August 22, 2011 - Playing Host

Playing Host After billions of years of solitude in the outer reaches of the solar system, Saturn hosted a spate of interplanetary visitors in quick succession. In September, 1979, Pioneer 11 became the first spacecraft to fly past Saturn, followed by Voyager 1 in November, 1980. And in August, 1981, thirty years ago this week, Voyager 2 had a close encounter with the giant ringed planet. It studied Saturn’s complex ring system and its atmosphere (enhanced in the photo above to emphasize cloud structure and three small storms), photographed seven newly discovered moons, and found a plasma ring around the planet 300 times hotter than the Sun’s corona. Voyager 2 visited Uranus in 1986 and Neptune in 1989, then continued toward interstellar space. It is still sending data back to Earth from 8 billion miles away.

Image credit: NASA / JPL

Weekly Calendar

August 22-28, 2011

Holidays - Sky Events - Space History

Moon phase Monday 22

Neptune at opposition

1963: X-15 sets world altitude record for a winged craft (354,000 feet)
1976: Luna 24 returns soil samples from Moon

Moon phase Tuesday 23

Moon phase Wednesday 24

Moon phase Thursday 25

Mars 3° north of Moon

1965: President Johnson approves full-scale development of Manned Orbital Laboratory
1966: Apollo-Saturn 202 launched
1981: Voyager 2 flies past Saturn
1989: Voyager 2 flies past Neptune
2003: Spitzer Space Telescope launched

Moon phase Friday 26

Mercury appears stationary

Moon phase Saturday 27

Mercury 3° north of Moon

1962: Mariner 2 launched
1984: Teacher In Space program announced
1985: STS-51I Discovery launched

Moon phase Sunday 28

New Moon 11:04 PM ET

1789: William Herschel discovers Enceladus, moon of Saturn
1993: Galileo spacecraft flies by asteroid Ida
2009: STS-128 Discovery launched

Suggestions for new history dates or better links? Corrections for errors on this page? Please e-mail me.