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Best pre-space age photos we had of the planets?
May 15, 2014 9:34 AM   Subscribe

What were the best photos we had of the planets in our solar system before the Pioneer and Voyager missions?

We've all seen the awesome shots of the gas giants taken by the space probes Pioneer and Voyager, and the Galileo and Cassini orbiters. There are also amazing close-up shots of Mars, Venus, and Mercury thanks to the various missions we've sent in the past couple of decades. Next year New Horizons will fly by Pluto.

But what was the best we had before those missions?

I'm looking for links to the best images we had of the planets. Before the Hubble, before Voyager, before image processing gave us clearer shots from our observatories.

I'd like at least one of each for Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. Whatever the state-of-the-art photo was at the time.

I'm mostly looking for shots from ground-based telescopes but if there are some interesting early space-based images, like if they took some from Skylab, that will work too. I'm not looking for the solar images they took from Skylab, however.

For the purposes of this thread I'm also not interested in recent images made by amateurs with stacking and other processing software.

I've tried Googling but I seem to just come up with more images from the missions I've listed.
posted by bondcliff to Science & Nature (4 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
This page has pre-Viking images of Mars from Lowell Observatory.

If you're interested, this page has the very first photographs of planets (Jupiter and Saturn).

I'll keep poking around... If you want to search on your own, I'd suggest the terms "ground-based," "historical," "photographic plate(s)," and searching for specific features e.g. Valles Marineris or Titan, rather than planet names.
posted by BrashTech at 10:28 AM on May 15 [4 favorites]

Ah, this is helpful... this is a slightly-post-Pioneer history from 1977, including a lot of contemporary ground-based imagery.
posted by BrashTech at 10:31 AM on May 15

Interesting links, thanks! The first two links were to the same page, however. Was that intended?

Amazing to think what we've learned in my lifetime. As a kid I had a world atlas that said things like "Some day men will land on the moon!" and had grainy black and white photos of a blurry Jupiter and now we have photos from the surface of Titan and robots on Mars.
posted by bondcliff at 7:38 AM on May 16

Whoops, sorry, here's the page with the Mars images.

The switch from photographic plates to CCD cameras in the 80s was of course a real game-changer, but for earth-based observing, the atmosphere is the real enemy. HST has been a tremendous platform for solar-system observing, and everyone's excited about the new capabilities of JWST. From the ground, adaptive optics have also made amazing observations possible. I've observed Saturn and Uranus with the Hale Telescope at Palomar Observatory, and turning on PHARO, the adaptive optics system, makes an astounding difference... it's just miraculous.
posted by BrashTech at 7:56 AM on May 16

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