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Milestones in Astronomy: 1971 to 1994
Posted In: Space and Astrology  9/7/11
By: Yona Williams

In 1971, researchers benefit from the Mariner 9 spacecraft, which is now sending back information regarding the planet Mars. The space orbiter from NASA assisted in the exploration of Mars and was launched on May 30, 1971 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. In this article, you will learn about other orbiters and planetary discoveries.

That same year, Mariner 9 reached the planet – making it the first spacecraft to orbit another planet. Right behind it, the Soviet's Mars 2 and Mars 3 followed within a month. Braving months of dust storms, the orbiter was able to send back clear images of the surface.

1973 – The Skylab space laboratory is launched. Operated by NASA, the space station orbited the Earth from 1973 to 1979. It was equipped with a workshop, a solar observatory, and other features. In the beginning, it was launched unmanned, but in later time, three manned missions to the station were conducted between 1973 and 1974. Aboard Skylab, a handful of scientific experiments were performed during its lifetime.

With its help, crews were able to confirm the existence of coronal holes in the Sun. The lab took thousands of pictures of Earth. NASA was pleased with the success of Skylab and plans were created to refurbish and reuse the station. However, before a shuttle was sent to conduct the mission, Skylab reentered the Earth's atmosphere and disintegrated. Skylab debris found its way back to Earth – touching down in parts of Western Australia.

1976 – The rings of Uranus are discovered. The official discovery of Uranus' rings was made on March 10, 1977 by James L. Elliot, Edward W. Dunham, and Douglas J. Mink. They were not the first people to catch sight of the rings. More than 200 years ago, William Herschel also reported seeing rings, but modern astronomers doubt that he could have actually viewed the rings because they are quite dark and faint.

1977 – The launching of Voyager deep space probes takes place.

1977 – Between 1977 and 1980, Voyager 1 explores the outer Solar System. The space probe was launched on September 5, 1977. For decades, the spacecraft sent back data to the Deep Space Network and received routine commands. The probe is the first of its kind to leave the Solar System, as well as the farthest object made by man that has traveled from Earth. As part of the Voyager program, it explored Saturn and was the first probe to offer detailed photos of the two largest planets and their moons.

1985 – Between 1985 and 1989, Voyager 2 discovers moons of Uranus and Neptune. In 1979, it made the closest approach to Jupiter in July – coming within 350,000 miles of planet's cloud tops. The probe discovers a couple of rings around Jupiter and indicates volcanic activity on the moon Io. Scientists learn more about the Great Red Spot of Jupiter. It is a complex storm that moves in a counterclockwise direction. Other smaller storms are found throughout the banded clouds.

1994 – After breaking apart, the comet called Shoemaker-Levy is seen crashing into Jupiter. Scientists witness the first direct observation of an extraterrestrial collision of objects in the Solar System. Astronomers across the world were able to closely observe the event. Because of the collision, new information comes to light about Jupiter, showing that it plays a role in decreasing the amount of space debris in the inner solar system.


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