Thursday, January 20, 2011

Perspective: Can we travel to other planets? Sci-fi to the test...

Can we travel to other planets, as science fiction seems so compelled to suggest?

Here's a thought experiment. Remember the charts of the solar system on the wall in elementary school? All of the planets are spaced roughly evenly, right? Well it turns out that they're not exactly drawn to scale.

This makes sense, of course. If we tried to draw a to-scale version and started with Earth (about the size of a pea maybe), Jupiter would be about 10 000 feet away.

And Pluto? Oh about a mile and a half (and not to mention about the size of a bacterium).

So the next time someone tells you that travelling to other planets may be a reality, remind them that we have difficulty sending people to our moon, or about 240 000 miles away- a mere hop, skip, and a...well not quite a jump on our to-scale model.



  1. Mars, we couldn't land on it. Think about how astronauts land on earth. Think about landing implies that you have to have 1) a vehicle to sustain human life, 2) a method to return to the surface, 3) a method to land safely (there are no runways or oceans. Travelling to other planets is not financially viable and we can't learn anything from the planets scientifically that we can't learn from a telescope or what we know already.

    We can't land on Jupiter because it is too massive and would require too much energy (fuel) to get off of it. And its made of gas.

    Its just not reasonable, and our efforts/finances are best spent on the very small scale.

  2. John,
    We can actually learn a lot from other planets. Our moon, not so much. But other planets (particularly Mars and Venus) can provide us with extraordinary insight into our own planet.

    The majority of development from space travel doesn't come from space- it comes from the technological developments made here on Earth to make such flights possible. You're right in that there isn't much to learn about space, but there such is a lot to learn about how to get there.
    As for learning from a telescope: images of pluto are grainy at best on some of the most powerful telescopes (ie/ Hubble). By 2015 the spacecraft 'New Horizons' should finally provide us with an accurate picture of what Pluto looks like- it's various other properties will have yet to be discovered.

    The point: of course it's not reasonable. It is unlikely that humans will ever reach the Kuiper belt (around pluto), let alone the Oort cloud (nearing the edge of the solar system). At least not in our lifetime...

  3. A friend of mine is working on sending plant-life (bacteria) to Mars... Maybe if we seed Mars the way Earth was seeded, it will develop life on it's own. I just hope the bacteria doesn't develop into some mutant alien Life-form that decides to attack plant earth.