How Long Would It Take To Get To Jupiter?

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Personally, I’d prefer to visit Saturn, I mean look at those numinous rings! But yes, if you had to flee Earth to run away from your responsibilities, a cost-utility analysis would tell you that Jupiter is a much more feasible option.

However, cosmologists aren’t planning to embark on such illustrious journeys just because they’re recluses. The most compelling reason is that some of Jupiter’s moons, namely Europa, Callisto and Ganymede, might contain vast amounts of liquid water beneath their icy shells, making them one of the best places to look for life in our entire solar system.

The Constraints

The Distance

The journey to the King of all Roman gods isn’t like a visit to the nearby Walmart. Earth and Jupiter resemble sprinters racing on a clay track in the sweltering heat of the Sun. Since they revolve around the sun at different velocities, the distance between them continually changes. At their closest point, the distance between them is around 365 million miles, whereas the farthest they can get from one another is 601 million miles. The average distance is around 483 million miles between the two celestial bodies.

Therefore, before heading off, scientists must consider the trade-off between burning more fuel or the large financial expenditure and time it would take to reach the destination. The time it takes to reach a faraway planet depends not only on technological leaps in propulsion systems, but also on how all the planets are aligned.

Rocket lauching with coke & mentos meme

Genius!

The Time

The first spacecraft that left for Jupiter was NASA’s Pioneer 10. It took a direct route, completing its journey in 640 days – just under 2 years. Even so, it only came within 130,000 km of Jupiter. As I mentioned earlier, faster routes are taken by a spacecraft with the dedicated intention of observing planets. The Pioneer only clicked pictures and then went on its way. Similarly, Pioneer 11 and the Voyagers took around 600 days, but were much cozier than Pioneer 10, as they came within 21,000 km of Jupiter.

Only Galileo managed to stick around the planet. As expected, it took a more circuitous route and 2,242 days – almost 6 years – to reach Jupiter, but most importantly, it did so with just the right velocity. However, what do we mean by direct and circuitous routes?

The Route

A spacecraft can take a direct route or longer, more circuitous ones. A longer route requires them to travel a path just behind a planet near its orbit. This is why their alignment with respect to each other is of critical importance. The planet’s gravitational pull lures a spacecraft inside when traveling towards it, and then “slingshots” it on its way around and back out.

The spacecraft relies on taking a part of the planet’s orbital energy to achieve this feat. The loss of energy is so small that even though the planet has lost some amount of its energy, the retardation in its motion isn’t noticeable at all.

Burning fuel rapidly will certainly bring you to Jupiter faster and will take a lot less time, but a more fuel-efficient way would save a ton of money and other important resources. Moreover, money isn’t the only constraint here. Satellites traveling at very high speeds find it equally difficult to slow down to just the right velocity and settle into a celestial body’s orbit.

However, like a standard ride through a low-lit planetarium showing you around “the Solar System”, spaceships are also designed to whiz past planets with the sole intention of observing or photographing it, before flying off to explore the unknown ahead. Technically, this is called a flyby.

Galileo followed a VEGA (Venus Earth Gravity Assist) trajectory. The spacecraft underwent a close encounter with Venus once, followed by two cycles around Earth, and was finally thrown off like a disc towards the giant. Recently, The New Horizons mission performed a different flyby on its way to Pluto and other dwarf planets. It took the spaceship just over 13 months to reach Jupiter!

Therefore, in conclusion, a rocket ship would take roughly 2.2 years to reach Jupiter, provided it goes at top speed all the way. But if we manage to travel at the speed of light, it would take us less than an hour–48 minutes to be precise to reach Jupiter. And if you take a cab, traveling at 65 miles per hour, it would take you roughly 850 years! The staggering fare is another issue! The answer to your query is roughly 600 days for mere sightseeing, and 2000 days if you want to stick around.

References

  1. Science Line – University of California, Santa Barbara
  2. Cornell University
  3. Space.com
  4. Phys.org
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About the Author:

Akash Peshin is an Electronic Engineer from the University of Mumbai, India and a science writer at ScienceABC. Enamored with science ever since discovering a picture book about Saturn at the age of 7, he believes that what fundamentally fuels this passion is his curiosity and appetite for wonder.

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