Space probes grant us perspective, the ability to see our place within the vastness of the solar system. But opportunities to see all of the solar system's planets in one observation are rare. In fact, there's only been one opportunity on one mission to see the whole solar system at once, until now.
In the past week there have been 25th anniversaries of two events in 1986, one great, one terrible: the closest approach of Voyager 2 to Uranus on January 24, and the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger upon liftoff on January 28.
On Planetary Radio's "Questions and Answers" I answered this question: "I read that Uranus got its tilt when it was hit by another object. What does it mean for a ball of gas to be hit -- wouldn't another object just pass through it?"
Uranus has the unfortunate reputation of being the most boring planet in the solar system. But where it appeared to be a nearly featureless, hazy blue ball to Voyager 2, it is now blooming dozens of clouds that are visible to the sharp-eyed Keck II Telescope.
Home. Family. This will be Voyager's enduring legacy: It has changed forever the feelings raised by those words. Through its robotic eyes we have learned to see the solar system as our home. Through its portraits of the planets we know that they are part of our family. Apollo astronauts showed us a tiny Earth alone in the blackness of space. Now, with these images, Voyager has shown us that Earth is not really alone. Around our parent Sun orbit sibling worlds, companions as we travel through the Galaxy.