When we talk about reaching other stars and indeed visits from other Alien life forms to our own Planet. Do we really understand whats involved? Firstly we need to understand the incomprehensible distances involved. NASA have discussed sending a probe to Proxima b, a planet that lays within the habitable zone of Earths nearest star Proxima Centauri, part of the Alpha Centauri group. A group of three stars. Proxima Centauri is the closets, a red dwarf star that is located around 4 light years away. So I suppose we need to understand a light year!
A light year is the astronomical unit used to measure the distance light can travel in one year. The Speed of light is about 186,000 miles per second or about 5.9 trillion miles a year. In theory nothing travels faster than the speed of light. In fact even the light of our sun takes around 8.3 minutes to reach us. So keeping with Proxima Centauri star. Its around 4 light years away from Earth. So the distance is 23.6 trillion miles away. Apollo 11 traveled at a speed of 40,000 kilometers per hour. At that speed it would take over 100,000 years to reach the star. Obviously since then space travel has advanced and the Parker Solar probe can travel at up to 700,000 kph but is still only 0.067% the speed of light and would still take over 6,300 years approximately.
Nasa plans a mission to Proxima Centuri, but due to needing new technologies and the massive amount of planning involved, its not due to launch until 2069! This subject came up when writing about Charles Messier and the Bodes Nebula this week. In Galaxy terms M81 and M82 are relatively close to our own Milkyway. They are quite a bit further than Proxima Centauri though, at a distance of some 12 million Light Years. That means that the light has traveled for 12 million years to reach us! Traveling here seems almost impossible if at 700,000 KPH would take us 6,300 years to get to proxima Centauri. It would take a whopping 19 billion years at this speed for us to reach the galaxies!
Stargazing Mount Teide
“Light thinks it travels faster than anything but it is wrong. No matter how fast light travels, it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it.”
- Carl Sagan
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