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12-11-1980

Voyager 1 flies by Saturn

More than three years after its launch, the U.S. planetary probe Voyager 1 edges within 116,000 miles of Saturn, the second-largest planet in the solar system. The photos beamed 950 million miles back to California stunned scientists. The high-resolution images showed a world that seemed to confound all known laws of physics. Saturn had not four, but hundreds of rings.

The rings appeared to dance, buckle, and interlock in ways never thought possible. Two rings were intertwined, or braided, and pictures clearly showed dark radial spokes moving inside the rings in the direction of rotation. Voyager 2, a sister spacecraft, arrived at Saturn in August 1981. The Voyagers also discovered three new moons around Saturn and a huge storm thousands of miles across.