|The Department Graduate Students Ground-Based Research|
Mariner 10 |
Pioneer Venus |
Voyagers 1 & 2 |
Mars Observer |
Lunar Prospector | IMAGE
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The first pictures of Jupiter and Saturn were better than what could be done from the ground, but not that better. It wasn’t like we were seeing pictures for the first time. What we were seeing for the first time were spectra that told us what things were made out of, not how things looked. To me more of the excitement was in the spectroscopy, which the public didn’t take to very well—that’s too long a word. But the awareness of what things were made out of, in a scientific sense, eclipsed how things just looked.
But NASA had to put a camera on every mission to take pictures, because the public likes pictures. To this day pictures are still revealing the newer worlds out there, the things that we never had a chance of studying in detail.
The first image of Titan was actually made by Pioneer, not by Voyager. I remember staying up the night before, trying to plan the sequence, and trying to make sure that Titan was in the frame. Of course Titan’s atmosphere was filled with these photochemically-produced aerosols, and we couldn’t see anything on the surface. But it was clear that Titan was an interesting object.
Since then Voyager did great imaging. I was involved in Cassini-Huygens, so that was a thread in my career that was going to go on for a lot longer than I realized at the time. But it was an exciting time, to see these first pictures of objects that had only been specks of light in the sky. I came here with a degree in astronomy. These things were all space astronomy; they were little specks of light in the sky. You couldn’t resolve that Titan is one arc-second across, it’s just a speck of light, and the game was how much can you learn about the physical situation on this object from the light that you get back to the Earth.
But now of course we’ve been to most of these places, in orbit around them, or with entry probes going through them. They’re geophysical places now. We know what they look like; we know what the ground looks like; we know a fair amount about them. So there’s been an evolution over the last couple of decades from points of light in the sky to real places.
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