The Five Star Stories: The eponymous Five Stars are most commonly referred to as "The Joker Star Cluster", even though real clusters have several thousand stars, but it's also referred to as The Joker Galaxy, which is even worse, and The Joker Constellation, which doesn't make sense either, since constellations are only called as such by people who can see them from a distance (and from one specific location. If you were to look at the constellation "Ursa Major" from the side, it wouldn't look anything like what we thought it would). It could possibly be a star cluster if the Five Stars are just the only ones with habitable planets out of a cluster of thousands. It could also be a multiple star system of five stars orbiting a common center of mass.
The title theme song for the 1963 version of Astro Boy starts with: "Astro Boy, past the stars / On your way out to Mars!" Talk about taking the scenic route....
Voltron's opening narration mentions how a Galaxy Alliance was formed "with the good planets of the solar system" to maintain "peace throughout the universe".
The Marvel Universe, despite usually playing this trope like a fiddle, has an aversion in Captain Marvel. Even though Mar-Vell's Flight is capable of reaching and sustaining escape velocity (7 miles per second) he realizes that it would still take him ten hours to reach the moon roughly 250,000 miles away.
Not that reaching escape velocity matters as long as you can maintain that speed. The escape velocity is only important if you get kicked from Earth at the speed and have no other means to propulse yourself.
New Avengers #19-20. Iron Man has a space-ready suit that breaks Earth's atmosphere to reach a small asteroid where Earth is seen with enough stars to look like a shot from Hubble. Retreating from a cosmic being who can fly across North America easily, Iron Man flies in an arc that goes behind our view of Earth, which looks like he's traveled more than 1/4 the diameter of the planet. He goes back to Earth's surface on Genosha, an island the size of the country Malawi, that looks like it could be jogged across when Magneto is levitated over it. Iron Man again goes from Earth's surface to space, keeping up with the Sentry near the moon. The Sentry travels from here to the sun and stares a couple feet away from its surface, which looks like a distance shot or a small model. Iron Man goes from space to back on Genosha. This whole sequence takes less than a day.
Someone forgot just how far sending reaches in ElfQuest: The Searcher and the Sword. There are two bits worked out here: First, the troll tunnels that are so far underground that sending can't reach them, and secondly, Shuna and her friends being so far away from the hole that Dart must extend his sending "past the limits of his own range". Despite that, a half-dozen elves manage to clamber up a nearly vertical tunnel from the troll tunnels to the surface — without getting exhausted doing so, or, for that matter, losing breathable air. And just after Dart pushes his thoughts "past the limits of his own range," he leads Shuna in a wild dash for maybe a few blocks' worth of forest.
Another Marvel example, this time an aversion: When Quasar (Wendell Vaughn) visits Uranus (stop snickering) to explore the supposed origin of his power bands, the trip takes over two years, requiring hibernation and artificial life-support.
He's able to go back in just a few minutes, but that's because on Uranus he discovered The Quantum Zone.
In another issue of Quasar, a group of super-speedsters all have a race to the Moon. Despite their very high speeds, it takes them hours to get there. Mark Gruenwald actually did quite a bit of research for Quasar.
Lampshaded in Starman. When Jack Knight goes into space in a rocket that can travel faster than light, he assumes that getting to the Large Magellanic Cloud will be a cinch. He is told that it will take in excess of 80,000 years.
Antarctic Press: In Gold Digger, the main cast travels to the planet where another cast member's people originally came from to colonize Earth, 50,000 years before, in about one day. The planet is 500 million light years away - which would land it well, WELL outside the Virgo supercluster (The supercluster which the galactic cluster which the local group of galaxies which our galaxy is a part of, is a part of, is a part of) - a distance that can be drawn quite visibly on a reasonably-sized map of the universe. The distance has since been amended to five thousand light years. It is also never explained how these people decided to colonize a planet that is so very far away from them.
At the start of the Aliens: Female War miniseries, Aliens are running rampant on the Earth, across multiple continents. Our heroes dump a queen alien and a bomb in a bunker in the middle of America, wait for her to call all the aliens on Earth to her, and then set off the bomb, thus eliminating all aliens on Earth. It's implied the waiting is not longer than a few hours. How did aliens halfway around the world get to the bunker in a few hours, given that they're not shown piloting vehicles? In the novel version of Aliens: Female War, the heroes decide to set the bombs timer for six months, to allow the aliens to get there from all over the planet.
