With careful planning and dashes of creativity, engineers have been able to keep NASA's Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft flying for nearly 42 years — longer than any other spacecraft in history. To ensure that these vintage robots continue to return the best science data possible from the frontiers of space, mission engineers are implementing a new plan to manage them. And that involves making difficult choices, particularly about instruments and thrusters
When the Cassini spacecraft arrived around Saturn on July 1st, 2004, it became the fourth space probe to visit the system. But unlike the Pioneer 11 and Voyager 1 and 2 probes, the Cassini mission was the first to establish orbit around the planet for the sake of conducting long-term research. Since that time, the spacecraft and its accompanying probe – the Huygens lander – have revealed a startling amount about this system.
New data from NASA’s Cassini mission, combined with measurements from the two Voyager spacecraft and NASA’s Interstellar Boundary Explorer, or IBEX, suggests that our sun and planets are surrounded by a giant, rounded system of magnetic field from the sun — calling into question the alternate view of the solar magnetic fields trailing behind the sun in the shape of a long comet tail.
In the past few decades, astronomers and geophysicists have benefited immensely from the study of planetary magnetic fields. Dedicated to mapping patterns of magnetism on other astronomical bodies, this field has grown thanks to missions ranging from the Voyager probes to the more recent Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission.
In 1981, the Voyager 2 space probe took intriguing images of Saturn’s rings as it passed by the giant planet on its way to Uranus. The images showed what looked like ghostly “spokes” moving on the rings, much like the spokes of a bicycle wheel as it turns. After some head-scratching, scientists realized that the Saturnian spokes most likely were tiny specks of dust moving around the rings due to electric and magnetic forces. These forces result from electrically charged gases known as plasma.