I like the night sky as much as anyone. Nothing beats living in a place where clean air and lack of light pollution can give you some wonderful views of the stars. I don’t know much about the subject, but I can recognise the more familiar groups. Orion’s Belt, The Big Dipper, all those usual suspects that most of us have been shown, or taught about, at some time in our lives.
As I got older, the makers of television programmes latched onto the growing interest in the Universe. More entertaining less technical shows on the subject started to appear. From one of these, I learned that the light we see from a star is actually caused by the fact that it has exploded, countless centuries ago. That light from the explosion takes so long to reach our part of the galaxy, that it remains shining constantly, so we can see it when conditions are right. I confess that really taxed my levels of understanding. These stars have been viewed for thousands of years, and have fascinated mankind since he first stood on two legs, and gazed upward. Yet in 2017, I can look out of my window this evening, and see that same light as the caveman from thousands of years ago.
That gave me quite a headache, I can tell you, trying to work out how that could happen. The space-time continuum, the theory of relativity, light speed, and many other technical terms were thrown at me from the TV. Most were (and still are) completely beyond the comprehension of this mere mortal. I just like the twinkling lights in the sky over Norfolk. I should never have tried to discover why they were there. But I stuck with the subject, finally getting the most basic grasp of what they were on about.
More recently, there was a great deal of excitement in the halls of astronomy. Not only has a new planet been discovered, presumably using some remarkable telescope, they were sure that the planet was ‘Earth-like’, and might well contain water. They came to this assumption by studying the images of the surface, and when interviewed on TV, the experts were literally beside themselves with joy. Imagine the kerfuffle when they went on to discover some seven more ‘Earth-like’ planets orbiting a star that they named Trappist-1. I was swept up in the enthusiasm. Could this be the answer to mankind’s problems? New worlds to inhabit, science fiction becoming fact?
I immediately wanted to discover more. The first discovery was named Kepler 186f, after the NASA telescope. It is about the size of Earth, but the view we saw on TV was not a photograph, rather an ‘artistic impression’. The speculation about life or water existing there was just that, speculation. All the ‘findings’ appear to be based on rough measurement of the size of the planet, and its position relative to other planets in the Constellation Cygnus. I was still excited. We should start building the Starfleet transports, I thought. After all, it’s got to be worth a try? Then I noticed something I had overlooked. Kepler 186f is located 500 Light Years from Earth. Not local then.
I looked it up.
‘According to Guinness World Records, the Fastest spacecraft speed is 246,960 km/h. A light year is 9.461e+12 km. So, 500 light years would take: 9.461e+12*500/(246,690*24*365) = 2,186,565 years.’
(Let’s face it, not many of us could have worked that out, even with a good calculator)
So, just 2.2 (less change) MILLION years to get there, using the best technology available today.
I’m not excited anymore. Not in the least.