It is nothing short of a shocking space oddity! NASA Voyager spacecraft and Earth should be getting farther from each other and yet they are getting CLOSER! Voyager was launched to explore planets.
It is nothing short of a shocking space oddity! Back to the future? Or is it something else entirely. The two iconic Voyager spacecraft are back in the news! It all has to do with speed-freak Earth! The two NASA Voyager spacecraft were launched into space in 1977 to visit outer planets and send information around them. But once they started sending information, the decision was taken to keep them going farther and farther into space, never to return back to Earth. In 2012, Voyager 1 entered interstellar space, and in 2018 Voyager 2 followed suit. For the uninitiated, interstellar space is the space between stars in a galaxy outside of our solar system. But strangely, even as the Voyager spacecraft keep moving further in space, for a few months every year they actually come closer to the Earth. How? Read on to find out.
Voyager Spacecraft moving closer to the Earth
As strange as it may sound, the Voyager spacecraft coming close to the Earth is a net result of the direction of the spacecraft’s motion and Earth’s overwhelming speed around the Sun. Although the two NASA spacecraft have thrusters, they stopped using them decades ago. The forward motion is a result of Jupiter’s gravitational push which, like a slingshot, enabled the spacecraft to traverse through space.
However, as a result, the Voyager spacecraft entered a spiral motion moving away from the solar system. Due to this spiral motion, for a few months, the NASA spacecraft and Earth are aligned in the same line, although at a greater distance every year. But in those few months, when the Earth and the spacecraft are on the same side of the Sun, our planet moves at almost twice the speed of the Voyager spacecraft. Earth moves at a speed of 67,000 miles per hour compared to 38,210 miles per hour of Voyager 1 and 35,000 miles per hour of Voyager 2.
As a result, temporarily, the Earth gains some distance over the spacecraft. You can check out this video to understand the trajectory of Voyager moving in space.
The NASA Voyager spacecraft were initially planned to survey the outer planets of the solar system including Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune and Uranus. But after the space vehicles completed the mission, NASA took a bold decision to let them continue their journey to find out the boundary of the Sun’s magnetic field, also known as the heliosphere. The Voyager spacecraft will continue their mission after that and making discoveries unbeknownst to humanity as yet.