in the solar system. After Voyager 1's flight past Saturn, the team had sped up operations of Voyager 2's scan platform to take even more pictures.
At the time, little was known about the planet, the fourth largest world in the solar system, except that it was cold, aquamarine, and encircled by its own thin, dark rings. It was both a "first look and a final farewell," as National Geographic's Rick Gore wrote that year. Instrument teams competed for time to look at what they could argue was most scientifically compelling on each day of each encounter. The image made real to everyone, Sagan said, what Galileo knew, what Copernicus knew, and what the women and men of Voyager knew in their bones—that we live on a tiny world, a lonely speck in the darkness. The gravitational pull of the planet bent the spacecraft's path southward as it headed out of the solar system at 33,100 miles (53,400 kilometers) per hour.
As a result, it had headed outbound on a trajectory aimed in a northerly direction, zipping along at an even faster 37,500 miles (60,000 kilometers) per hour. They no longer needed their power-hungry cameras, says Voyager project manager Suzanne Dodd.
The edge of the solar wind was an estimated 50 to 150 times the distance of the Earth from the sun; in comparison, Neptune orbited at 30 times that distance.
Almost yearly, the team reported signs the spacecraft was edging closer to true interstellar space. The instrument that Gurnett's team operated aboard the spacecraft, essentially a radio receiver called the plasma wave subsystem, was too weak to detect the interstellar wind. Based on the storm's revelations, the team extrapolated the entry date for Voyager 1 into interstellar space as August 25, 2012.
Its data showed that the Milky Way's magnetic field is apparently aligned in the same direction as the sun's, forming what Stone calls a "magnetic highway." Space scientists had generally assumed that the galaxy's magnetic field would have some other direction. In their 1989 Voyager Neptune Travel Guide, produced for the last planetary encounter, they predicted that Voyager 1 would reach "mare incognito—the interstellar medium" in 2012.
At the show's climax, Colbert (dressed in a space suit) presented Stone with NASA's Distinguished Public Service Medal, its highest award for someone outside the agency. National Geographic has funded more than 11,000 research, conservation and exploration projects, and its education programs promote geographic literacy. No other spacecraft have revealed the secrets of so many worlds, roamed so far, or so profoundly reshaped our view of our home in the cosmos.
The Centaur contained extra fuel, perhaps enough to make up the difference and get Voyager 1 onto the orbit it needed to begin visiting the outer planets. In the case of a spacecraft passing in the wake of a planet as it circles the sun, the gravity assist adds to its velocity relative to the sun and changes its direction.
Recognizing the coming cuts, the Space Science Board of the National Academy of Sciences advised against the $750 million Grand Tour plan in a 1971 report. Schorn, authors of Voyager's Grand Tour: To the Outer Planets and Beyond, after the space agency found it couldn't convince Congress to fund a third Voyager mission to that planet. The second largest moon in the solar system, wider than Mercury, Titan was the only one swathed in its own thick atmosphere. The radiation was strong enough to darken the lens of the probe's asteroid and meteoroid detector. And then to two, as the mission scientists honed in on the sights they absolutely could and couldn't live without on the trip.
Some of the rings possessed spokes, intertwined strands, and "shepherd" moons that watched over unexpected clumps in the outer rings.
It was actually the second largest at 3,200 miles (5,150 kilometers) wide, some 60 to 70 miles (97 to 113 kilometers) skinnier than Jupiter's frozen moon, Ganymede. Scientists knew that it rotated on its side with its south pole facing the sun, but didn't know how fast it spun.
The moon was heavily cratered, but it was also cut by deep cliffs and adorned with three grooved, racetrack-shaped plains that met in chevron shapes, as if giants had chiseled hundred-mile slabs of ice off its face. It was a surprisingly harmonious enterprise that Miner explains was largely the result of the JPL engineering team's creativity in satisfying the scientists' demands for ever more observations. The two spacecraft soon outpaced their slower predecessors, Pioneer 10 and Pioneer 11, the very first spacecraft to visit the outer planets.
Many of them moved on to the next generation of Jupiter spacecraft, the Galileo mission, or the Saturn explorer, Cassini. Dodd still heads the team of about a dozen JPL engineers carefully apportioning the juice left aboard each spacecraft. But it could measure the effects of a powerful solar storm interacting with its environment as it overtook the spacecraft. They nailed it, with a prediction made at a time when no one knew the distance for certain. Casani knew, however, that burning all of a rocket's fuel might cause its empty fuel pumps to shred apart explosively. The flyby of Jupiter done by both Voyager spacecraft added about 22,000 miles (35,400 kilometers) per hour to their speed relative to the rest of the solar system, and sent them into sharp left turns toward Saturn.
The curious, dense haze fascinated and puzzled the mission's scientists and played a major role in the shaping of the Voyager mission.



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