How long would it take to travel to the nearest star?

Spock and Kirk
First officer Spock (left) and Captain Kirk on the Starship Enterprise don’t float inside because of “artificial gravity.”

Proxima Centauri, is our nearest star, about 4 light years away.

A light year is the amount of time light travels in one year, or 9,460,730,472,581 kilometers. That’s 9.46 trillion kilometers, or about 5.88 trillion miles.

The fastest space ship we ever built was the Juno spacecraft, which in 2016 broke all speed records in space with a gravity assisted acceleration up to 164,700 mph.

The problem with going much faster than that is General Relativity and propulsion. Even with all the fuel in the solar system, it would still take an infinite amount of fuel to approach the speed of light. There’s no warp speed or aliens that have somehow “broken” the laws of physics. You can’t approach the speed of light.

If, however, you could go, say 40 times faster than Juno (there’s no existing technology that would come anywhere near this speed), you’d be going about 6.58 million miles an hour. That’s a hypothetical but impossible speed by either humans or space faring aliens, but none the less, for the sake of argument, let’s say you could go that fast.

Light travels at 670,616,629 miles per hour (as a layman and lazy American I think in miles more easily). So your space craft is amazingly, impossibly, traveling slightly less than 1% the speed of light. We’ll round it up for arguments sake. You’re going now 6.7 million miles an hour. Don’t crash into an asteroid at that speed!

How long would it take to make the trip to Proxima Centauri 4 light years away? Well, if you were going 1% the speed of light (6.7 million miles an hour) it would take you 400 years to reach the nearest star.

Unfortunately, you can’t just get up and go 6.7 million miles an hour. You’ve got to build up speed, which conceivably would take years burning some kind of fuel source that would weigh as much as the Moon because you’d need so much of it (which would slow your acceleration). The problem is the faster and longer you want to burn fuel, the more fuel you need, which increases your weight and decreases your acceleration. Remember, also, as you approach any percentage of the speed of light at all, the amount of fuel required to accelerate your spacecraft any faster begins to increase exponentially because of the law of General Relativity.

At the other end of the trip you’d need the same time and fuel to slow down so you don’t overshoot your target.

People have thought about using light propulsion. From somewhere in Earth orbit, shooting a powerful laser at a reflector at the back of the outgoing spaceship. It would be slow, but eventually it would increase in speed. They’d still need fuel at the other end to slow down.

It’s difficult to know how to figure in that acceleration and deceleration process, so I usually, for the sake of argument, just double the time, which probably isn’t far off.

That would mean it would take you about 880 years to start out, accelerate to 6.8 million miles per hour, and then slow down at the other end. That’s how long it would take to reach our nearest star.

As far as we know, there’s not even any interesting planets over there. If you want to go somewhere more interesting you’d probably have to go farther out in a different direction to the Trappist-1 system, which is 40 light years away.

That would only take you 8,000 years each way. We’re talking eight thousand years. You’d need generational spacecraft, where entire civilizations lived and died for thousands of years before they reach where they’re going, and would these descendants of the original pioneers have any idea what to do when they got there?

These, depressingly, are only the closest stars, right around our neighborhood. There are many more stars in our local group, and billions more in the galaxy, and millions of galaxies.

All we can do is watch them, study them, wonder about them and so on. We will, however, never be able to visit them, and those aliens out there unable to visit us.

Who are they and where do they come from? 

ufo-overwater

Who are they? Where do they come from? First, let’s talk common sense, then I’ll tell you why, in my family, people believe in UFOs.

They’re not coming from space.

I’ve written many articles on how the vastness of space is not traversable because a light year is a lot further than people really think. My conclusion as a layman with some background in science, and after following the writings of many astrophysicists and astronomers and pragmatists, is that UFO’s, whatever they be, are not from other planets.

We are not being visited by aliens simply for the same reason we are not visiting them. Neither knows the other exists and traveling the vastness of space would take many lifetimes. Why do I say that?

Our closest star, Alpha Centauri, is about 4.4 light years away. That number “4.4” misleads us to think that’s not very far, but it’s further away than you can imagine, and that’s just the closest star. This is a distance of about 5.88 trillion miles away, and there’s another number we can deal with: 5.88 (trillion miles).

Let’s see how long it would take to travel that distance and go the fastest we can.

