Famous scientist, Carl Sagan described the Earth as a “Pale Blue Dot” when looking at images captured by the Voyager 1 spacecraft at a distance of more than 4 billion miles (6.4 billion km).
So inspired was he by the statement, that he soon got his creative juices flowing and penned a book in 1994 by the same title, “Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space”.
Understandably, what had just happened was a monumental feat. For years, scientists had postulated about the scientific constitution of our solar system without every capturing everything on a canvas.
Before then, telescopes were the only ideal way they could identify the planets in order. The Voyager 1 spacecraft acted as a grand unifier of sorts.
Notably, Mercury lay too close to the Sun to be photographed by the Voyager 1 spacecraft. Pluto, which was still considered a planet in 1990, was too small and too distant to ever appear in the images.
While one would expect that Mars would be visible in such a setup, light shining from the Sun behind it happened to scatter the optics.
This means that the first portrait of the planets in our solar system consisted of 6 planets.
World over, astronomers were quick to dub the photo taken as “the picture of the century”.
On an interstellar mission, the nuclear-powered Voyager 1 captured the magnificence of the solar system planets after taking a series of shots.
Having been launched in September 1977, Voyager 1 embarked on an endless space odyssey to discover the depths of our universe and beyond.
Two television cameras situated on the spacecraft managed to snap the wondrous pictures of the solar system planets over a 4 hour period commencing at 8:12 p.m. EST on February 13. Noticeably, the United States was facing away from the Voyager 1 spacecraft as it went about snapping up the planets in our solar system.
Using the technology of the time, the images were stored on a magnetic tape and radioed back to Earth over an 11-day period.
There’s great symbolism to be found from the first portrait of the solar system planets. More than anything though, it goes to show our adeptness at exploring the planets in our solar system.
To complement Voyager 1’s mission in 1990, NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft successfully managed to piece together the very first portrait from the inside looking out.
Using its Wide Angle Camera (WAC), MESSENGER was successfully able to capture the image images between November 3 and November 16, 2010. In the snaps, all the solar system planets are visible except Neptune and Uranus which were too faint to be spotted.
Interestingly Earth’s moon and the Galilean satellites of Jupiter i.e. Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto, are in full view.
Looking at the mosaic, it’s easy to spot that there’s some curvature. According to Brett Denevi from the John Hopkins University of Applied Physics Laboratory, the reason behind this is because of MESSENGER’s orbit from the ecliptic. This refers to the very planet in which Earth and a majority of planets orbit.
Thanks to this, cameras on MESSENGER would on occasion be forced to look up and at times, look down, just to have a clear view of the planets in our solar system.
Technically speaking, the MESSENGER portrait was a bit harder to pull off than what the Voyager managed to achieve.
The reason behind this lies in the fact that scientists were forced to stay within the Sun keep-in constraints.
With the Voyager lying far out in the solar system, the Sun was a bit fainter and scientists were bothered about attitude constraints.
On the flip side, the MESSENGER spacecraft was situated on the inner section of the solar system. This meant that they constantly had to ensure that the sunshade was always pointing toward the Sun. This was a bit tricky to navigate since it meant that the planets in our solar system could only be viewed over limited periods. All this despite the fact that scientists had some extra legroom to operate in thanks to the MDIS’s pivot capability.
The first portraits of the planet family provide us with a great platform to celebrate our achievements as a human race. Right from Earth, we’ve built the right machinations to wander deep into space and explore what lies out there.
From our findings, it’s safe to say that the world is our oyster, there’s no limit on what’s truly possible.
At AstroReality, we’re really huge advocates of this school of thought. You too can get a tour of the expanse of our solar system planets by checking out some of the augmented reality 3D models in our store. More specifically, be sure to sample the Solar System Mini Set to explore the planets in your hands. There’s plenty of great insights you’ll get once you take an immersive, interactive tour of the cosmos.