Our Earliest Close-Ups of the Planets Versus Today’s Best Shots

Left: Pioneer 10’s view of Jupiter in March 1973. Right: Webb Telescope’s view of Jupiter in July 2022.
Image: NASA, ESA, CSA, Jupiter ERS Team; image processing by Judy Schmidt

For centuries, astronomers were limited to ground-based observations of the planets, but now we use spacecraft to capture close-up views of our neighboring worlds. Excitingly, our views of solar system planets have been getting progressively better over the decades, as these images attest.

The dawn of the Space Age finally made it possible for humankind to capture close-up views of astronomical objects. We haven’t wasted this opportunity, sending probes to every planet in our solar system and even to Pluto, a dwarf planet located over 5 billion miles (8 billion kilometers) away.

The first missions to the planets began in the 1960s, and it’s something we still get excited about. We’ve assembled a series of photos showing some of our earliest images of the planets compared to similar portraits captured during recent missions. Regardless of the era or the quality, each one has a story to tell, and each continues to stir the imagination.

This article was originally published September 14, 2022.

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