We’ll start with the correct assumption no one can go faster than light. This is not some “law” of physics that can one day be “broken.” It’s just the way things are. Period. For us, for aliens.

So far the fastest we’ve ever gone was on July 4, 2016, when the Juno spacecraft, assisted by Jupiter’s gravity got up to approximately 165,000 miles per hour (265,000 km/h), breaking all previous space speed records. Previous to that the record was 157,000 mph set by the 2 Helios spacecrafts as they sped near the sun in the mid 1970s. These are the fastest speeds we can achieve, and they are done with gravity assists.

But that’s not fast enough to get to Alpha Centauri. Let’s somehow figure a way (the science is not there at present) where we could go not 10, not 20 but 81 times faster than the fastest speed we’ve ever before achieved. (That’s like going from 60 mph in your car to 4,861 mph – kinda fast.)

This would put us at around 13.3 million mph. This speed is phenomenal and quite honestly, not achievable even using gravity assist. It also happens to be 2% the speed of light. This speed is not realistic, but this is just for theoretical thought. The closer we get to the speed of light the more energy you need to the point of requiring infinite energy at the speed of light. Let it be known that going 81 times faster than the Juno spacecraft did is an unachievable speed.

Now we’re zipping toward Alpha Centauri at 13.3 million mp/h, 81 times faster than any craft built by humans have ever gone before. We’ve incredibly somehow achieved 2% the speed of light.

Bear in mind there are two problems we haven’t and will not address, but equally worth considering, is the time and energy need to both achieve this speed and then slow down from that speed at the other end of the journey. Deceleration takes as much energy as acceleration.

Never mind that for now. Let’s just say we can zip up to that speed and zip down to zero in nothing flat. Even at this incredible speed of 13.3 million miles per hour it’s going to take us 2,200 years each way to get to Alpha Centauri.

Now there’s a place more likely to have at least Earth size planets than Alpha Centauri. That would be the Trappist-1 system at 40 light years distant. That’s going to take 20,000 years each way. And this is just our neighbor.

Therefore, speaking realistically, practically, interstellar space travel is science fiction. The distances are too far both for us, and for any intelligent beings that might be out there 1 million or 8 billion light years away.

UFO people are kooks, nutjobs, conspiracy theorists, fanatics and prone to bad science and even fraudulent claims. In these days of digital imagery where we can realistically depict people flying all over space on the big screen, I’ve never seen an image of a UFO that I couldn’t do a better job creating on my Linux computer using GIMP.

That’s the party line. The science of space distances is outlined above. Nobody is visiting us from outer space.

So then who are they and where do they come from? 

I have a problem in my personal life. My mother-in-law, her son, my brother-in-law, and my father-in-law, all claim they saw one up close and personal. The story is famous in my family. My wife says, “Okay, so with all this science stuff you talk about, how do you explain what they saw? You know my mother. She’s not the kind of person to make up stories.”

So what do I do with that?

Here’s the story as told to me by two of the eye witnesses. I know, it’s anecdotal, but how does it figure in with my worldview?

Once, while on an early morning fishing expedition in the 1950s in a remote area of Missouri, USA, my mother-in-law, her husband and son, were headed through the darkness to a lake where they hoped to catch some fish.

When they came out into a clearing at the lake’s edge, there in the moonlight, hovering 3 feet above the water, was a metallic saucer shaped craft with lights going all around it.

The lake was only a few hundred feet across, and this hovering thing with the lights wasn’t making a sound. The water was not disturbed, but it was clearly levitating. The three of them began to walk all around the shoreline looking at it from all sides, when suddenly, after about 15 minutes, it began to rise up, slowly at first, and then zip blindingly fast into the sky and was gone.

That’s the story. Now these people aren’t making this stuff up. They never told anyone except family members – people like me. The story can’t be found in an UFO conspiracy books. They were not kooks.

And then what about that front page New York Times report about a secret Pentagon program and some “artifacts” being stored in modified buildings in Las Vegas? Hmm?

I don’t know. You just have to be like me. Scratch my head.

Maybe there is stuff going on that science doesn’t quite get, yet, like God and religion and UFOs.

If aliens really exist, why don’t they visit Earth? Do they fear humans?

In answering “If aliens really exist, why don’t they visit Earth? Do they fear humans?”, at least we agree. They aren’t visiting. But why not?

