The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a wholly remarkable
book. It has been compiled and recompiled many times over many
years and under many different editorships. It contains
contributions from countless numbers of travellers and
The introduction begins like this:
"Space," it says, "is big. Really big. You just won't believe how
vastly hugely mindboggingly big it is. I mean you may think it's
a long way down the road to the chemist, but that's just peanuts
to space. Listen ..." and so on.
(After a while the style settles down a bit and it begins to tell
you things you really need to know, like the fact that the
fabulously beautiful planet Bethselamin is now so worried about
the cumulative erosion by ten billion visiting tourists a year
that any net imbalance between the amount you eat and the amount
you excrete whilst on the planet is surgically removed from your
bodyweight when you leave: so every time you go to the lavatory
it is vitally important to get a receipt.)
To be fair though, when confronted by the sheer enormity of
distances between the stars, better minds than the one
responsible for the Guide's introduction have faltered. Some
invite you to consider for a moment a peanut in Reading and a
small walnut in Johannesburg, and other such dizzying concepts.
The simple truth is that interstellar distances will not fit into
the human imagination.
Even light, which travels so fast that it takes most races
thousands of years to realize that it travels at all, takes time
to journey between the stars. It takes eight minutes from the
star Sol to the place where the Earth used to be, and four years
more to arrive at Sol's nearest stellar neighbour, Alpha Proxima.
For light to reach the other side of the Galaxy, for it to reach
Damogran for instance, takes rather longer: five hundred thousand
The record for hitch hiking this distance is just under five
years, but you don't get to see much on the way.