Image: Pioneer 10's groundbreaking approach to Jupiter

December 5, 2013
Credit: NASA

On Dec. 4, 1973, NASA's Pioneer 10 spacecraft sent back images of Jupiter of ever-increasing size. The most dramatic moment was after closest approach and after the spacecraft was hidden behind Jupiter. Here, images gradually build up into a very distorted crescent-shaped Jupiter. "Sunrise on Jupiter," a team member said. The giant planet crescent gradually decreased in size as the spacecraft sped away out of the Jovian system.

Launched on Mar. 2, 1972, Pioneer 10 was the first spacecraft to travel through the asteroid belt, and the first spacecraft to make direct observations and obtain close-up images of Jupiter. Pioneer 10 passed within 81,000 miles of the cloudtops during its closest encounter with Jupiter.

This historic event marked humans' first approach to Jupiter and opened the way for exploration of the outer solar system - for Voyager to tour the outer planets, for Ulysses to break out of the ecliptic, for Galileo to investigate Jupiter and its satellites, and for Cassini to go to Saturn and probe Titan.

During its Jupiter encounter, Pioneer 10 imaged the planet and its moons, and took measurements of Jupiter's magnetosphere, radiation belts, magnetic field, atmosphere, and interior. These measurements of the intense radiation environment near Jupiter were crucial in designing the Voyager and Galileo .

Explore further: Ames celebrates the 40th anniversary of Pioneer 10

Related Stories

Ames celebrates the 40th anniversary of Pioneer 10

March 1, 2012

Launched on March 2,1972, Pioneer 10 was the first spacecraft to travel through the Asteroid belt, and the first spacecraft to make direct observations and obtain close-up images of Jupiter. Famed as the most remote object ...

NASA celebrates four decades of plucky Pioneer 11

April 9, 2013

Forty years ago, on April 5, 1973, a small, ambitious spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral, heading towards the third-brightest point of light in the night sky. Following in the footsteps of its sister craft, Pioneer 10, ...

Jupiter-bound craft runs into problem after flyby (Update)

October 9, 2013

NASA's Jupiter-bound spacecraft hit a snag Wednesday soon after it used Earth as a gravity slingshot to hurtle toward the outer solar system, but mission managers said it's on course to arrive at the giant planet in 2016.

NASA troubleshooting Jupiter-bound spacecraft

October 10, 2013

NASA says it'll spend the next several days diagnosing a problem with the Jupiter-bound Juno spacecraft that appeared after it buzzed past Earth to propel itself toward the giant planet.

Recommended for you

Prawn Nebula: Cosmic recycling

September 2, 2015

Dominating this image is part of the nebula Gum 56, illuminated by the hot bright young stars that were born within it. For millions of years stars have been created out of the gas in this nebula, material which is later ...

Comet Hitchhiker would take tour of small bodies

September 2, 2015

Catching a ride from one solar system body to another isn't easy. You have to figure out how to land your spacecraft safely and then get it on its way to the next destination. The landing part is especially tricky for asteroids ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.