I suggest because they are in a galaxy far, far away and light speed is just plain pokey.

Even though we want to go faster than light (FSL) for making cool Star War and Star Trek movies, the reality is that not only is light speed impossible, getting close to light speed is impossible. It would take infinite energy to accelerate to the speed of light.

Even if you could go as incredibly fast as, say, 1/20th the speed of light (highly unlikely), it would still take 800 years to visit the Trappist-1 system with seven Earth-size planets. It could very well be that Trappist-1 has no life. More likely we would have to go out a lot further, perhaps across the galaxy or billions of light years to other galaxies to find intelligent beings.

Those alien beings have the same problem we have. We both suspect the other exists, but neither will ever know for sure because the distance is too great and the speed of light is too pokey. All we can do is imagine.

Unfriended

Rationalthinking101.com is my blog and whenever I post to it, like now, it’s setup to share my post both on Twitter and Facebook.

Since I live in Texas, I’m in the Trump Bible Belt. I’ve got friends here and I work for the state, but in a recent survey I discovered most of my Texan friends don’t believe in rational science and definitely support Trump. They believe Earth was created 6,000 years ago (even though many Christians believe otherwise) and that Trump is the best president ever (mind boggling to me – don’t they keep up?).

These views make their way to RationalThinking101.com and as a result trickle to Facebook and Twitter. Once in awhile (not every day, mind you), I get a notification that some person I worked with for years and years has unfriended me.

How can that be? I accepted them as my friend and coworker, can they not do the same?

Of course, I’ve got many Texan friends on Facebook and 99.99% of them remain my friends, the occasional dropout makes me sad.

Here are a few of my views. If you don’t like ’em, get rid of me, but I still like you as a person.

  1. Earth is over 4 billion years old.
  2. Trump is a bad president.
  3. I was born in Boonton, New Jersey. I’m a democrat.
  4. We went to the moon.
  5. The Earth is not flat.
  6. Global warming is real. The main contributor is the State of Texas. Look it up.
  7. I get along with pretty much everybody even if politically I bite my lip. (I was afraid, during the last election, to put posters in my yard. I feared for my family and my home.)
  8. I own guns with real bullets. When I was a kid I owned a BB gun.
  9. I don’t eat meat. I’ve been a vegetarian for over 44 years.
  10. I don’t care if you’re gay, lesbian, bi, straight, black, green, yellow, white or from another planet.

There ya go.

JoeDropsBall5

Why can’t we come to a feasible conclusion on whether aliens exist or not?

Of course we can! The answer is no, there are no aliens from other planets. This is not the answer you wanted, but if you really understood how far a light year is then you would know the very nearest star is 4 light years. Another candidate is 40 light years.

No one can achieve or even approach the speed of light. To go 4 light years at max speed, and then slow down once you got there, would take no less than 150 years each direction.

To go to a more likely candidate Trappist 1 at 40 light years would take 1,500 years each way, whether you were an alien from there or from Earth.

However the chances space dwelling entities live so close is unlikely.

The more likely distances are thousands or millions of light years away.

Should we launch into a serious attempt to protect ourselves from dangerous aliens, whether hostile or non-hostile (prohibition of gigantically powerful broadcasts, global camouflage, hugely improved military technology, space-war games, or so on)?

No. Simply because of distance.

All of this alien nonsense does not take into account that the nearest star is four light years away. It is such a great distance that traveling at the fastest speed possible it would take at least 150 years each way to traverse. Other stars are many, many more light years. 40 light years would take 1,500 years to traverse, that is where the Trappist-1 system is which is the next best candidate for “Earth-size” planets to exist.

Traveling at light speed is impossible, both for us and for aliens. I’m sorry to say, it is unlikely we’ll ever know for sure if intelligent life exists elsewhere, and if it does, it is unlikely they will ever know we exist.

trapist1

Why do aliens always have to look and have similar biology to us?

Exactly! To date, no life has been found on any other planet or meteor. We would really like to find life elsewhere, and the most likely candidates within reach would be the moons of Jupiter and Saturn.

Beyond that you have to go interstellar. Since it would take hundreds or even thousands of years to reach even the nearest stars at the fastest speed we’ve ever achieved in space, interstellar travel is unlikely now or in the future.

Put away Star Trek and Star Wars. Aliens are not visiting us and we are not going to visit them, whatever they may look like.