When Are We Going to Get There?

If it’s space travel you’re complaining about, the answer is ‘Not in your lifetime.’ /

Let The Behemoth prepare you for next summer’s family vacation. Already? Yes. You’ll soon see why you need to start planning now.

We’re not talking about a trip to Disney World or the Grand Canyon. We’re talking about something really exotic. Like going to the moon.

In a 747, going at about 500 miles per hour. That would take about 18 days, and no McDonald’s stops along the way. In a Saturn V rocket (which scoots along at 5,000 miles an hour), it would take a mere two days. Take the rocket.

But the moon is boring, your kids say—who wants to go there? Okay, how about a trip to Venus, our closest neighboring planet. It has a certain literary allure. But dump the 747 and the Saturn V, and get a ride on an Atlas V, as well as a sling shot boost from Earth. Now we’re humming along at 165,000 miles an hour (about 300 times faster than a 747). 72 days. So you may want to leave as soon as school gets out.

But Venus is hot in the summer. Well, it’s hot all the time. How about Mars instead? Same ride? 133 days. The whole summer shot just getting there! This may not work unless your kids can start school in winter, since the return trip is just as long.

You may be getting the idea that space is a big place. You have no idea.

Jupiter, the next planet out, has a lot of moons (63 to be exact), so the night sky is said to be pretty interesting. But it would take three years to get there. High school and half of college lost by the time you get back.

And on it goes until we get to Pluto, where 18 years are gobbled up in transportation to and from. An entire childhood. Again, that’s at 165,000 miles an hour.

But what if you wanted to take a close-up shot of the next star, Alpha Centauri, and you invented a space ship that could speed along six times faster than the Atlas V, let’s say 1 million miles per hour. It would take 2,900 years.

If, by some miracle, you could travel at the speed of light—186,000 miles per second—you’d get there and back in the time it takes for your kids to get through high school and college—with a semester off.

Then again, maybe you think, The Milky Way galaxy is all well and good, but I’ve spent my whole life here. What other galaxies might you explore? Well, first you have to leave the Milky Way, and at the speed of light, it would take 60,000 years just to get to the border. And another 110,000 years to reach the Large Magellanic Cloud, the nearest visible galaxy.

Large Magellanic Cloud not big enough to satisfy your touristing interests? (Despite its name, it’s not that big in the galaxy lineup.) Well, the nearest large galaxy, Andromeda, might be your cup of tea. The only downside is that it’s 2.54 million light years away.

Beyond these, there’s a whole group of galaxies, like UGC 8091, M81, and M87, that lie, respectively, 7.9, 30, and 55 million light years away.

And it seems we’re just getting started. We have to start measuring in billions of light years if we’re going to get serious about space travel. Take Galaxy 970228, discovered in 1997: 6 billion light years away. The farthest quasars galaxies (discovered just three years ago) are 29 billion light years away.

When all is said and done, the edge of the observable universe is about 46 billion light years away. The key word is observable. We know our vision is blocked because of the sphere the earth resides in. So we know there are galaxies we cannot see.

Since the universe continues to expand, though, it’s critical that you make plans to visit its far reaches sooner rather than later. If you wait until retirement, it will only be that much harder and more time consuming to get anywhere. And this is not counting time in the security lines.

Isaiah said that with “the breadth of his hand [God] marked off the heavens” (40:12). As we said, that’s just the heavenly universe we can see. You’ll have to leave it to your kids to see what’s beyond that. Happy trails!

P.S. Here are two very cool interactive websites that can give at least some perspective on distance in space—but only up to the edge of our solar system: “Space Race” and “If the Moon Were Only a Pixel.” Enjoy!

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Also in this Issue

Issue 14 / January 22, 2015
  1. Editors’ Note
  2. Water Is Weird

    And its strange behaviors make life possible. /

  3. The Mundane and the Almighty

    Finding God in speech, a bath, and a meal. /

  4. The Peace of Wild Things

    Resting in the grace of the world. /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Links to amazing stuff

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