6 Billion™ - The Game Of The New Millennium

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6 Billion - Solar System Travel Times
6 Billion - Solar System Energy Levels

A Crude Guide To Travel Times in The Solar System
(This is background information only - you do not need to know this to play "6 Billion™")

At The Speed Of Light

How fast does light travel? At 100% of the Speed Of Light (100 psol) the speed is as follows:

300,000 kilometres per second (close enough for our purposes)
18,000,000
kilometres per minute
1,100,000,000 (1.1 billion)
kilometres per hour

(In fact, the question is relative - it depends whether you are looking at things from the perspective of a photon or not. A photon, travelling at the speed of light, can travel an infinite distance in absolutely no time at all. Hence, a photon is both a quantum energy particle and a wave at the same time.)

Given that all the planets travel elliptical orbits, what are their minimum and maximum distances from the Sun? And how long does it take light to reach them from the Sun? 

100 % Speed Of Light Minimum in millions KM
(Perihelion)
Maximum in millions KM
(Aphelion)
Mercury 45.9 (2.55 Light Minutes) 69.7 (3.87 Light Minutes)
Venus 107.4 (5.97 Light Minutes) 109 (6.05 Light Minutes)
Earth 147 (8.17 Light Minutes) 152 (8.44 Light Minutes)
Mars 206.7 (11.48 Light Minutes) 249 (13.83 Light Minutes)
Jupiter 741 (41.17 Light Minutes) 816 (45.34 Light Minutes)
Saturn 1,347 (1.22 Light Hours) 1,507 (1.37 Light Hours)
Uranus 2,735 (2.49 Light Hours) 3,004 (2.73 Light Hours)
Neptune 4,456 (4.05 Light Hours) 4,537 (4.12 Light Hours)
Pluto* 4,425 (4.02 Light Hours) 7,375 (6.70 Light Hours)

(Distances sourced from the 1997 edition of "Philip's Atlas Of The Universe" by Patrick Moore). * = recently re-classified as a dwarf planet.

At 1 % Of The Speed Of Light

This is a reasonable speed for travelling regularly within the Solar System. It has been estimated (Adrian Berry, "The Giant Leap: Mankind Heads for the Stars.") that we could reach 1 psol as early as 2070. If a spaceship were to travel that fast, how long would it take to get around the Solar System? Here are some approximations of travel times from the Sun (ignoring acceleration & deceleration times) at 1 psol, good enough to give an idea of potential travel times in the solar system in the future. At 1 psol you would be travelling:

3,000 kilometres per second 
180,000
kilometres per minute
11,000,000 
kilometres per hour
264,000,000 kilometres per standard day (24 hours)

To put today's year 2000 speeds in perspective:

Space Shuttle - 11,000 kilometres per hour
Interplanetary Probes - 80,000 kilometres per hour 

1 % Speed Of Light From the Sun (Perihelion) From the Sun (Aphelion)
Mercury 4.17 Hours 6.36 Hours
Venus 9.76 Hours 9.91 Hours
Earth 13.36 Hours 13.82 Hours
Mars 18.79 Hours 22.64 Hours
Jupiter 2.81 Days 3.09 Days
Saturn 5.1 Days 5.71 Days
Uranus 10.36 Days 11.38 Days
Neptune 16.88 Days 17.19 Days
Pluto 16.76 Days 27.93 Days

To reach Alpha Centauri (4.3 Light Years away) would take roughly 430 years (time dilation effect negligible).

At 5% Of The Speed Of Light

It has been estimated (Adrian Berry, "The Giant Leap: Mankind Heads for the Stars.") that we could reach 5 psol as early as 2140. If a spaceship were to travel that fast, how long would it take to get around the Solar System? Here are some approximations of travel times from the Sun (ignoring acceleration & deceleration times) at 5 psol, good enough to give an idea of potential travel times in the solar system in the future. At 5 psol you would be travelling:

15,000 kilometres per second 
900,000
kilometres per minute
55,000,000 
kilometres per hour
1,320,000,000 kilometres per standard day (24 hours)

5 % Speed Of Light From the Sun (Perihelion) From the Sun (Aphelion)
Mercury 51 Minutes 1.26 Hours
Venus 1.95 Hours 2 Hours
Earth 2.67 Hours 2.76 Hours
Mars 3.76 Hours 4.52 Hours
Jupiter 13.47 Hours 14.83 Hours
Saturn 1.02 Days 1.14 Days
Uranus 2.07 Days 2.28 Days
Neptune 3.38 Days 3.44 Days
Pluto 3.35 Days 5.59 Days

To reach Alpha Centauri (4.3 Light Years away) would take roughly 86 years (time dilation effect negligible) 

At 10% Of The Speed Of Light

At 10 psol, time dilation would mean only the loss of  less than a second per hour for any intrepid traveller, so we can basically ignore the affects of time dilation. If a spaceship were to travel that fast, how long would it take to get around the Solar System? Here are some approximations of travel times from the Sun (ignoring acceleration & deceleration times) at 10 psol, good enough to give an idea of potential travel times in the solar system in the future (the Min / Max columns relate to Minimum and Maximum distances of the planet from the Sun):

At 10 psol you would be travelling:

