Last week NASA announced the spacecraft Voyage 1 has officially left the solar system. Leaving the solar system is defined as escaping the heliosphere of the sun, which is the huge bubble of charged particles and magnetic fields that the sun shoots out around itself.
It took 36 years for Voyage to escape the heliosphere. The little spacecraft that could is now 11.7 billion miles from earth, and is the fastest machine ever made by man. It is traveling at 38,000 miles per hour.
Voyager was launched in 1977, which is the year Star Wars came out in movie theaters. The little space craft that could is both a testament to what man can accomplishment and a reality check that human space travel to the stars is, well, the stuff of Star Wars fantasy.
Right now it takes Voyager about 17 hours to transmit it's data back to earth via radio waves. Radio waves travel at the speed of light.
That means Voyager is less than 'one light day' away from earth. The nearest star which is named Proxima Centauri is 4.243 light years.
Being on the conservative side, if one rounded up where Voyager currently is so that we say it is a light day away from earth and multiply the 365 days in a year x 4.243 light years to the nearest star, that produces a number of 1,549, which is the number of light days to the nearest star.
It's taken 36 years for Voyager to travel less than 'one light day', so then multiplying 1,549 light days it takes to reach to the nearest star x 36 years it took for Voyager to travel less than one light day, means it would take more than 55,764 years for Voyager to travel a distance equal to the nearest star to earth.
Voyager is the fastest machine ever made by man. Human space travel to the stars? Ain't gonna happen. It would take the fastest craft ever made by man more than a quarter of a billion years to approach the center of the Milky Way, which is travel to the stars.
I've always remembered an example Carl Sagan used in his Cosmos series on PBS. Sagan said that if the sun were a hollow sphere, that one million earths could fit into it. Sagan used this to dramatize how huge the sun was.
Sagan said if one took the sun and shrank it down to the dot of an (i) on a page and shrank all of the universe down by the same scale, then the sun would be 18 miles away from the closest star.
The universe is vast beyond most people's comprehension. The reality is we really are not going anywhere in the near future.
At least not until the next Newton or Einstein comes along and explains to us that all it takes is to travel in the 10th dimension and here is how you do it. Step into it and the step out on the other side of the galaxy - you know Star Wars stuff.
Page 2 of 2 - The interesting fact is that in the dimensions we currently reside in, that the sun is pulling the earth around the galaxy 13 times faster than Voyager's top speed. The sun is orbiting around the galaxy at about 486,000 miles per hour.
At that mind blowing speed, it still takes more than a quarter of a billion years for the sun and us to complete an orbit around the center of the galaxy. The last time we did, the age of the dinosaurs was just beginning.
The reality is the only spaceship we've got suitable for human travel and life is Mother Earth. We've got to do a better job taking care of it because travel to the stars is not the solution to humanity's problems.