Most distant man-made object in space
January 21, 2006 8:55 PM   Subscribe

Unless it is followed by an even faster probe, will New Horizons become the most distant man-made object in space? If so, when? Are there any projects planned that would pass New Horizons before it passes Voyager 1?
posted by jepler to Science & Nature (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Hmmm. Well, first, start with this page on Heavens Above which shows position/speed of the four deep space probes preceding New Horizons.

Voyager 1 is the farthest away and moving the fastest, so let's compare against that one. It's moving at 17.146 km/s, which is 61,726 km/hr. After the Jupiter flyby about a year from now, New Horizons will be moving at about 75,000 km/hr.

OK, so that's the speeds. Now we just need the positions and we can solve the equation. Voyager 1 is already 98 AU (14,660,591,260 km) ahead of NH, and let's just say that NH is starting at zero.

We want to know when the distances will be the same, which is the instant when NH, traveling faster per the above, will pass V1.

Distance = Init Pos + ( Speed x Time )
14.66E9 + (61726 x T) = 0 + (75000 x T)
14.66E9 = (75000-61726) X T
14.66E9 = 13274 X T
T = 1,104,415 hours
T = 126 years

Voyager 1 has a big ole head start.

LOTS of simplifications above, but this should be accurate within 10% and probably 1%. Then again, it's late, and I might have completely screwed something up.

I'm not aware of any other planned planetary probes planned, and certainly not considering the Bush administration's new focus on human spaceflight (at the expense of robotic / scientific missions).
posted by intermod at 10:33 PM on January 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

By the way, last year it was announced that Voyager 1 is finally starting to provide evidence of having reached the bow shock.
posted by intermod at 10:44 PM on January 21, 2006

It is pretty wild that Voyager is still sending data that far out.
posted by edgeways at 11:26 PM on January 21, 2006

Using the numbers intermod provided, Voyager 1 should be about 149 AU in 2020 when it's projected to stop working.

Here's a nice picture from Wikipedia showing the Voyagers and the bow shock. If the picture is approximately to scale, 149 AU should put Voyager 1 well past the heliopause before it stops sending data.

It is pretty amazing that's it's still working so far away.
posted by 6550 at 9:24 AM on January 22, 2006

Response by poster: So much for holding a party when NH overtakes Voyager 1.
posted by jepler at 3:12 PM on January 22, 2006

Nonsense. We'll have the whole telomeres / aging thing figured out within 20 years and then we can all live forever. Not that we'd want to, what with freedom being on the march and all.
posted by intermod at 3:56 PM on January 22, 2006

Response by poster: If I live to be 160, I assume we'll also get warp engines and overtake both voyager and new horizons. Either way, I won't ever be celebrating NH as the most distant human-made object in space.
posted by jepler at 8:53 PM on January 22, 2006

I'm not aware of any other planned planetary probes planned, and certainly not considering the Bush administration's new focus on human spaceflight (at the expense of robotic / scientific missions).

We're awaiting word on Dawn, an asteroid probe mission that had been scheduled to launch this year. The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is being prepared for a 2008 launch. The Kepler planet-finder telescope will launch in 2008 as well. And NASA continues to utilize the biannual Mars opportunities with 2007 seeing the Phoenix Lander and 2009 the Mars Science Laboratory, and 2011 with no mission selected yet. Some more proposed missions here. Then there's the James Webb Space Telescope, next decade.

There's nothing slated for the outer planets, and the Jupiter Icy Moons and Champollion (comet) missions were cancelled, but planetary science itself isn't really worse off. Most of the action's on Mars regardless of human spaceflight questions, and Mars is getting plenty of attention.

New Horizons and the Voyager missions are anomalies. Saturn will probably see an orbiter mission at some point, but there's little interest in doing another fly-by for the tiny science window you get. That means New Horizons is unlikely to have competition any time soon.

But I'd put money that in 125 years, something else faster will come along.
posted by dhartung at 8:55 PM on January 22, 2006

Voyage 1 should be salvaged before the Klingons blow it up.


posted by Atreides at 9:12 PM on January 22, 2006

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