TRAPPIST-1: How Long Would It Take to Fly to 7-Planet System?

The discovery of seven Earth-size planets  around a nearby star, TRAPPIST-1, is certainly exciting news. But what would it take to visit one of these potentially Earth-like alien worlds?

TRAPPIST-1 is 39 light-years away from Earth, or about 229 trillion miles (369 trillion kilometers). It would take 39 years to get to its current location traveling at the speed of light . But no spacecraft ever built can travel anywhere near that fast.

That said, people have sent some pretty fast vehicles into outer space. With today's technology,  how long would it take to get to TRAPPIST-1 ?

Characteristics of the seven TRAPPIST-1 worlds, compared to the rocky planets in our solar system.

Given a spacecraft's speed, calculating the amount of time it would take to travel to TRAPPIST-1's present location is simple. Because speed is equal to distance divided by time, the total travel time must equal the distance to TRAPPIST-1 (39 light-years) divided by the spacecraft's speed.

New Horizons

New Horizons, the fastest spacecraft ever launched, flew past Pluto  in 2015 and is currently traveling out of the solar system at 14.31 kilometers per second, or about 32,000 mph, according to NASA's New Horizons tracking page . At this rate, it would take the Pluto probe about 817,000 years to travel the 39 light-years.

NASA's Juno spacecraft actually flew faster than New Horizons during its approach to the gas giant Jupiter in 2016. With the help of Jupiter's gravity, Juno hit a top speed of about 165,000 mph (265,000 km/h) relative to Earth, making it the fastest human-made object  ever (though New Horizons' initial speed was faster than Juno's speed after launch).

Even if Juno were constantly traveling that fast — not just getting a speed boost en route —  it would take the spacecraft 159,000 years to reach TRAPPIST-1's current location.

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Voyager 1 , Earth's most distant spacecraft, left the solar system and entered interstellar space in 2012. According to NASA, it is currently speeding away at 38,200 mph. For Voyager 1 to travel 39 light-years, it would take the spacecraft 685,000 years.

But Voyager 1 isn't going there anytime soon, or ever. Instead, the spacecraft is heading for a different star , AC +79 3888: It will fly within 1.6 light-years of this star in about 40,000 years (NASA's calculation takes into account that  the star is moving , also).

Space Shuttle

NASA's space shuttle  traveled around the Earth at a maximum speed of about 17,500 mph (28,160 km/h). A spaceship traveling at this speed would take around 1.5 million years to get to TRAPPIST-1's current location.

So for a human mission to the TRAPPIST-1 solar system, the space shuttle would not be a practical mode of transportation.

Breakthrough Starshot

One ultrafast spacecraft that could reach TRAPPIST-1 in a much shorter time span is an interstellar mission advocated by Stephen Hawking, the  Breakthrough Starshot  initiative.

Hawking's tiny, laser-propelled probes could theoretically fly as fast as 20 percent of the speed of light, or 134 million mph (216 million km/h). That's about 4,000 times faster than NASA's record-breaking New Horizons spacecraft! A spacecraft that fast could travel 39 light-years in less than 200 years. But that concept has yet to leave the ground.

An artist's impression of the view from a planet in the TRAPPIST-1 system.

With today's technology, there's no way that anyone alive right now could make it to TRAPPIST-1 in a lifetime. While discussing the new discovery at a news conference today (Feb. 22), NASA officials suggested that it would likely take at least 800,000 years to reach the TRAPPIST-1 system.

So don't start making any interstellar vacation plans anytime soon.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Stephen hawking dreamed up the Breakthrough Starshot initiative. Hawking helped to launch it and serves on the board of directors, but the concept was first conceived by Russian entrepreneur Yuri Milner.

Editor's Note:  This article has been updated to clarify NASA's calculation of when Voyager will pass near the star AC +79 3888, which factors in the star's movement. Our calculations describe the time to travel 39 light-years, to TRAPPIST-1's current location. 

Email Hanneke Weitering at [email protected] or follow her @hannekescience . Follow us @Spacedotcom , Facebook   and Google+ . Original article on Space.com .

