So – we’re all probably familiar with the infamous phrase, “Second star to the right and on until morning.” These are the directions given by Peter Pan when guiding his youthful, semi-volunteer captives to their new-found adventures in Neverland. These are also the directions used by starship captains in Star Trek. But, these are hardly the directions one would want to follow if they planned on reaching that star – or any destination, by morning!
Because of the unique nature of light being able to travel across exorbitantly long distances in space, the stars we look up and see can often times be deceiving when it comes to their location. After all, a star that is one million light years away would take us a million years to reach traveling at the speed of light. Since heavenly bodies like to move around the cosmos … that star is not “really” where we might visualize it to be, using line of sight.
Looking up at our little illustration, we can see that as we approached the star, it would begin to shift from the position where we thought it was. And, the closer we got, the more and more it would seemingly move as we neared its actual location. Ultimately, what should have been a straight line journey between the space ship and the yellow, twinkling star turned into a giant spiral through the cosmos (the green line).
While it sounds fantastic for childhood stories and the imagination – trying to follow a star to its actual location would be one extensively long trip. And, what was a million light year journey could now become a billion light year journey!
And, the moral of our story is, relying on Peter Pan navigation techniques is about as fun as a game of pin the tail on the donkey – when the tricksters spinning you around pointed you straight toward the road instead of the donkey!!!