Welcome to Life Noggin.
Everyone always wants to get to Mars.
Unfortunately, the journey would be a long one,
taking hundreds of days of travel with our current technology.
Well, what if we could shorten that time to only a matter of days
by throwing away our spaceships
and using something that’s already zooming across space?
I’m talking about comets.
Comets are big ol’ cosmic snowballs,
made from frozen gases, rock, and dust
that end up orbiting the Sun after the other planets
tried throwing them at Earth and missed.
Well, that last part probably isn’t true.
Everyone knows that the planets only have water gun battles.
Not to mention, comets can actually be pretty big.
Frozen, you could probably liken them to about the size of a small town.
However, when these things get close to the Sun in their orbit,
they can begin to heat up.
Then they start spewing dust and gases,
forming a giant glowing head.
Huh. I thought only I had that problem.
Luckily enough, if we want to use one of these things for stellar travel,
we have quite a few to choose from!
According to NASA,
there are around 3,600 comets that we currently know of.
Beyond that, it’s believed that there are billions of other comets out there
orbiting our Sun in the Kuiper Belt and even more distant Oort Cloud.
What makes comets great for getting around in space
is that they can go SUPER fast.
Yeah, this baby can fly!
How fast they’re travelling depends on a bunch of different factors,
but they can travel anywhere from a few thousand kilometers per hour,
to over 160,000 kilometers per hour under certain conditions.
In fact, in 2016, scientists at NASA recorded
a comet traveling at nearly 600 kilometers per second as it dove toward the Sun.
That’s over 2 /million/ kilometers per hour!
To put that in perspective,
if we could travel at 2 million kilometers per hour,
then wecould get to Mars from Earth in around 28 hours,
just little more than a single day,
assuming the two planets were close together in their orbits.
Lining up the planets is the least of our worries though.
While comets can go super fast,
getting to them would be a big problem.
That’s because, not even considering how hard it would be to actually commandeer one,
comets just don’t typically get that close to Earth.
Hale-Bopp, a comet that made the news about two decades ago,
came closer to Earth than most comets do,
and it was still about 200 million kilometers away.
We might as well just go straight to Mars at that point!
Even if a comet did come by Earth,
we assume that its trajectory is towards Mars,
and we ignore that it would likely be in its more gassy, less-solid state,
you’d still have to keep yourself alive on the comet.
I guess if it’s only a day or so then food and water would be less of an issue
since the aliens would definitely feed you once we got there,
but you’d still have to worry about oxygen and protecting yourself from space.
You would need about 0.84 kilograms of oxygen a day,
so you better grab a spacesuit and take a big breath before jumping on the comet.
So yeah, using comets as a means of space travel is probably not that viable in the end.
Sometimes I like doing these thought experiments, you know,
and then realizing that they can’t work.
But it’s still interesting!
That’s how we learn people!
So do you have any questions about space that you want me to answer.
Any planets that we should cover next?
Let me know right now in the comment section below!
Curious to know what would happen if you were trapped on the international space station?
We teamed up with our friend William Osman to answer that question.
ISS actually gets its power from solar arrays made up of thousands of solar cells.
These arrays can efficiently covert solar energy into electrical power.
Typically producing more power than the station needs at one time.
As always, my name is Blocko,
this has been Life Noggin,
don’t forget to keep on thinking!