Join our Space Forums to keep talking space on the latest missions, night sky and more! And if you have a news tip, correction or comment, let us know at: [email protected].

Hanneke Weitering is a multimedia journalist in the Pacific Northwest reporting on the future of aviation at FutureFlight.aero and Aviation International News and was previously the Editor for Spaceflight and Astronomy news here at Space.com. As an editor with over 10 years of experience in science journalism she has previously written for Scholastic Classroom Magazines, MedPage Today and The Joint Institute for Computational Sciences at Oak Ridge National Laboratory. After studying physics at the University of Tennessee in her hometown of Knoxville, she earned her graduate degree in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting (SHERP) from New York University. Hanneke joined the Space.com team in 2016 as a staff writer and producer, covering topics including spaceflight and astronomy. She currently lives in Seattle, home of the Space Needle, with her cat and two snakes. In her spare time, Hanneke enjoys exploring the Rocky Mountains, basking in nature and looking for dark skies to gaze at the cosmos. 

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how long to travel 39 light years

Explaining Space

How Long Would It Take To Travel A Light Year

how long to travel 39 light years

NASA’s Juno spacecraft showcases incredible speed, hitting 165,000 mph (365,000 kmph). Imagine, even at this fast pace, it would still take 2,958 years to cover a distance of one light year, a testament to the vastness of space—approximately 5.88 trillion miles (9.46 trillion kilometers).

Traveling at the speed of light covers vast distances in space quickly, but current technology makes it impossible for humans or even our most advanced spacecraft to reach this speed.

Can people match the speed of a light year?

Einstein said it’s impossible to match the speed of light because it travels at 186,000 miles per second (300,000 kilometers per second). Light is the fastest thing in the universe. We can’t create anything that moves even a fraction as fast.

Some scientists theorize that a new type of engine, called a warp drive , could let humans reach the speed of light. However, even with this propulsion, traveling between star systems would still take thousands of years.

Despite challenges, scientists are optimistic about faster-than-light space travel. They believe one day we’ll explore new parts of our universe and discover life on other planets.

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Light Year Calculator

Table of contents

With this light year calculator, we aim to help you calculate the distance that light can travel in a certain amount of time . You can also check out our speed of light calculator to understand more about this topic.

We have written this article to help you understand what a light year is and how to calculate a light year using the light year formula . We will also demonstrate some examples to help you understand the light year calculation.

What is light year?

A light year is a unit of measurement used in astronomy to describe the distance that light travels in one year . Since light travels at a speed of approximately 186,282 miles per second (299,792,458 meters per second), a light year is a significant distance — about 5.88 trillion miles (9.46 trillion km) . Please check out our distance calculator to understand more about this topic.

The concept of a light year is important for understanding the distances involved in space exploration. Since the universe is so vast, it's often difficult to conceptualize the distances involved in astronomical measurements. However, by using a light year as a unit of measurement, scientists and astronomers can more easily compare distances between objects in space.

How to calculate light years?

As the light year is a unit of measure for the distance light can travel in a year , this concept can help us to calculate the distance that light can travel in a certain time period. Hence, let's have a look at the following example:

  • Source: Light
  • Speed of light: 299,792,458 m/s
  • Time traveled: 2 years

You can perform the calculation in three steps:

Determine the speed of light.

The speed of light is the fastest speed in the universe, and it is always a constant in a vacuum. Hence, the speed of light is 299,792,458 m/s , which is 9.46×10¹² km/year .

Compute the time that the light has traveled.

The subsequent stage involves determining the duration of time taken by the light to travel. Since we are interested in light years, we will be measuring the time in years.

To facilitate this calculation, you may use our time lapse calculator . In this specific scenario, the light has traveled for a duration of 2 years.

Calculate the distance that the light has traveled.

The final step is to calculate the total distance that the light has traveled within the time . You can calculate this answer using the speed of light formula:

distance = speed of light × time

Thus, the distance that the light can travel in 100 seconds is 9.46×10¹² km/year × 2 years = 1.892×10¹³ km

How do I calculate the distance that light travels?

