Space travel is hard. Really hard. The human species has worked tirelessly since the launch of Sputnik in 1957 to make it possible to venture out to other worlds far away, and all we have to show for it, so far, is an American flag on the moon. Meanwhile, in the world of science fiction, entire civilizations have managed to stretch across whole galaxies and render it possible to hop between worlds in the matter of a few seconds. Our real world ambitions will never cease to fall short of what’s made possible on the silver screen.
In Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2, a rag-tag group of five superheroes have joined forces to fight against evildoers across the Andromeda Galaxy and proactively work to create a peaceful interstellar community. Protecting an entire galaxy means you need one hell of a mode of transportation in order to get around. And the key for the Guardians seems to be harnessing the advantages of a little thing called wormholes.
Spoilers for Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 follow.
See, in both Guardians films, people move around in good ol’ high-tech spaceships, but these vehicles themselves, while probably pretty fast, don’t seem to be jetting around at speeds faster-than-light — which they would need to be in order to explain how these people are going from planet to planet in a matter of minutes, or less.
Throughout both movies, our heroes refer to distances of travel as “jumps.” It’s never really explained what they mean by this, but based on the sequences of this travel, it seems to be referring to a network of specific intergalactic routes that make up an interstellar “highway” of sorts. To go from Point A to Point B, you might have to go through a series of multiple jumps — punctuated by points where one jump ends and another begins.
These “stops” lead to different planets. The whole network operates pretty similarly to a train station, except it’s in space. But during the movie, you notice a few things occurring that demonstrates that this space train is, well, kind of fucked up, and not entirely a comfortable way to travel. When forced to go through several dozen more jumps than is recommended, you start to see the faces of Rocket (Bradley Cooper), Groot (Vin Diesel), Yondu (Michael Rooker), and his lackey Kraglin (Sean Gunn) warping up like a horror movie version of Apple’s “Photo Booth” app. It’s extremely gnarly to watch.
But this part is key. Combined with the fact that we know the jumps are punctuated and only move along set routes, we can use all this information to infer that the jumps are referring to — as you probably guessed — wormholes!
A wormhole is basically a structure that connects two separate points in spacetime. Those points could be divided by light-years of distance or just a couple inches, or could exist in two different universes or even two different points in time itself. In the case of Guardians, we’re talking about wormholes that are confined to a single universe (for now, anyways).
Wormholes are already a theoretical concept, but if we’re talking about wormholes that are traversable by objects, then we really get into speculation. A wormhole that would let the Guardians travel around the Andromeda Galaxy would have to be made up of a theoretical form of matter we have yet to discover; it would probably be dark matter, but the verdict is still out on that.
However, this is more evidence that the jumps in the movie are wormholes, because a weird matter would foster weird physics, and that would explain why our heroes find themselves experiencing literal bends in spacetime across their bodies.
Regardless, what we want to know is how fast the Guardians might be traveling through a wormhole in order to zoom past thousands of light-years, and fight crime or whatever. During the movie, there’s a point where our heroes need to take 700 jumps to go from one point in the galaxy to get to Ego’s planet. That’s a staggering number of jumps that apparently exceeds the recommended limits of the ship they’re in. So obviously, they go.
We have no idea what the distance is between these two points, so let’s just hypothesize the Guardians start from exactly one end of the galaxy and Ego’s planet is located on the opposite end.
Andromeda is 220,000 light-years in diameter. Let’s also hypothesize that the wormhole jumps they are taking run straight through the center. Each jump would constitute approximately 314 light-years if there are 700 in total.
The Guardians move across the total distance in what seems to be portrayed as a time frame between 10 and 30 minutes. Let’s average that out to 20 minutes. That would mean the Guardians are moving at roughly 11,000 light-years per minute. Which means they’re zooming past about 35 jumps every minute.
That would mean each jump, each wormhole, lets the Guardians move about 35 jumps per minute. That’s 10,990 light years per minute. Or about 183 per second.
183 light-years per second: that’s the speed the Guardians travel at to save the … well, the galaxy.
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is in theaters now.
Correction: the original version of this story mistakenly calculated the speed the Guardians travel based on 50 jumps. The Guardians travel through 700 jumps, and the post has been updated to reflect this.