Voyager 2’s 11 billion mile journey at a human scale

Imagine if the Earth and Moon were only 1.5 inches away from each other. In reality, it’s over a quarter of
a million miles but that’s the scale we used in order to visualize the ten billion miles that Voyager 2 has traveled. This month marks 40 years that the spacecraft has been traveling on its mission to reach the giant planets of our solar system, and maybe, just maybe, deliver this golden record, containing sounds and images of human life, to any extraterrestrials it might encounter. Since 1977, it’s been traveling through space space at the rate of nearly 35,000 miles per hour. NASA even has a live tracker on their website that tells you just exactly how far it’s gone. But 10,631,811,855 miles… is hard to wrap your head around. So we converted the actual distance to a human scale and headed to Governors Island to visualize just how far away that really is. We started by setting up our cameras 1.5 inches away from one another to represent the distance between the Earth and the moon. The real distance is 239,000 miles. At this scale, the Sun would be about 5.5 inches wide: around the size of a grapefruit and Voyager 2 would be way too tiny to see: around the size of one nanometer. Once we had our cameras set up, I started walking backwards pretending to be Voyager 2 and Tian stayed behind as planet Earth. Within a year, the spacecraft was as far away as Mars. A planet that averages a distance of 50 million miles from Earth. By 1979, Voyager 2 reached Jupiter. Next, it passed by Saturn in 1981 and took this photo of the planet five years Five years later, it was the first spacecraft to visit Uranus and then it moved onto Neptune, which it passed in 1989, the last planet on its journey Since then, Voyager 2 has been been traveling a course to reach interstellar space and it didn’t pass Pluto along the way, and Pluto might not even be a planet anymore, but here’s the distance on this scale, just in case you’re wondering. At this point, Voyager 2 wasn’t even halfway to its current location. So I had to do some traveling. Clearly I wasn’t able to follow the path of the Voyager 2. In fact, I had to take a ferry to get back to Manhattan. But after a boat ride, and over a mile of walking, I reached a point that represents just how far away Voyager 2 really is. But it’s continuing every second. Currently, Voyager 2 is traveling towards Ross 248: a star that it will be 9.7 trillion miles close to in about 40,000 years. Next, it will pass within 30 trillion miles of Sirius: the brightest star in the sky that is over 8 light-years away from Earth. Using my human scale, I would have to travel a distance equal to the whole length of Africa to get to Sirius. In real life, Voyager 2 will reach the star in about 296,000 years. Voyager 2 is only the second farthest human-made object from Earth. Voyager 1 is even farther and has already reached interstellar space. Like Voyager 2, it’s also carrying “The Golden Record” and if you want to see the photos NASA chose to show aliens, make sure to check out this video here.

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