In late summer of 1977, two space probes were launched from Cape Canaveral with the goal of going where no craft had gone before: Interstellar space. For the past 41 years, scientists and space enthusiasts alike have been following the progress of these two probes as they made their way through the solar system and out toward the stars.
A Long And Winding Road
Voyager 2 and 1 were launched two weeks apart on August 20 and September 5 of 1977. Voyager 2, the first probe out of the gate, was set on a path that took it through the gas giants for a series of gravity assists, where it would slingshot around the planets and pick up some extra speed. Voyager 1, however, took a faster course and reached the first milestone, Jupiter, before its twin.
Although Voyager 1 stole the spotlight and made it to space first, Voyager 2 is about to join it.
Outside The Sphere Of Influence
In August of 2007, Voyager 2 broke free of the sun’s gravitational sphere when it passed the invisible barrier called the termination shock. Now, 11 years later, Voyager 2 is about to cross the second boundary into space, the heliopause, 6 years after its sister craft.
The solar system is nestled safely inside both the sun’s gravitational bubble and the heliosphere, a comet-like section of space carved out by solar winds. Outside these barriers lies the vacuum of space.
What Lies Beyond
Once in the void of interstellar space, both crafts will maintain course to their next destinations. Interstellar space is mostly empty, save for radiation, gas, and dust. For Voyager 2, the nearest point of interest is 8.6 light-years from Earth. Though it may not sound far, it will take Voyager 2 about 296,000 years to reach it. Voyager 1, on the other hand, is set on a trajectory that will carry it past a star in the constellation Camelopardalis in only 40,000 years.
If humankind is still around by the time either spacecraft reaches its destination and relays its signal back. At 10.7 billion miles away, it takes 14 hours for a transmission to reach Voyager 2. By the time it reaches Sirius, a one-way data transfer would take years to complete, but we’re sure it would be worth the wait.