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Voyager 2's 11 billion-mile journey at a human scale

The spacecraft is really, really far from Earth.

August 20, 2017, marked 40 years since the launch of Voyager 2. Along with Voyager 1, NASA sent the spacecraft to collect data about giant planets in our outer solar system. Voyager 2 was the first spacecraft to observe Uranus and Neptune and it recorded valuable data about these planets during its journey.

In addition to collecting information, Voyager 2 was sent with a copy of the Golden Record: a compendium of 116 images and various audio recordings chosen to represent human life on planet Earth. If an extraterrestrial ever discovers the spacecraft, the record is intended to deliver an introduction on behalf of humanity.

Voyager 2, shown with the Golden Record facing the camera.
Getty Images

Besides new discoveries or the intrigue of alien encounters, perhaps the most wondrous aspect of Voyager 2's mission is the distance it has traveled: nearly 11 billion miles. Like Voyager 1, the farthest human-made object from Earth, Voyager 2 is also on a one-way journey into the unknown depths of interstellar space.

On the NASA mission website, the agency offers a real-time counter so you can track precisely how far both Voyager spacecrafts have travelled, but the ease of finding a precise number belies how difficult it is to grasp its enormity. So in order to visualize the staggering length of its journey, we made a video replicating the distance travelled by Voyager 2 on a human scale.

By using the average distance between Earth and other elliptically orbiting planets, we show how the distance traveled by Voyager 2 compares to the proximity of other objects in our solar system.

To see it, make sure to check out the video above.

[Spoiler alert: we didn’t use the metric system.]

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