You can calculate the distance light travels in three steps:

Determine the light speed .

Determine the time the light has traveled.

Apply the light year formula :

distance = light speed × time

How far light can travel in 1 second?

The light can travel 186,282 miles, or 299,792,458 meters, in 1 second . That means light can go around the Earth just over 7 times in 1 second.

Why is the concept of a light year important in astronomy?

The concept of a light year is important in astronomy because it helps scientists and astronomers more easily compare distances between objects in space and understand the vastness of the universe .

Can light years be used to measure time?

No , despite the name, you cannot use light years to measure time. They only measure distance .

Speed of light

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TRAPPIST-1 Is Only 40 Light Years Away! Wait. What?

  • Joelle Renstrom

Exactly how far away is this system? asks Joelle Renstrom. How long would it take to get there? Pictured: This artist's conception shows what the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system may look like, based on available data about their diameters, masses and distances from the host star. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

TRAPPIST  recently found a  solar system with seven planets , three of which are  potentially habitable . We know the galaxy teems with exoplanets — we’ve discovered  over 3,400  of them so far — but one reason for the excitement around this discovery is the proximity of this system: It’s only 40 light years away.

Only  40 light years.

Exactly how far away is this system? How long would it take to get there?

A light year is a measurement of distance based on the speed of light. Light travels at  186,282 miles per second . By my calculations, that’s 670,615,200 miles per hour, 16,094,764,800 miles per day, and 5,874,589,152,000 miles per year. Thus, the TRAPPIST-1 star system is roughly 235 trillion miles away.

Traveling at the speed of light, it would take approximately 40 years to reach TRAPPIST-1...which, in cosmic terms, is a neighborly jaunt.

To put that distance in perspective, the moon is 239,900 miles away; at their closest, Mars is 33.9 million miles away and Pluto is 2.66 billion miles away; the next closest star system,  Alpha Centauri , is approximately 25 trillion miles (4.3 light years) away.

But the distance is only half of the equation. The other part is how quickly a spacecraft can travel. Traveling at the speed of light, it would take approximately 40 years to reach TRAPPIST-1 (not taking  relativity   into account for simplicity’s sake), which, in cosmic terms, is a neighborly jaunt.

The problem is that we can’t travel anywhere near the speed of light. Most scientists believe that one-tenth the speed of light is when  relativity becomes a factor , and thus may represent the upper limit, but even that may be optimistic.

Most passenger planes top out at approximately 500 mph. The fastest aircraft, the X-15 plane designed by NASA and the U.S. Air Force, hit  4,520 miles per hour . NASA’s space shuttles reached  18,000 mph . At that speed, it would take approximately 165,000 years to arrive at Alpha Centauri and approximately 1,491,280 years to reach the TRAPPIST-1 system.

An artist's rendering of the surface of the exoplanet TRAPPIST-1f, located in the TRAPPIST-1 system in the constellation Aquarius. (Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech/T. Pyle (IPAC))

If this were Star Wars, Chewbacca would set the coordinates, and we’d initiate the  hyperdrive . If this were Babylon 5, we’d identify the  jump gate  nearest to this system and get there via hyperspace. If this were Battlestar Galactica, we’d spool up the FTL (faster than light) drive and jump.

But we have no idea how to do any of those things.

The size and payload of a spacecraft also determine its maximum velocity. A small, uncrewed spacecraft such as  New Horizons , which is currently near Pluto, can travel at over 36,000 miles per hour; it arrived at its destination in less than a decade. But if it wanted to head to Alpha Centauri, the trip would take another  80,000 years . Still, there are ways we can dramatically improve our propulsion systems to decrease travel time.

One possibility is a thruster that doesn’t require conventional fuel, such as  magnetoplasmadynamic thrusters ,  quantum vacuum plasma thrusters  (Q-thrusters), and/or  ion thrusters . NASA  recently tested out  the first two; while promising in concept, there’s still much left unknown — namely, the role of quantum forces. While this approach remains theoretical for now, its successful implementation could get crews to Mars in weeks, rather than seven to eight months, or a spacecraft to Alpha Centauri in about 30 years.

