Why are the Voyager spacecraft getting closer to Earth?

Voyager spacecraft 2 shown below the plane of the solar system with Milky Way in background.
View larger. | Both Voyager spacecraft are rushing away from Earth and into interstellar space. Yet for a portion of every year, both spacecrafts’ distances to Earth decrease. How is this possible? This chart shows the location of Voyager 2 as it leaves the solar system. Image via

Why are the Voyager spacecraft getting closer to Earth?

For a few months each year, the distances between the Voyager spacecraft and Earth actually decrease. You might know that both Voyager spacecraft were launched into space in the 1970s and visited the outer planets through the 1980s. They’ve been heading out of our solar system ever since. In 2012, Voyager 1 entered interstellar space. Then, in 2018, NASA announced that Voyager 2 had entered interstellar space, too. They are both headed outward, never to return to Earth. So, can they get closer?

The answer is that for a few months each year, Earth in its orbit moves toward the spacecraft faster than they’re moving away. Earth’s motion around the sun is faster than the motion of the Voyager spacecraft. Earth moves through space at a speed of 67,000 miles per hour (30 km/s). Voyager 1 moves at a speed of 38,210 miles per hour (17 km/s). Voyager 2 moves at a speed of 35,000 miles per hour (15 km/s). So, for a portion of the year, Earth comes around the side of the sun and is speeding toward the spacecraft faster than they’re moving away. Therefore their distances to Earth are getting closer, if only temporarily. They never change their outward motion. It is we who change.

From this video, you can see the trajectory of the Voyager spacecraft as they leave Earth, encounter the outer planets (changing their trajectories), and then head in a straight line outward, out of the solar system.

A closer look at Voyager 2 in relation to Earth

Let’s look specifically at Voyager 2 as an example. Every year from late February to the beginning of June, Voyager 2 actually gets closer to Earth. We measure the distance between objects in space in astronomical units, or AU. This measurement is based on the distance between Earth and the sun, which is one AU.

On February 20, 2023, Voyager 2 was 133.22335 AU from Earth. Then, Earth’s orbit began bringing us closer to Voyager 2 once again. The distance between us and Voyager 2 will continue to shrinking until early June. On June 3, 2023, Voyager 2 and Earth will be 132.89427 AU apart. After that, we will begin to separate in distance again, until next February.

Chart with line going from lower left to upper right and slightly wavy.
View larger. | This graph shows the distance of Voyager 2 from Earth from January 2013, through December 2030. It’s not a straight line because as Earth circles the sun, its faster speed means that for a portion of every year, Voyager 2 and Earth temporarily get closer together. Image via

Bottom line: The Voyager spacecraft are on a never ending journey away from Earth. So, why do the distances between the spacecraft and Earth decrease for a few months every year? It’s because for a few months, Earth moves toward the spacecraft faster in its orbit around the sun than the spacecraft move away from us.

March 23, 2023

Like what you read?
Subscribe and receive daily news delivered to your inbox.

Your email address will only be used for EarthSky content. Privacy Policy
Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.

More from 

Kelly Kizer Whitt

View All