Journal: News & Comment

Monday, March 04, 2002
# 11:47:00 PM:

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Hello? Hello?

Compared to this, even the farthest satellite-bounced telephone call on Earth can't be called "long distance."

But consider: the Pioneer 10 space probe has been moving away from us at thousands of kilometres per hour for thirty years. It is now about twelve billion kilometres away, twice as far from us as Pluto, the farthest planet in our solar system. The message NASA sent took a little over eleven hours to reach it, and the spacecraft's response also took eleven hours to return. (Imagine a phone call: "Are you still there?" Wait roughly one day. "Yes.")

Pioneer 10 is the ball in the longest throw humans have ever made, and yet, if it were headed to the nearest star (which it isn't), it would still only be 0.03% of the way there -- the whole trip would take more than a hundred thousand years. As it is, Pioneer won't reach another star in the direction it's actually heading for at least a couple of million years. Our longest throw isn't even a nudge.


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