The Green Lantern corps divides the entire Milky Way galaxy into 3600 sectors, each of which is patrolled by two Green Lanterns. This means each pair of Green Lanterns has to police a region of space equal to a cube 1300 light-years on a side. On average, such a region would contain about a million stars, and that's not even including red dwarfs and brown dwarfs.
Even worse: there are some continuities where they are divided into 3600 sectors across the UNIVERSE. Take the ridiculousness of the number of star systems patrolled in the above example, and apply it to entire galaxies.
Not quite as bad, but still pretty weird, at one time, some bright spark at DC had the idea that each sector was a circular segment (they didn't mention depth) that spanned 1/10th of a degree, centred on Oa. A simple calculation shows that this gives each GL a sector shaped like a piece of pie, varying in width from zero at the "point" (Oa) to over 100 light-years at the "crust" end (at the edge of the galaxy); what happens about the galactic halo, and distances normal to the plane of the main disc was never mentioned. If there are 3600 sectors to the universe, the whole thing becomes even crazier!
Avatars II When Qwaritch Takes Revenge has the titular Miles Qwaritch leaving Earth and returning to Pandora in the 4 minutes 35 seconds that the song Welcome to the Jungle lasts. We don't know where Pandora is or how fast spaceships are in the original film, but it's clearly not in our solar system and it is canonically stated that it takes years to arrive there and that people travel in a state of induced hibernation.
Films — Live-Action
This one is pretty hard to believe, usually science fiction writers overshoot, send something too far or list too many lightyears. But on the back of the DVD/Blu-ray box for the movie Pandorum claims that the ship the movie takes place on is a mere 500 miles away from the planet earth.
Not so much a problem of distance as of volume, but the movie has starships flying so close together (while in orbit!) that one of them crashes into another when shot. Space is big, there's plenty of room. If you're flying within visual distance of another ship and you're not trying to dock with them (or ram them, which is another problem entirely), something is wrong.
There's also the issue of the bugs directing an asteroid at a planet half a galaxy away and hitting. They're also patient enough to wait centuries (if not millennia) for that to happen, given the asteroid's speed.
It's hinted at (in the film) that the asteroid impact was a coincidence and that it was used to fuel a propaganda campaign and help to launch an aggressive invasion of the bug planet. The novel contains no such reference, and does not show the asteroid, so it could have been launched with some kind of propulsion system to make it travel at faster-than-light speeds.
It is actually impossible unless the asteroid was fired at FTL, since crossing the galaxy at the speed of light would take on the order of 100,000 years. However, the asteroids are not shown to have a propulsion system or other system to escape relativity. At speeds that could be achieved without some kind of sci-fi drive, the bugs would have had to fire the asteroid at where earth would be in the present. They would have fired sometime around the emergence of modern humans at earth's position tens of thousands of years into the (then) future, even though they first encountered humanity within the last decade or so. Huh.
On the other hand, an asteroid travelling at FTL speed would have pulverized earth, given the fact that even *normal* asteroids have an impact power of dozens of metric tons per cm^3.
And the asteroid fired by the bugs grazes Carmen's ship. Given the sizes and scales involved, this is so incredibly unlikely that it defies all attempts at reason. It's something like an astronaut orbiting Earth and an astronaut orbiting Pluto throwing pebbles at each other. Then the pebbles actually collide while en route many years later. Only even more unlikely.
The eponymous Paul has said that he comes from the "northern spiral of the Andromeda Galaxy". Aren't there plenty of nice spirals in the Milky Way? If "northern" means "galactic north", then the "northern spiral arm" of a galaxy is sort of like the northernmost point on the equator...
In the original theatrical and VHS extended cuts of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, the V'Ger cloud was described as "82 AUs" in diameter. In the DVD director's cut, the "eighty-" part is removed. While at first glance, it seems like 2 AUs is a bit too far in the other direction, when you consider (a) the fact that an AU (astronomical unit) is the distance from the Earth to the Sun, 150 million kilometers or a little over eight light-minutes, (b) that the Star Trek Encyclopedia pegs the Enterprise's top sublight speed around 0.25c, and (c) the amount of time spent just sitting there... the math actually (kinda) works!