One idea common in science fiction is placing place crew members in a state of  suspended animation  for the long trip and then reawakening them upon arrival. While  trauma centers  have begun to use this approach by lowering patients’ body temperatures to induce hypothermia, buying time for surgeons to repair injuries such as gunshot wounds, there are hurdles to employing this technique for long-duration missions, as sci-fi writer  Kim Stanley Robinson points out . He raises the possibility of bringing frozen embryos on such a mission or using “generation ships” on which entire generations would live, reproduce and die onboard. But those bring challenges too.

...humanity has proven itself capable of meeting seemingly insurmountable challenges. In 1903, a New York Times editorial declared that making a “flying machine” would take at least one million years... Nine weeks later, the Wright Brothers made history.

While the TRAPPIST-1 discovery is deeply exciting, both because of its proximity and because it raises the possibility that life could exist in star systems we previously thought uninhabitable, getting ourselves or our spacecraft there is an immense challenge. But humanity has proven itself capable of meeting seemingly insurmountable challenges. In 1903, a  New York Times editorial  declared that making a “flying machine” would take at least one million years of mechanical and mathematical collaboration. Nine weeks later, the Wright Brothers made history at Kitty Hawk. Decades later, breaking the sound barrier in flight—at least, not without killing the pilot—seemed impossible. But in 1947,  Chuck Yeager did just that . In 1962, John F. Kennedy  told the American people  that we’d put a man on the moon before the end of the decade, despite being woefully behind in the Space Race. Seven years later, Neil Armstrong took a giant leap for mankind.

Who knows where the next leap will lead?

  • Astronomers Discover 7 Earth-Size Planets That May Be Habitable

Headshot of Joelle Renstrom

Joelle Renstrom Cognoscenti contributor Joelle Renstrom is a science writer whose work has appeared in Slate, The Guardian, Aeon, Undark and other publications. She also wrote the essay collection "Closing the Book: Travels in Life, Loss, and Literature." She teaches at Boston University.

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How long would it take to reach Trappist-1?

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Just last week, NASA announced its most exciting discovery in years (and that's saying something given that this happened recently. And this . And this, too ). They discovered that Trappist-1, a solar system only about 39 light years away, has seven Earth-sized planets that are all capable of hosting life .

It is an amazing discovery that has everyone's imaginations going wild. Seven new worlds? Are there oceans there? Animals? Plant life? Do they look like life on Earth at all? Are there creatures like... us? With civilizations, technology, inventions?

It is inevitable after hearing such groundbreaking news that someone will step forward and ask the question on everyone else's mind: When can we go there?

Let's answer that one together now.

The trip of your life... if you could make it

On the scale of the universe, 40 light years away is actually very close. If the universe was the size of our solar system, we'd practically be next-door neighbours.

But in the physical world, 39 light years is 369 trillion kilometres (229 trillion miles) away. Even if you were piggybacking on a beam of light, it would take around 39 years to get there. That is a crazy long trip (about as long as some of your parents have been alive!), but it is a length of time that a human being could technically survive.

The only problem?

Going as fast as the speed of light is impossible. So we'll need to look at the next available options. (Spoiler alert: they are a lot slower than we'd need them to be...)

Take the shuttle... better bring a book

When we think of humans going into space, we naturally think of the space shuttle. It's maximum speed sits at around 28,160 km/h (17,500 mph). That might be a lot faster than a car on the highway, but it would take 1.5 million years to reach Trappist-1.

New Horizons needs new technology

If we forgot about getting human beings there for a moment and just focus on getting a probe to the solar system, the options get a little better. New Horizons is the fastest spacecraft ever launched by humans. Its top speed of 51,500 km/h (32,000 mph) is twice as fast as the space shuttle. Though it would still need 815,000 years to reach Trappist-1.

