Space Probes Introduction (01:23)
Space probes are humanity's eyes and ears in deep space. They are unlocking secrets of our solar system and beyond.
Robotic Proxies (06:11)
Some probes, like the Hubble Space Telescope, float in Earth’s orbit, while others, like Deep Impact, go on kamikaze missions to smash satellite probes into comets. In December 2009, the Wide-field Infrared Satellite Explorer (W.I.S.E.) goes into orbit and begins creating the most detailed, infrared photography of the Universe to date.
Cassini Explores Saturn (05:09)
The space probe Cassini-Huygens begins its mission to explore Saturn and its moons in 1997. It confirms that ice particles that form the planet’s E ring originate from the moon Enceladus. Cassini also discovers vast hydrocarbon lakes on another moon, Titan, the first open bodies of fluid found outside of Earth.
Dawn of Probes (02:32)
The history of probes begins in the 1960s with NASA’s first attempts to reach our nearest neighbors. NASA’s Ranger probes are launched at the Moon, but several miss their mark. In 1962, the Mariner 2 probe is the first to have a successful planetary encounter as it flies past Venus, followed by the Soviet Union’s Venera probe, which gathers data as it crashes into the planet.
Gravity Assist (02:28)
One of the greatest challenges of space exploration is having enough fuel to reach remote destinations. Scientists discover we can harness the power of gravity assist in the early 1960s, using the gravity of other planets to slingshot a probe into the outer solar system.
Ion Engines (04:56)
Traveling into deep space requires an ion drive, an engine that replaces chemical fuel with ionized gas. The most advanced type of engine of this type is the Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR).
Extrasolar Planets (08:12)
In 1995, scientists discover the first known extrasolar planet, 51 Pegasis b. Hundreds of other distant worlds have been located using the Doppler Effect. The Kepler space probe uses the transit technique, which involves measuring the dimming of a star when a heavenly body passes in front of it, to search for Earth-like planets.
Studying Comets (05:53)
Our solar system is full of fast-moving debris and particles including giant balls of ice and dust, called comets. Space probe Stardust flies through the tail of comet Wild 2 in 2004, followed by Deep Impact, which collides with comet Tempel 1 the following year.
Sun Probes (07:00)
The Solar Dynamics Observatory is launched to study the Sun in 2010. The Helioseismic and Magnetic Imager will help scientists peer below the Sun’s surface. Solar Probe Plus (aka the Parker Solar Probe) has departed on a mission to fly into the Sun’s corona.
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