We will never be able to make a Zoom call to Mars

Landing of Perseverance to Mars on February 18th, 2021 was one of the things that made the year 2021 start spectacularly.

Mars gets Closer

We now have high quality image, sound, and even video footage coming from Mars. And surely, we will get even better and better going there, and we may even bring soil back from Mars in 2029.

Mars in 2007, Wikipedia.

Perhaps Elon Musk has more ambitious goals of making people go to Mars (in 2026) even before than NASA’s sample return mission (in 2029), but it might be the case that SpaceX will need deadline extensions on that goal.

Regardless of the exact dates of these missions, it seems like we will eventually be on Mars. Firstly space crew, then, aspirant wealthy individuals, and, with a small probability, even colonies may be there one day. And let’s not forget the plans of making the climate (and the ecology) change in Mars, this time to the beneficial direction.

Mars is Sociologically farther than you Imagine

All those are good news, and hope-inspiring for the future of the humanity.

However there is a problem that none of us came up with a solution yet. Now, this issue is a far-future one. It is a concern on the colonies living on Mars, or any other planet. And it seems harder to solve this than it is to solve Terraforming.

You know, the light reaches from Earth to Mars in 3.03 minutes. And light speed, is the fastest thing. Ever. Nothing to beat it, not only practically, but also theoretically. This means, every fast-paced communication activity we do on the internet, is within the limitations of it. This poses a significant problem to the people that will potentially be living in other planets.

And saying this, is not enough to materialize the further implications of the situation in our minds. Let’s elaborate:

  • We will not be able to make Zoom calls with people living on Mars. And we will certainly not be able to see them face-to-face. Think of a constant Covid-19 quarantine, but without Zoom calls.
  • We will not be able to live-broadcast videos to Mars. This will prohibit streaming activities to be effective between Earth-and-Mars to a certain extent, Mars users will not be able to comment on the stream effectively.
  • We will not be able to make “phone” calls to Mars. You will never, ever have effective vocal conversation with anyone living in Mars. None of the people in Earth will.
  • We will not be able to effectively message with people living on Mars. No replies before 6.06 minutes. (not even “seen” or “delivered” ticks)

These are the low-level implications. What happens to social structures, when these low-level implications exist?

  • It will be hard to have a Martian co-worker. They will not reply fast, and it will not be their fault. That means economic activities between planets will be very limited, economy of planets will be isolated within themselves.
  • Debates will be very hard to resolve with people on Mars, because debates require rapid message-response cycle. Judicial, bureaucratic, and political processes, which take a lot of time already, will be infeasible between Earth and Mars, and every other planet.
  • Since many fun activities between Earth and Mars are non-feasible, most of the “fun” and “culture” will be self contained in planets. Martians will have their own internet culture, their own way of communicating and humor, and their own way of doing things. They will grow to be very different from us, eventually.

These effects only increase when we think of other planets. Within the solar system, the delay in minutes does not grow more than two magnitudes (256 minutes between Neptune and Earth). However, the closest solar system that we know, Proxima Centauri, is a whopping 4.24 year delay away.

4.24 years to send a message, 4.24 years to get a reply back. To make a comparison, in 18th century, it took 21 days to send a message from North America to Europe. The communication rate between different solar systems will be way worse than anything humanity has ever seen.

Is this really a problem?

We will not be going to Proxima Centauri or Mars, anytime soon anyway. So maybe we can solve this issue until we go there right?

Yes, it seems possible for our space-time-fabric-engineering capabilities to increase until we go to other solar systems. Bending space-time to decrease the distance between planets, in simpler words, forming wormholes might solve the light-speed-limitations issue.

After a wormhole is formed, we now have a short-distance bridge between two planets, so it is possible to perform rapid communication. Currently though, it is practically not possible for us to form a normal-sized wormhole, since it needs either a lot of energy, and/or a type of matter that we have never seen before in the universe. Even then, stabilizing a wormhole to get through it will be an issue.

Ability to form wormholes is as important rocket science itself, when it comes to forming inter-planetary systems. A good amount of research will be put into it, either before or after the concept of travelling to other planets gets more common.

Until then, making a Zoom call to Mars seems to be remaining impossible.

ml engineer @primer ai | sharing thoughts on computers and other geeky stuff