Planet Saturn, photographed by Voyager 1, 1980.
© National Aeronautics & Space Administration / Science & Society
This picture, with a resolution slightly better than earth-based photography of Saturn, was taken from a distance of 187 million kilometres on 24th June 1980. Saturn is a gas giant similar in atmospheric composition to Jupiter, with banded cloud formations. It rotates very quickly, causing it to appear oblate (flattened at the poles). The origin and formation of the rings, which are composed of ice and ice-coated dust and rock, are not precisely understood, but it seems that tidal effects caused by some of Saturn's moons play a role in maintaining their structure. NASA's two Voyager spacecraft were launched in 1977 to explore the planets in the outer solar system. After visiting Jupiter, Voyager 1 flew past Saturn at a height of 124,000 kilometres in November 1980.