The Trouble With Warp Speed

by bitznbitez

If you grew up watching Star Trek you can recall “Warp factor two Sulu,” Scottie starting to sweat about things if Warp 6 was run for any length of time, and going absolutely worried at Warp 7 and above.   But at the same time when warp drive was engaged stars would go flying by the craft like gnats.

Several months ago I was sitting around instead of doing what I was supposed to at home and it dawned on me that the warp speeds in Star Trek, compared to interstellar distances, posed a real problem.   See the table below ( Stellar distances from http://www.astro.wisc.edu/~dolan/constellations/extra/nearest.html ):

Common Name Scientific Name Distance (light years) Years to Reach @ Warp 2 Years to Reach @ Warp 6
Proxima Centauri V645 Cen 4.2        2.10           0.70
Rigil Kentaurus Alpha Cen A 4.3        2.15           0.72
Alpha Cen B 4.3        2.15           0.72
Barnard’s Star 6        3.00           1.00
Wolf 359 CN Leo 7.7        3.85           1.28
BD +36 2147 8.2        4.10           1.37
Luyten 726-8A UV Cet A 8.4        4.20           1.40
Luyten 726-8B UV Cet B 8.4        4.20           1.40
Sirius A Alpha CMa A 8.6        4.30           1.43
Sirius B Alpha CMa B 8.6        4.30           1.43
Ross 154 9.4        4.70           1.57
Ross 248 10.4        5.20           1.73
Epsilon Eri 10.8        5.40           1.80
Ross 128 10.9        5.45           1.82
61 Cyg A (V1803 Cyg) 11.1        5.55           1.85
61 Cyg B 11.1        5.55           1.85
Epsilon Ind 11.2        5.60           1.87
BD +43 44 A 11.2        5.60           1.87
BD +43 44 B 11.2        5.60           1.87
Luyten 789-6 11.2        5.60           1.87
Procyon A Alpha CMi A 11.4        5.70           1.90
Procyon B Alpha CMi B 11.4        5.70           1.90
BD +59 1915 A 11.6        5.80           1.93
BD +59 1915 B 11.6        5.80           1.93
CoD -36 15693 11.7        5.85           1.95

At cruising speed it would take the Enterprise 2.1 years to reach our closest star and at max safe speed it would take 8.4 months.  For a kid who learned his Starfleet Technical Manual, yes I owned a copy, this has really rocked my world 🙂

You would think later versions of Star Trek, what with all the technical advances in the new starships, would go faster, it doesn’t seem to be the case.  The NCC1701D in The Next Generation only has a top speed of Warp 9.9.   That cuts the time to Alpha Centauri to a mere four months instead of 8, and still takes a full year to reach the 12th closest star to earth.

Live Long and Prosper.

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