Where is Voyager 2 going? And when will it get there?

Where is Voyager 2 going? On November 27, 2023, on the platform X, the spacecraft’s handlers answered this question. You’ll find their answers below, or in the video above.

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Voyager 1 and 2

Launched in 1977, the Voyagers 1 and 2 are the most distant human-made objects from Earth. And so they are likely to remain, for now. The New Horizons spacecraft – launched in 2006 – left Earth far faster than any outbound probe before it. But it won’t overtake the Voyagers as the most distant human-made object from Earth, because the two Voyagers received gravity assists from mighty Jupiter and Saturn.

Voyager 1 is slightly more distant than Voyager 2. Astronomers and space fans sometimes measure distances across our solar system in Earth-sun units, called astronomical units, or AU. A single AU is about 93 million miles (150 million km). Voyager 1 is 162 AU from Earth. And Voyager 2 is 135 AU from Earth.

You can keep track of their progress here.

For a few months each year, the distance between each Voyager spacecraft and Earth shrinks. That’s because – as the Voyagers streak away from our sun at more than 30,000 miles per hour (48,000 kph) – Earth is also moving, pursuing our yearly orbit around the sun. As we loop around the sun, sometimes we’re going in a direction opposite that of one or another Voyager. And sometimes when we’re hurtling through space – traveling at our own speed of 67,000 mph (107,000 km/h) – we’re hot on the heels of one or another Voyager. And so the distance between it and us decreases … until we head back the other way again, pulled inexorably by our sun’s gravity.

In 2012, Voyager 1 became the first spacecraft to leave the solar system. Then, in 2018, Voyager 2 crossed the heliopause, the boundary of our sun’s influence, heading toward deep space. In 2021, Voyager 1 sent back a message that it’s hearing a faint, monotone hum of interstellar space.

Earlier this year, NASA said that it would be extending the science mission of Voyager 2 for another three years. It found a way to conserve power on the spacecraft and keep it communicating with us a bit longer.

And so Voyager 1 should keep communicating until 2025. Excellent work, for a spacecraft scheduled to last only four years.

Where is Voyager 2 going? Nearby sharply lit spacecraft looking down on distant solar system (orbits shown as yellow rings) in starry space.
The Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft are identical. In this artist’s concept, one of the twin Voyager space probes races away from the solar system. Image via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 4.0)/ NASA/ ESA/ G. Bacon.

Bottom line: Where is Voyager 2 going? It’s not aimed for any particular star, but in 40,000 years it will pass within 1.65 light-years of the star Ross 248.

November 28, 2023

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Kelly Kizer Whitt

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