It may be remedial for anyone reading this blog to talk about distance in space. But the scale of distances in space is so insane I doubt even most astrophysicists really grasp them as anything but numbers.
Are Mars and the future too far away for us to plan to go?
The real distances are simply too large to really be understood by brains designed to calculate whether falling out of a tree from this height would be fatal (assuming number of hungry prowling jaguars X and distance to next climbing point Y for proto-humans with an aptitude for calculus. Or actuarial statistics.)
At 93 million miles, the distance from the Sun to the Earth is several zeroes shorter than even the number of digits in the distance to the closest star.
If you wanted to roll the Earth to the Sun (across the surprisingly cheap and holey fabric of the space-time continuum, according to Star Trek officers who are always falling through it), it would take 3,720 complete rotations of the Earth to do it.
(You might suggest rolling it to Mars would be easier because it's closer, but that would be stupid. You're way too small to roll a whole planet, there's nowhere to stand and nothing to roll it on. Besides, there's a whole band of asteroids in the way that would get the Earth dirty and gritty, like an apple you drop in the sand, and then who would even want it?)
So. 4,000 rotations of the Earth to get to the Sun. That's a lot.
Proxima Centauri is 270,000 times farther away than the sun. 270,000 times. Not 270 million more miles. 93 million miles times 270,000.
That's still meaningless in real terms, but it sounds pretty impressive, if only because it's clear anyone who multiplies millions by thousands of anything is going to spend a long time hip deep in problems.
No gas for the trip. Not even antigas
Despite a confident assumption that antimatter will provide enough power to drive starships powered by rockets across the trillions of miles they will have to go between rest stops, antimatter is still a pretty unlikely propellant.
It's powerful enough. Antimatter engines, as we currently think of them, involve the injection of streams of antimatter onto a core of nuclear fuel. The anti-protons making up the antimatter are annihilated in a blast that can be focused with powerful magnetic fields until it is focused like a laser, making it even more efficient as a propellant.
The only problem, aside from our not knowing how to contain, store or use antimatter in such a mundane way, is that we don't have any.
Well, not much.
Icarus Project/Adrian Mann