In Star Trek V: The Final Frontier Kirk is shown to be on Earth at the beginning. After Sybok commandeers the Enterprise, he heads for the center of the galaxy (according to Chekov they travel at warp 7). The entire journey from Earth to the center of the galaxy would take decades, yet in the film it happens in just a day or two.
At the beginning of the same film a Klingon vessel shoots up the Pioneer 10 probe. Unless it fell through a Negative Space Wedgie like V'Ger or was tethered by some warp-capable species for whatever reason, they are less than 1/100th of a light year away from Earth.
And then, in Star Trek: Generations, Malcolm McDowell's fiendish plot involves blowing up a star.. with a dinky little rocket that is perhaps maybe 12 feet long, tops, and does not at all appear to have a warp drive - based on its contrail and that it doesn't immediately blink out of sight upon activation, and yet still somehow manages to hit the sun about 8 seconds after being launched. Red Letter Media calls this 'Wile E. Coyote Logic' and it's kind of hard to deny it. Also, the when the star goes dark, this occurs almost immediately after the missile hits it. In reality, a planet orbiting in the habitable zone around the star should have been at least several light-minutes away, resulting in a delay before the change in the star's brightness could be seen from the planet.
This was a movie in which stopping all fusion in a star caused its mass to be reduced to zero. Even Wile E. Coyote can see what's wrong with that logic.
Then there's the star immediately going dim when the missile hits it. OK, even accepting the idea that the missile could turn off all the nuclear reactions in the star, a Sun-like star would still take at least several hundred thousand years to start to dim once you turned off the nuclear reactions.
And then yet again, there's the fact that even if you could turn off the star's nuclear reactions, it's own gravity would immediately start to implode it - whereupon this would re-ignite the fusion reactions in the core (stars start as Jupiter-like planets that spontaneously begin nuclear fusion when their mass becomes high enough that the gravity starts causing fusion. You could only "stop" them by removing enough mass to stop the reaction.)
In the 2009 Star Trek, a supernova destroys Romulus. Now, the Romulans have faster-than-light travel and an interstellar empire. The blast wave from a supernova only travels at the speed of light (this is ironically established as canon in Star Trek: Generations, even though light apparently travels faster-than-light in that movie). This raises the question of how the Romulans failed to notice a nearby star collapsing and getting ready to go supernova, and how, in all the years it would have taken the blast wave to reach Romulus, they failed to do anything about it.
Scotty states the current limitations of the transporter technology to be that you can transport a grapefruit-sized object about a hundred miles away. Which makes absolutely zero sense when in the same movie people are transported across orbiting distances which are clearly more than that, and this is presuming the beaming location is the closest point directly "under" the orbiting vessel. Sputnik 1 orbited higher than hundred miles, and it was still close enough for atmospheric drag to cause orbital decay.
The movie opens with the discovery of a Negative Space Wedgie. On radio chatter, we hear discussion of whether or not it's due to the Klingons. The response is "No, the Klingon border is 75,000 kilometres away!". That's orders of magnitude less than even the distance to the star in the same shot. For comparison, telecommunications satellites in geosynchronous orbit around Earth are at about half the stated distance.
In fairness, it's like standing a few feet away from the US-Mexico border fence. It may seem like a completely insignificant distance, but it's still there.
Directly continuing with the supernova problem, Star Trek Online takes place in the main Star Trek universe after the events of this movie. While not considered canon by Paramount and CBS themselves, the storyline was written by the same head writer for everything in the series from the later half of The Next Generation onward. If this was canon, then this would be Word of God. There are a few missions where the player must investigate and see if they can find out anything new about the supernova that destroyed Romulus (as explained by Spock in the film), and how a supernova could destroy a planet located in another sector entirely. No clear answer is given, but the writers seemed to be aware of this trope's problem by invoking an Author's Saving Throw. All in all, even the writers acknowledge that the whole thing just does not make any sense. While no explanation is given to just how it ended up happening, what is revealed is that a superweapon was deployed By a Romulan Praetor who was taking orders from the long-thought-extinct Iconians that caused it.