30,000 kilometres per second 
1,800,000
kilometres per minute
110,000,000 
kilometres per hour
2,640,000,000 kilometres per standard day (24 hours)

10 % Speed Of Light From the Sun (Perihelion) From the Sun (Aphelion)
Mercury 25.5 Minutes 38.72 Minutes
Venus 59.7 Minutes 1 Hour
Earth 1.34 Hours 1.38 Hours
Mars 1.88 Hours 2.26 Hours
Jupiter 6.74 Hours 7.42 Hours
Saturn 12.24 Hours 13.7 Hours
Uranus 1.04 Days 1.14 Days
Neptune 1.69 Days 1.72 Days
Pluto 1.68 Days 2.79 Days

To reach Alpha Centauri (4.3 Light Years away) would take 43 years, less roughly 1 second per hour in time dilation for the travellers thus making 42.66 years - a saving of only 0.34 years!. 

NASA, the JPL at Caltech, and other space agencies plot robotic  missions to the planets all the time. As far as I can see, despite the fact that we can confidently predict the positions of the planets way into the future, and even a non-scientist such as myself can calculate crude travel times (ignoring acceleration and deceleration) nobody else has even bothered to publish any guide to travel times in our Solar System. That makes mine the first.  If you are aware of any others I would be grateful for the details.

The fact that mine appears to be the first confirms my view that most people are either too wrapped up in all the Earth's woes (fair enough, there are many), or off to the stars without a backward glance at our own Solar System (some days this is quite an appealing thought). It's time to at least explore a few basic concepts relating to attaining  Kardashev Level-2. I hope that by publishing this brief article it will make it easier for people to think  in terms of our future in our own Solar System.

Many think that it is not worth even considering travelling to the stars until we can travel at least as fast as 10 psol otherwise, in the time it would take to get there, technology is likely to provide a faster solution. If people do set off to the stars at 10 psol, it's going to take a special kind of person with even more advanced technology to travel so far for so long...

Where are the planets?

6 Billion is based in the Third Millennium, from 2001 to 3000 (see Per Ardua Ad Astra article). The planets will therefore have plenty of time to travel their orbits, and will thus be found in numerous configurations during this timeframe. If you don't have your own orrery, then I can recommend the online Solar System Live by John Walker.

Remember, when considering travel times between two planets, the destination planet could be on the far side of the Sun to planet of origin. Then you have to allow for whether each planet is at perihelion or aphelion. Still, using this as a rough guide (ignoring acceleration and deceleration), you should be able to visualise space ships travelling right across the Solar System!

Earth-centric examples (with both planets on the same side of the Sun):

Earth To/From Mars at 1psol
( in hours)
Mars (at perihelion) Mars (at aphelion)
Earth (at perihelion) 18.79 - 13.36 = 5.43 Hours 22.64 - 13.36 = 9.28 Hours
Earth (at aphelion) 18.79 - 13.82 = 4.97 Hours 22.64 - 13.82 = 8.82 Hours

 

Earth To/From Saturn at 1psol
(in days)
Saturn (at perihelion) Saturn (at aphelion)
Earth (at perihelion) 5.10 - 0.56 = 4.54 Days 5.71 - 0.56 = 5.15 Days
Earth (at aphelion) 5.10 - 0.58 = 4.52 Days 5.71 - 0.58 = 5.13 Days

 

Earth To/From Pluto at 5psol
(in days)
Pluto* (at perihelion) Pluto* (at aphelion)
Earth (at perihelion) 3.35 - 0.11 = 3.24 Days 5.59 - 0.11 = 5.48 Days
Earth (at aphelion) 3.35 - 0.12 = 3.23 Days 5.59 - 0.12 = 5.47 Days

* recently re-classified as a dwarf planet.

Earth-centric examples (with both planets on the opposite sides of the Sun):

Earth To/From Mars at 1psol
( in hours)
Mars (at perihelion) Mars (at aphelion)
Earth (at perihelion) 18.79 + 13.36 = 32.15 Hours 22.64 + 13.36 = 36.00 Hours
Earth (at aphelion) 18.79 + 13.82 = 32.61 Hours 22.64 - 13.82 = 36.46 Hours

 

Earth To/From Saturn at 1psol
(in days)
Saturn (at perihelion) Saturn (at aphelion)
Earth (at perihelion) 5.10 + 0.56 = 5.66 Days 5.71 + 0.56 = 6.27 Days
Earth (at aphelion) 5.10 + 0.58 = 5.68 Days 5.71 + 0.58 = 6.29 Days

 

Earth To/From Pluto at 5psol
(in days)
Pluto (at perihelion) Pluto (at aphelion)
Earth (at perihelion) 3.35 + 0.11 = 3.46 Days 5.59 + 0.11 = 5.70 Days
Earth (at aphelion) 3.35 + 0.12 = 3.47 Days 5.59 + 0.12 = 5.71 Days

You might also want to read a brief overview about the planets and their possible future roles in the future presented by 6 Billion™ - The Planets & The Asteroid Belt - Design Notes For 6 Billion™ and A Crude Guide To Energy Levels In the Solar System.

For a list of articles by me, see the Articles page.

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Last modified: November 23, 2008