It’s one of only five spacecraft that will exit the Solar System, and the only one we have a chance to aim at another star.
Of all the spacecraft ever launched, only five will ever exit the Solar System.
Voyager 1 and 2, Pioneer 10 and 11, and New Horizons are the only ones to achieve escape velocity from our Sun.
Although it takes 10,000+ years for each to traverse even 1 light-year, they’re all destined for interstellar space.
With data from ESA’s Gaia mapping the Milky Way’s stars, the trajectories of all nearby stellar neighbors can be determined.
Over the next million years, the Voyagers and Pioneers will approach numerous stars, but only at relatively large separations.
The closest will be Pioneer 10, encountering HIP 117795 in ~90,000 years from 0.75 light-years away.
But New Horizons, unlike the others, still has significant fuel remaining.
After encountering Pluto and Arrokoth, it may yet target another object in the outer Kuiper belt.
Subsequently, it will eventually enter interstellar space, but can be boosted to approach future stellar targets.
Ideally, an exoplanet survey could find a suitable star with a potentially inhabited Earth-like world.
Unlike the other spacecraft, New Horizons could approach such a target within just a few Astronomical Units.
With proper planning, New Horizons could mark humanity’s first encounter with a foreign planetary system.
Mostly Mute Monday tells an astronomical story in images, visuals and no more than 200 words. Talk less; smile more.Ethan Siegel is the author of Beyond the Galaxy and Treknology. You can pre-order his third book, currently in development: the Encyclopaedia Cosmologica.