On the other hand though, there are still a few quirks and such that they didn't think too much about. The most obvious being that Wolf 359 is located about 3 lightyears away from Earth. Wolf 359 is a real star, but it's located 7.8 lightyears away.
The 1951 movie The Day the Earth Stood Still features an alien emissary named Klaatu who claims to have arrived from a planet "250 million miles" from Earth. This would place his homeworld somewhere in the Sun's asteroid belt.
The planets aren't all in a line. It's possible for Mars to have been 250,000,000 miles from Earth at that time. Now it's a simple matter of accepting that Klaatu is Martian.
The 1997 movie Contact gets distance ridiculously wrong in its intro sequence. It's supposed to be a montage of Terran radio signals that get older the farther away from Earth the viewing audience gets, except that "Boogie Oogie Oogie" from 1978 can clearly be heard near Mars (which is actually only about four light-minutes from Earth).
The planets themselves are waaaay too close together in that sequence. It's still fun to watch, though.
It wasn't trying to show the passage of time, it was just someone flipping to an oldies station.
Neill Blomkamp, the director of District 9 claims that the Prawns come from the Andromeda galaxy to mine ore from alien planets, and live on their ships for thousands of years at a time. Unless they've stripmined the entire galaxy, which sounds impossible considering their technological level, it makes little sense that they'd have anything to do in the Milky Way. It would be so much easier to say that they're just a few dozen lightyears away from home.
Spoofed in The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, when Betty comments that the aliens came "over a thousand miles" to get to Earth. You might say that...
In Prince of Space, the Phantom of Krankor mentions that his planet is "half a million miles" from the Earth. For reference's sake, the moon is about a quarter of a million miles away.
In the Sean Connery film Meteor, a manned Mars probe is redirected to investigate a comet passing through the asteroid belt. This "slight" course correction takes them a few hours out of their way, suggesting they're either traveling several million miles an hour, or that they'd begun their journey to Mars from Jupiter.
In Superman III, the villains hack into a weather satellite, and then send it to planet Krypton's original location to do an analysis of the kryptonite. So apparently someone built a weather satellite that can do geological surveys, and also fly across the galaxy faster than light. Plus finding Krypton in the first place. It's also capable of controlling the weather, rather than just observing it. That's some satellite!
Worse, in the first Christopher Reeve Superman movie, Krypton is stated to be in another galaxy. This weather satellite isn't merely crossing interstellar distances, it's crossing intergalactic distances.
With a movie as preposterous as Superman 3, it's hard to care about this howler, but even in Superman 1, here's the chain of "logic" Lex Luthor follows to (correctly!) deduce that some of the fragments of Krypton must have drifted to Earth: "Superman says his planet blew up in 1948. He took 3 years to come here. Given the precise location of the galaxy that he mentions...". Whether Krypton is in another galaxy or just around the celestial corner, there is no way that anything could have "drifted" that far, let alone just happen to move in exactly the right direction.
At least, the cartoons show that when the cradle/starship opened the jump window to get to Earth, some of the green rocks flying alongside entered the window along with the ship.
In Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings Gandalf somehow travels from the Shire to Isengard (a distance comparable to going from England to Germany) in the same time it takes the hobbits to walk from Hobbiton to Buckland (maybe a day's journey). And this is before he gets his magical steed Shadowfax!
This is because in the book it takes longer for them to travel to Buckland. Also after Gandalf leaves, Frodo sells his house and several of his things. Obviously none of this happens in the movie.
And a wizard is never late. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.
While Mission to Mars gets many things wrong (you can find a pretty comprehensive explanation here), there are 2 pretty glaring misconceptions of scale in the movie. First, when the second crew's spaceship gets damaged, they bail out in their spacesuits and try to make their way to an autonomous module orbiting Mars, which just happens to be a few kilometers away from their ship. Not only would there be an extremely low chance of that, but any normal astronaut would keep their ship far away from another object while performing difficult maneuvers such as orbital insertion. The other example is when they show the Martians leaving en masse after their planet is ruined, and their ships are shown to be heading for another galaxy. What's wrong with this one? Didn't realize the Milky Way was a bad neighborhood. It's not exactly the same as moving to another town. You can clearly see the other galaxy with the naked eye.