Breakthrough Starshot gives us our best shot (if we actually build it)

Given present technology, actually observing Trappist-1 up close looks like wishful thinking. But there is one curious possibility (which we wrote about already last year ). It is called the Breakthrough Starshot, a pretty fitting name really. This involves sending a nanocraft ("nano" means super tiny) for a laser-propelled "sail" across the cosmos. In theory, it could travel at about 20% the speed of light. That's 216 million km/h (134 million mph)! And it would reach Trappist-1 in under 200 years. Not bad, right?

Unfortunately, this is still just a theory. No one has built the Starshot yet.

Still, don't lose heart, you space dreamers. Because you know what also moves really fast? The progress of the space program! It was only 60 years ago in 1957 that the Soviet Union launched Sputnik-1, the first artificial satellite. Since then, scientists and astronauts have achieved so much in exploring the our own solar system and beyond. Will you grow up to see pictures beamed back home from one of these brand new worlds?

Honestly? We wouldn't bet against it!

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The varied information you have on Owlconnect is wonderful for me to hear about, in a brief and informative way, about news that otherwise I might not know about. Thank you!

This is so cool! I’m gonna write a sort story about it next time our teacher tells us to write one!!! 😉

I think there would be aliens. Maybe they are blue

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How long would it take To travel 39 light years if we were to go to the new 7 habitual planets?

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Light Year Calculator

Master the cosmos: light year calculations simplified by newtum.

Embark on an interstellar journey with Newtum's Light Year Calculator. Unlock the secrets of the cosmos and measure astronomical distances in light years with a click. Let curiosity lead you into the depths of space.

Understanding the Astronomical Distance Measurement Tool

The Light Year Calculator is a sophisticated tool designed to convert vast cosmic distances into light years. It seamlessly translates the astronomical units, parsecs, and kilometers into a standard light year measurement, facilitating easier comprehension of space's enormity.

Decoding the Light Year Calculation Formula

Grasp the essence of converting cosmic distances using our Light Year Calculator. This formula is crucial for astronomers and space enthusiasts to understand the scale of the universe.

  • Define the input units (kilometers, astronomical units, parsecs).
  • Use the constant speed of light in a vacuum: approximately 299,792 kilometers per second.
  • Calculate the time it takes for light to travel the input distance in a year.
  • Translate the time into light years as the output.

Step-by-Step Guide: Utilizing the Light Year Calculator

Our Light Year Calculator is user-friendly and straightforward. Follow the simple instructions below, and you'll be able to calculate astronomical distances in light years effortlessly.

  • Enter the distance you want to convert into the calculator.
  • Select the unit of measurement for your input.
  • Click 'Calculate' to see the distance in light years.
  • Use the results for your astronomical research or curiosity.

Why Choose Newtum's Light Year Calculator? A Feature Showcase

  • User-Friendly Interface: Easy navigation and operation.
  • Instant Results: Immediate conversion into light years.
  • Data Security: All calculations are performed on your device, ensuring privacy.
  • Accessibility Across Devices: Use the tool on any device with a web browser.
  • No Installation Needed: Access directly online without downloading.
  • Examples for Clarity: Understand the concept with practical examples.
  • Transparent Process: Clear and open calculation method.
  • Educational Resource: A learning aid for students and educators.
  • Responsive Customer Support: Ready to assist with any queries.
  • Regular Updates: The tool stays current with the latest web standards.
  • Privacy Assurance: Your data never leaves your computer.
  • Efficient Distance Retrieval: Quick calculations for any distance.
  • Language Accessibility: Available in multiple languages.
  • Engaging and Informative Content: Makes learning about space fun.
  • Fun and Interactive Learning: Engage with the tool interactively.
  • Shareable Results: Easily share your findings with others.
  • Responsive Design: Adapts to any screen size for optimal viewing.
  • Educational Platform Integration: Can be incorporated into learning systems.
  • Comprehensive Documentation: Detailed guidance on using the tool.

Exploring the Applications and Uses of the Light Year Calculator

  • Calculate distances between stars and planets.
  • Assist in astronomical research and education.
  • Convert astronomical units and parsecs for space-related projects.
  • Enhance understanding of the universe's scale.
  • Aid in planning space missions and satellite launches.

