Voyager 1 : When will it return?

Voyager 1 launched from Cape Canaveral almost 30 years ago and today, now more than 16 billion kilometres away from Earth, it is still operating with early 1970’s technology.

Now this is an object you will definitely not see with your telescope as it is now travelling through a region of space 3.4 times the distance Pluto is away from the Sun. But it does bring up a good point.


(Click to Enlarge)

As discussed in the last post, Halley’s comet is eventually brought back to the inner solar system by the gravitational force of the
sun. Now if the Sun can effect a 15 km wide comet, why would it not also eventually bring back the much smaller space probe Voyager 1.

When Voyager 1 was launched one month after the launch of Voyager 2 back in 1977, it had a faster trajectory so it reached Jupiter and Saturn well before Voyager 2 did. Both probes were launched to take advantage of the alignment of planets and were able to use a technique called gravity assist to send them from one planet to the next using pretty much the same technique that sends Halley’s comet in a tight curve around the Sun before hurling the comet back out into space.

Using a series of gravity assists with the gravity supplied from Jupiter, Saturn , Uranus and finally Neptune in succession, the voyager probes have ended up still travelling to this day. In fact Voyager 1 is travelling at a top speed of 16km a second which is fast enough for it to not be effected by the Sun’s gravitational pull way out well beyond Pluto.

If Halley’s Comet had being in the right location and at the right time and had used the alignment of planets like the Voyager probes had, then it too would have being slung out past the orbit of Pluto and maintained enough momentum to take it far enough so it would not be influenced by the sun’s gravity. But because it’s momentum dies out just beyond the orbit of Pluto, Halley’s comet eventually returns back to the Sun while both Voyager 1 and Voyager 2 are heading out further with each day.

Voyager 1 is not heading for any star but even if it was heading for the closest star to us, Alpha Centauri, it would take the probe 80,000 years to get there. So don’t stay up waiting for that event to occur.

I thought you might be interested in this……..the picture above shows what the solar system would look like from Voyager 1’s current location. Also, the inset picture on the left hand side of the main picture shows the last actual picture that was taken from Voyager 1 before it’s camera was turned off…… looking back at earth from a distance of 6 billion kilometers.

~ by sydneystargazers on November 16, 2009.

One Response to “Voyager 1 : When will it return?”

  1. Thanks Roy – good answer…!

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