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'Voyager 1' to aim cameras down at planets

A family portrait of the Sun's planets, except for Mercury and Pluto, will be taken tonight by the Voyager 1 spacecraft. Nothing like it has ever been tried. From a lofty perspective high above the plane extending out from the Sun's equator, the spacecraft will look down on the nine planets in their individual orbits.

Mercury will be too close to the Sun to be photographed, and Pluto will be too small and far away to show up in the images.

But the seven other planets will be photographed in a sequence of 64 images to be snapped over the course of four hours, beginning at 8 p.m. EST.

No other spacecraft has ever been so high above the plane in which the planets orbit.

Since it passed Saturn in 1980, Voyager 1 has been climbing steadily and is now looking down from an angle 32 degrees above the plane of the solar system. The craft is 3.7-billion miles from Earth.

Voyager 1 and an identical spacecraft, Voyager 2, are returning scientific data from the fringes of the solar system.

The two craft are trying to find the boundary where the Sun's gravitational, magnetic and atmospheric forces cease to dominate and interstellar space begins.

Officials of the Voyager project at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said the enormous scale of the solar system makes it unlikely that the entire set of images could be combined in a mosaic to produce a single photograph showing all the visible planets.