Intergalactic travel

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Stars in the Large Magellanic Cloud, a dwarf galaxy. At a distance of 160,000 light-years, the LMC is the third closest galaxy to the Milky Way.

Intergalactic travel is space travel between galaxies. Due to the enormous distances between our own galaxy the Milky Way and even its closest neighborshundreds of thousands to millions of light-yearsany such venture would be far more technologically demanding than even interstellar travel. Intergalactic distances are roughly one-million fold (six orders of magnitude) greater than their interstellar counterparts.

The technology required to travel between galaxies right now is far beyond humanity's present capabilities, and currently only the subject of speculation, hypothesis, and science fiction.

However, scientifically speaking, there is nothing to indicate that intergalactic travel is impossible. There are, in fact, several at least conceivable methods of doing it. To date there have been a few people bold enough to study the possibility of intergalactic travel in a serious manner.[1][2][3][4]

The difficulties of intergalactic travel[edit]

Colossal distances[edit]

Due to the size of the distances involved any serious attempt to travel between galaxies would require methods of propulsion far beyond what is currently thought possible in order to bring a large craft close to the speed of light.

Speed of light limit[edit]

According to the current understanding of physics, an object within space-time cannot exceed the speed of light,[5] which condemns any attempt to travel to other galaxies to a journey of millions of years via traditional standards.


Another difficulty would be to navigate the spacecraft to the target galaxy and succeed in reaching a chosen star, planet or other body, as this would require a full understanding of the movement of galaxies which has not yet been attained.

Communication and one-way trip[edit]

There is also the considerable problem, even for unmanned probes, that any communication between the craft and its home planet can still only travel at the speed of light, which may require millions of years to traverse the colossal distances involved. Even if another galaxy could be reached, there seems to be no way for the information to be transmitted home in any meaningful way.

Nearest galaxies[edit]

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, lies within a group of galaxies called the Local Group. The two diagrams below show the part of it that lies within 500 thousand light-years, and the entire Local Group.

Diagram of satellite galaxies of the Milky Way, Earth's own galaxy.
Diagram of the Local Group.

Possible methods[edit]

Way stations - intergalactic stars[edit]

Space between the galaxies is not empty but contains intergalactic stars. One study suggests that at least 0.05 percent of all stars in existence are these "rogue stars".[6] These could be used as way stations for travel between galaxies in an "island-hopping" fashion.

Extreme long-duration voyages[edit]

Voyages to other galaxies at sub-light speeds would require voyage times anywhere from hundreds of thousands to many millions of years. To date only one design such as this has ever been made.[1]

The main problem is engineering a ship that would be functional for geological periods of time. Such an instrument has never been built or even designed before with anything approaching this degree of durability. The ship could be made of parts that last this long; or perhaps the ship would have the ability to maintain and repair itself, and manufacture its own components; or some combination of these. Perhaps it would be run by an artificial intelligence, programmed to maintain the ship and its passengers, while piloting it to its remote destination.

Hypervelocity stars[edit]

Theorized in 1988,[7] and observed in 2005,[8] there are stars moving faster than the escape velocity of the Milky Way, and are traveling out into intergalactic space.[9] There are several theories for their existence. One of the mechanisms would be that the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way ejects stars from the galaxy at a rate of about one every hundred thousand years.[9] Another theorised mechanism might be a supernova explosion in a binary system.[10]

These could be used simply by entering into an orbit around them and waiting.[11]

Stellar engines[edit]

Another proposal is to artificially propel a star in the direction of another galaxy.[12][13]

Time dilation[edit]

While it takes light approximately 2.54 million years to traverse the gulf of space between Earth and, say, the Andromeda Galaxy, it would take a much shorter amount of time from the point of view of a traveler at close to the speed of light due to the effects of time dilation; the time experienced by the traveler depending both on velocity (anything less than the speed of light) and distance traveled (length contraction). Intergalactic travel for humans is therefore possible, in theory, from the point of view of the traveller.[14]

Possible faster-than-light methods[edit]

The Alcubierre drive is the only feasible, albeit highly hypothetical, concept, that is able to impulse a spacecraft to speeds faster than light. (The spaceship itself would not move faster than light, but the space around it would.) This could in theory allow practical intergalactic travel. There is no known way to create the space-distorting wave this concept needs to work, but the metrics of the equations comply with relativity and the limit of light speed.[15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Burruss, Robert Page (September–October 1987). "Intergalactic Travel: The Long Voyage From Home". Futurist: 21,29–33. 
  2. ^ Fogg, Martyn (1988). "The Feasibility of Intergalactic Colonisation and its Relevance to SETI". Journal of the British Interplanetary Society 41: 491–496. 
  3. ^ Armstrong, Stuart; Sandberg, Anders. Eternity in six hours: intergalactic spreading of intelligent life and sharpening the Fermi paradox. Future of Humanity Institute, Philosophy Department, Oxford University.
  4. ^ Gilster, Paul (24 June 2014). "Deep Time: Targeting Another Galaxy". Centauri Dreams. Retrieved 16 September 2014. 
  5. ^ Star Trek's Warp Drive: Not Impossible from (May 06, 2009)
  6. ^ Numerous "Tramp" Stars Adrift in Intergalactic Space Could Await Discovery Scientific American, 2009
  7. ^ Hills, J. G. (1988). "Hyper-velocity and tidal stars from binaries disrupted by a massive Galactic black hole". Nature 331 (6158): 687–689. Bibcode:1988Natur.331..687H. doi:10.1038/331687a0. 
  8. ^ Brown, Warren R.; Geller, Margaret J.; Kenyon, Scott J.; Kurtz, Michael J. (2005). "Discovery of an Unbound Hypervelocity Star in the Milky Way Halo". Astrophysical Journal 622 (1): L33–L36. arXiv:astro-ph/0501177. Bibcode:2005ApJ...622L..33B. doi:10.1086/429378. 
  9. ^ a b The Great Escape: Intergalactic Travel is Possible Ray Villard, (May 24, 2010) - Discovery News (accessed October 2010)
  10. ^ Watzke, Megan (28 November 2007). "Chandra discovers cosmic cannonball". Newswise. 
  11. ^ Gilster, Paul (26 June 2014). "Intergalactic Travel via Hypervelocity Stars". Centauri Dreams. Retrieved 16 September 2014. 
  12. ^ Gilster, Paul (27 June 2014). "Stars as Stellar Engines". Centauri Dreams. Retrieved 16 September 2014. 
  13. ^ Gilster, Paul (30 June 2014). "Building the Bowl of Heaven". Centauri Dreams. Retrieved 16 September 2014. 
  14. ^ Gilster, Paul (25 June 2014). "Sagan's Andromeda Crossing". Centauri Dreams. Retrieved 16 September 2014. 
  15. ^ Alcubierre, Miguel (1994). "The warp drive: hyper-fast travel within general relativity". Classical and Quantum Gravity 11 (5): L73–L77. arXiv:gr-qc/0009013. Bibcode:1994CQGra..11L..73A. doi:10.1088/0264-9381/11/5/001.