A Mass Effect: Andromeda thought experiment


If you follow The Nerdsmen on Facebook (you totally should, by the way) then you probably saw a while back a “Quick Science Post” regarding the upcoming game Mass Effect: Andromeda. In this post, I mentioned how travelling at the fastest proposed speeds in Mass Effect lore (15ly per day) it would still take over 500 years to arrive at the Andromeda galaxy. Turns out developer BioWare already thought of this and confirmed that the game takes place 500 years after the events of Mass Effect 3.

Well, here’s some more fun physics to consider before playing Andromeda.

When the speed of light simply isn’t fast enough

Let’s pretend for a minute that two ships leave Earth at the exact same time. One ship is the Hyperion, and the other is just a plain old ship that can’t seem to break that cosmic speed limit of nearly 3.00 x 10^8 m/s. Let’s call this ship Larry.

So Hyperion and Larry both depart Earth at the exact same time, the former using Mass Effect’s Element Zero to travel up to that 15 light years per day speed, the latter not going faster than the speed of light. The Andromeda galaxy is 2.5 million light years away, and as we discussed earlier, the good ship Hyperion will arrive approximately 600 years after departure. Larry, on the other hand, is going to take the entire 2.5 million years to arrive.

Now imagine being a passenger on either ship. The crew of the Hyperion is going to arrive much, much sooner than the crew of the Larry, and as such will be responsible for colonizing, safeguarding, and establishing humanity’s place among their stars. They’ve got plenty of time to do so, seeing as how Larry is still about 2.49999 million years out. The crew of the Larry will arrive to a galaxy full of human life, vast human colonies and technology like they’ve never seen. It would be like rocketing a hominin from the lower paleolithic era to modern-day 2017. Needless to say, the crew of the Larry, having expected to arrive in a barren galaxy, would be in for a shock.

The best part of this is that for both ships, the travelling time is nearly instantaneous. From the reference plane of the object travelling at light speed, there is almost no delay between departure and arrival, as is the case with photons traipsing across the cosmos from the early days after the big bang.

So if you’re aboard the Hyperion, then you alone will have to tame the Andromeda cosmic wilderness. If you’re aboard the Larry, then just sit back and relax. Everything will have been done for you over two million years ago by the crew you were just saying goodbye to the hour before.

Science is cool.


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