The intrepid Voyager 1 and 2 spacecrafts were launched in 1977, and despite having a roughly 12-year mission lifespan, are still hurtling through space and returning data to eager scientists on Earth. They’ve broken through the barrier that protects our solar system and is now zipping through the interstellar medium along with Pioneer 10 and 11.
But how long might it take them, or another spacecraft, to actually reach another star system?
A team of scientists—Coryn Bailer-Jones of the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Switzerland and Davide Farnocchia of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory—have done the calculations. Essentially, the pair found a way to chart how long it would take a spacecraft to get from our humble solar system to the next system over, according to a paper uploaded to the pre-print server arXiv.
In the quest for answers, Farnocchia and Bailer-Jones turned to the European Space Agency’s Gaia space telescope for help. For more than five years, Gaia has been gathering data on billions of stars, charting their orbits and path through the cosmos.
Using this data and data about the projected paths of both the voyager spacecrafts as well as Pioneer 10 and 11, which are careening toward the outer reaches of the solar system, the researchers were able to create a timeline of when these crafts might reach distant star systems. For those eager to visit other worlds, brace for some bad news.
Should they continue their transit, the four spacecraft will come within striking distance of approximately 60 stars in the next million years. And in that same amount of time, they’ll get even closer—try two parsecs, the equivalent of 6.5 light-years—to about 10 stars.
Who will have the best shot at reaching and exploring a distant star? Pioneer 10 will swing within .231 parsecs the star system HIP 117795 in the Cassiopeia constellation in approximately 90,000 years. And how long before one of these spacecrafts is hijacked by the orbit of one of these stars? It’ll be about 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.
This article was written by Popular Mechanics on 30/12/19and published by