An Interesting Factoid About Space Exploration

Thanks to some help from The Dope, here is an interesting factoid that I came up with, which I intend to use the next time such a category comes up in a Cracked Photoplasty contest:

The Voyager spacecraft has traveled approximately 125 Austronomical Units.

If the Milky Way galaxy was the size of the Pacific Ocean, that would mean that the Voyager has traveled .23 meters, or about 9 inches.

Mind = blown.

The best explanation I’ve seen for the conception of the distances of interstellar space is thus:

*The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times over many years and under many different editorships. It contains contributions from countless numbers of travellers and researchers.

The introduction begins like this: “Space,” it says, “is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly hugely mindboggingly big it is. I mean you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist, but that’s just peanuts to space. Listen …” and so on.

(After a while the style settles down a bit and it begins to tell you things you really need to know, like the fact that the fabulously beautiful planet Bethselamin is now so worried about the cumulative erosion by ten billion visiting tourists a year that any net imbalance between the amount you eat and the amount you excrete whilst on the planet is surgically removed from your bodyweight when you leave: so every time you go to the lavatory it is vitally important to get a receipt.)

To be fair though, when confronted by the sheer enormity of distances between the stars, better minds than the one responsible for the Guide’s introduction have faltered. Some invite you to consider for a moment a peanut in Reading and a small walnut in Johannesburg, and other such dizzying concepts.

The simple truth is that interstellar distances will not fit into the human imagination.

Even light, which travels so fast that it takes most races thousands of years to realize that it travels at all, takes time to journey between the stars. It takes eight minutes from the star Sol to the place where the Earth used to be, and four years more to arrive at Sol’s nearest stellar neighbour, Alpha Proxima.

For light to reach the other side of the Galaxy, for it to reach Damogran for instance, takes rather longer: five hundred thousand years.

The record for hitch hiking this distance is just under five years, but you don’t get to see much on the way.*

– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy


Ah, I was wondering what all the calculation was leading up to.

Here’s some perspective. The Oort Cloud, the belt of small icy bodies that produces comets, is the most distant part of our solar system.

Voyager I is currently less than one percent of the way to the Oort Cloud.

I hope I’ll be forgiven for linking yet again to my favorite comparison of large and small distances.

As posited by the eminent researcher Prof. Y. Warner:

This clip from The Big Bang Theory does little to explain the extra-galactic distance ladder.

As usual, there’s a Wikipedia article that seems to be more or less informative.
Short version: space is really big.

That far? Wow! That is impressive! I mean that, I’m not being ironic.

That’s pretty cool.

It really is hard to wrap your brain around just how vast space is. You can understand it intellectually, but it’s impossible to fully comprehend how far away things are in space.

Oh, I’m sharing this allllll over the place. Trés cool.

I’m surprised to find that we’re closer in size to the biggest things in the universe versus the smallest things.

If the observed universe was a scaled-up organism, a human wouldn’t even be large enough to match the size of a neutrino in one of its electrons in one of its cells, which would be the size of a galaxy. This makes us seems so small and insignificant. Yet, relative to a string’s perspective, we’re much bigger than the observed universe is to us. Each one of us is like a multiverse. The USA is a hyper-multiverse. The planet is a super-hyper-multiverse. We’re ginormous!

It feels weird being so small and so big at the same time.

According tothis scale model of the solar system, the earth is a 5.5 inch sphere 1 mile from the sun.

At that scale, Voyager would be about 13 miles shy of Bangor on I-95 in a straight line from Presque Isle.

Proxima Centauri, at 4.24 light years away, would be 268k AU away, or roughly 10 circumnavigations of the earth.

Another model I like has a beach-ball-sized Sun on the goal-line of Wembley Stadium, on which scale the Earth is a dried pea on the edge of the penalty box at the other end, and Alpha Centauri is another beach-ball in Australia.

And I’m surprised that you, of all people, let pass the reference to “Alpha Proxima”[sup]where?[/sup] or the assertion that our galaxy is half a million light-years in diameter.

Yeah, I was wondering about that one.