The second most remote in the Solar System: Voyager 2 overtook Pioneer 10

The Voyager 2 spacecraft overtook the Pioneer 10 probe and became the second object made by human hands in terms of distance from Earth. This is evidenced by the data from the website Heavens-above. As of April 3, 2024, Voyager 2 was at a distance of 136.218 AU (20,378 million km) from Earth, while Pioneer 10 was at 136.175 AU (20,371 million km).

Trajectories of vehicles leaving the Solar System. Source: NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Southwest Research Institute

Pioneer 10 was launched in 1972. It became the first spacecraft in history to cross the asteroid belt and fly over Jupiter. The gravity of the gas giant accelerated it to a speed exceeding the third cosmic one. As a result, Pioneer 10 went on a trajectory that took it forever beyond the Solar System. The connection with it was lost in early 2003.

Voyager 2 went into space in 1977. Today, it is the only spacecraft in history that has visited all the giant planets of the Solar System: Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. The acceleration obtained during their flights also allowed Voyager 2 to develop a third cosmic velocity. It is still in contact with Earth and sends scientific data. It is expected that contact with the device will be maintained until 2027-2028.

Voyager’s journey in the artist’s impression. Source: NASA

Despite the fact that contact with Pioneer 10 was lost twenty years ago, it is unlikely that anything happened to the device itself: the probability of a collision with some object in interstellar space is extremely, extremely small. So experts can calculate its location quite confidently. Based on this, it can be argued that Voyager 2 has overtaken Pioneer 10. In fact, this happened back in September 2023, if we count the distance of the devices to the Sun.

However, in terms of distance to Earth, the situation is slightly different. The fact is that Voyager 2 and Pioneer 10 are moving in almost opposite directions from each other. Therefore, due to the movement of our planet in orbit, in some periods it seems to catch up with one of the vehicles and move away from the other. Now it is catching up with Voyager 2. Therefore, for a while the spacecraft will again give way to Pioneer 10. But this situation won’t last long. Due to the higher speed, Voyager 2 will overtake Pioneer 10 again — and will no longer give up its second place.

As for the title of the spacecraft farthest from Earth, it is carried by Voyager 1 by a wide margin. Now it is located at a distance of 162.723 AU (24.3 billion km) from our planet.

Such a figure is huge by human standards — but quite small by stellar standards. The following fact can be cited as an example. By the end of 2026, Voyager 1 will move away from Earth at a distance of one light day. This will happen in the 50th year of its flight. For comparison, the distance to the nearest star to the Sun is 4.24 light years. Thus, it would take Voyager 1 over 75 thousand years to overcome it.

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