Practical Examples: Understanding the Light Year Calculator Formula

For example, if an astronomical object is 93 million miles away (the approximate distance from the Earth to the Sun), the Light Year Calculator can determine how many light years that distance represents. Similarly, if another object is 2.5 million light years away (the distance to the Andromeda Galaxy), the Calculator helps visualize this immense distance in terms that are easier to understand.

Ensuring Data Security with Our Light Year Calculator

In conclusion, the Light Year Calculator stands as a testament to the power of modern technology fused with the user's need for security. All calculations are performed locally on your device, ensuring that your data remains with you. This tool is not just a simple calculator; it's a gateway to understanding the vastness of space while maintaining the utmost privacy. No data is sent to servers, which guarantees that your curiosity about the cosmos doesn't compromise your data security. Explore the universe with peace of mind, knowing that your interstellar inquiries are safe and sound.

Frequently Asked Questions: Light Year Calculator Insights

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IMAGES

  1. Exploring How Long It Would Take to Travel 20 Light Years

    how long to travel 39 light years

  2. How Long To Travel A Light Year At The Speed Of Light

    how long to travel 39 light years

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  6. Exploring the Time-Space Continuum: How Long Does it Take to Travel One Light Year?

    how long to travel 39 light years

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COMMENTS

  1. TRAPPIST-1: How Long Would It Take to Fly to 7-Planet System?

    TRAPPIST-1 is 39 light-years away from Earth, or about 229 trillion miles (369 trillion kilometers). It would take 39 years to get to its current location traveling at the speed of...

  2. How Long Would It Take To Travel A Light Year - Explaining Space

    NASA’s Juno spacecraft showcases incredible speed, hitting 165,000 mph (365,000 kmph). Imagine, even at this fast pace, it would still take 2,958 years to cover a distance of one light year, a testament to the vastness of space—approximately 5.88 trillion miles (9.46 trillion kilometers).

  3. Light Year Calculator

    Time traveled: 2 years. You can perform the calculation in three steps: Determine the speed of light. The speed of light is the fastest speed in the universe, and it is always a constant in a vacuum. Hence, the speed of light is 299,792,458 m/s, which is 9.46×10¹² km/year. Compute the time that the light has traveled.

  4. TRAPPIST-1 Is Only 40 Light Years Away! Wait. What?

    Traveling at the speed of light, it would take approximately 40 years to reach TRAPPIST-1 (not taking relativity into account for simplicity’s sake), which, in cosmic terms, is a neighborly...

  5. How long would it take, using existing technology, to travel ...

    I read an article stating a spacecraft traveling 38000 miles an hour would take approximately 80,000 years to travel 1 light year. If this is accurate, it will take 3,200,000 years to reach one of those planets.

  6. How long would it take to travel a light year? - SCREENSHOT

    The time that it takes humans to travel one light year is considerably longer than a year. To put it into context, it takes between six months and a year for us to reach Mars, which in light year terms, is 12.5 light minutes away.

  7. How long would it take to reach Trappist-1? - Owl Connected

    Even if you were piggybacking on a beam of light, it would take around 39 years to get there. That is a crazy long trip (about as long as some of your parents have been alive!), but it is a length of time that a human being could technically survive.

  8. How long would it take To travel 39 light years if we were to ...

    It would need about 17,565 years at this speed to travel a complete light-year. To compare, Proxima Centauri, the closest star to the Sun, is about 4.2 light-years. It will take 73,773 yeas to get to P.C. To go 39 light years just multiply 39 times 17, 565 Years = 298,705 YEARS-

  9. Space Travel Calculator | Uses Relativistic Rocket Formula

    Calculate how long it would take to reach planets, stars, or galaxies, as well as fuel mass, velocity and more!

  10. Fast-Track Cosmic Distances: Your Ultimate Light Year Calculator

    Use the constant speed of light in a vacuum: approximately 299,792 kilometers per second. Calculate the time it takes for light to travel the input distance in a year. Translate the time into light years as the output.