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Have we left the Milky Way galaxy?

The Milky Way galaxy is our home in the universe. It contains over 200 billion stars, including our own sun, and spans over 100,000 light years across. With such an enormous size, could it be possible that we have already traveled beyond the edges of our galaxy without even realizing it?

How big is the Milky Way?

The Milky Way galaxy is a large spiral galaxy with a diameter of about 100,000 to 200,000 light years. One light year is equivalent to about 6 trillion miles. For comparison, the distance between Earth and our nearest stellar neighbor, Proxima Centauri, is only 4.2 light years. So the Milky Way spans a truly vast amount of space.

Our solar system, with our sun and planets like Earth, orbits around the center of the Milky Way. We are located about 25,000 to 28,000 light years from the galactic center. Overall, the Milky Way contains over 200 billion stars, along with massive clouds of gas and dust that provide the raw materials for new stars to form.

Have we sent anything out of the Milky Way?

As far as we know, humanity has not yet been able to send any spacecraft or objects beyond the confines of the Milky Way. All of our exploration so far has occurred well within our home galaxy.

The farthest human-made object from Earth is the Voyager 1 probe, launched in 1977. It is currently about 14.5 billion miles from Earth, or about 153 AU (astronomical units – the distance from Earth to the Sun).

To leave the Milky Way, Voyager 1 would need to travel about 950,000 AU. So while Voyager 1 has crossed into interstellar space outside our solar system, it remains far inside the bounds of the Milky Way galaxy.

No existing technology would be able to propel Voyager 1 fast enough to exit the galaxy. It is traveling at about 38,000 mph relative to the Sun. At this speed, it would take Voyager 1 over 300 million years to cross the galaxy and leave the boundaries of the Milky Way behind.

How far have humans traveled in space?

The farthest humans have traveled from Earth is about 248,655 miles (400,171 km), which was the maximum distance reached by the Apollo 13 astronauts. Here are some key mission distances:

  • Apollo 11 (first Moon landing): 238,900 miles from Earth
  • Apollo 13 (furthest Moon mission): 248,655 miles from Earth
  • International Space Station: 254 miles above Earth

So even our farthest journeys into deep space have only been about 0.04% of the diameter of the Milky Way galaxy. The Moon is about 1 light second from Earth, while the nearest star Proxima Centauri is over 4 light years away. Leaving the galaxy entirely would require traveling over 100,000 light years from Earth.

Could we leave the galaxy in the future?

With future advancements in spacecraft propulsion and human lifespans, it is conceivable that humans could one day travel beyond the Milky Way. But this achievement remains firmly in the realm of science fiction for now.

One major limitation is propulsion technology. Chemical rockets are limited to speeds below about 45,000 mph. Ion drives can reach over 90,000 mph. But even the fastest hypothesized propulsion concepts like antimatter engines would take thousands to tens of thousands of years to reach another galaxy.

Nuclear pulse propulsion, using a series of nuclear explosions behind the craft, could potentially reach up to 5% the speed of light. This would enable travel to nearby galaxies in a reasonable timeframe. But such technology remains hypothetical and would require major innovations in materials science, energy production and spaceship design to become practical.

Are there plans to leave the galaxy?

There are currently no concrete, funded plans to send human travelers out of the Milky Way. A few visionary concepts exist:

  • Breakthrough Starshot – nanocraft propelled by lasers to 20% light speed. Could reach nearest star in 20 years.
  • Starwisp prototype – ultra-thin craft propelled by microwave beams. Could theoretically reach 3% light speed.
  • Daedalus Project – fusion spacecraft to reach Barnard’s Star (5.9 light years away) in 50 years.

But all of these concepts rely on technology that does not yet exist. For now, intergalactic travel remains firmly in the realm of science fiction and long-term speculation. Our focus remains on exploring our own solar system with advanced probes and hopefully sending humans to Mars in the coming decades.


Based on currently available evidence and spacecraft capabilities, humanity remains well within the confines of the Milky Way galaxy. While we have sent probes like Voyager 1 into interstellar space, they remain less than 0.1% of the way to the edges of the galaxy. With existing propulsion technology, it would take hundreds of thousands or millions of years to travel between galaxies.

Some advanced propulsion concepts like nuclear pulse, laser sails or antimatter drives could theoretically enable intergalactic travel on human timescales. But these remain speculative future technologies. For the next several decades at least, our exploration efforts will continue to focus closer to home – extending human presence into the solar system on the Moon and Mars.