There's even more problems with the scene where they abandon ship. The crew was preparing to fire their engines for orbital insertion, a procedure which normally involves changing your velocity on the order of thousands of miles per hour (and Mars is no exception). Yet the ship they were going to rendezvous with was floating nearby, traveling at the same velocity. So either the rendezvous ship was also on a hyperbolic orbit out of the Mars system, or their ship was already orbiting Mars.
In The Empire Strikes Back the Millenium Falcon, with a disabled hyperdrive, decides to head for Bespin for repairs. One problem: The ship was in the Anoat System to begin with. No, Bespin is not in the Anoat System. That means the Millenium Falcon had to go from one star system to another without a working FTL drive. A trip like that is going to take YEARS. Maybe MANY, MANY years depending on the exact distance, but in no case would it be a short trip. Bad enough for the passengers and crew of the Millenium Falcon, but one wonders how Boba Fett passed the time in Slave-1 as he followed them there. The early RPGs went so far as to introduce the concept of Backup Hyperdrives to compensate for this. It's not quite made clear why they didn't just use that when they were being chased by the Star Destroyers, though a little bit of Fan Wank can massage it into being too impractical to hook up under battlefield conditions, especially given the ramshackle nature of the Millenium Falcon that can barely keep its primary hyperdrive functioning.
The movie version of Battleship has the aliens come from Gliese 581 g, after we send a radio message to them. We can buy that the aliens get here fast (they're aliens; presumably they have faster than light travel), but the beacon we set up hasn't been transmitting for more than a couple of years. Gliese 581 g is 20.5 light-years from Earth, so the aliens aren't going to hear our message for a while.
The Oblivion 2013's backstory includes a manned mission to Saturn's moon Titan in 2017- four years from now. NASA doesn't even have concrete plans for a mission to Mars.
The Epic of Gilgamesh invokes this trope without leaving the surface of Earth. When you add up all the distance that Gilgamesh and Enkidu crossed to reach Humbaba and his cedar forest, you shoot way past Mesopotamia and end up in northern Siberia or the tip of South Africa or something. And yet they have no trouble floating the timber back home on a river when they're done. And you can't even say that they got lost and traveled more distance than they needed to, because they simply had to follow that same river upstream.
While the work is obviously exaggerated (it's more fantasy than science fiction in modern terms), in the era before humanity got involved in long-distance naval navigation distance traveled was usually measured by the length of the _path_, not the length of the grand circle arc between start and destination. Any time you go up a steep slope, switchbacks on the order of 10:1 path to forward distance ratios are common, and where actual mountains/foothills or river valleys are involved 100:1 is not unheard of in short bursts.
While it's not science fiction, George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire qualifies. Although it's set on a continent about the size of South America (to judge by the distances given), distances are treated as much smaller when the plot demands.
David Eddings' The Tamuli trilogy justifies something similar. The protagonists cover massive continental distances in short periods of time (as in, less than several months). An in-universe historian trying to explain it comes up with a Hand Wave about different calendars. The real answer is that the goddess traveling with them was cheating with space and time a bit.
Anne McCaffrey's The Death of Sleep has the protagonist's ship gets damaged, and she has to put herself into cryo in a lifeboat to have any chance of being found. The book goes out of its way to point out that if some benevolent aliens hadn't led a guy in a ship to her, she probably would never have been found.
In another McCaffrey work, distances between places on the planet Pern appear to vary as the plot demands. In one story it can be several days travel by horseback ("runnerbeast") from point A to point B, in another, a few hours. The fan community calls this Anne's "rubber ruler".
One of James White's Sector General stories features victims from a space collision — and spends nearly three pages, A6 paperback, detailing the series of coincidences and bad judgment calls that managed to make it happen.
Sneakily averted by Douglas Adams, who concocted the Infinite Improbability Drive to get around the mind-boggling odds against Ford and Arthur being saved by another ship in the vastness of space, by making mind-boggling odds the very thing that powers their rescue ship. And then bumped those odds up to Infinite by having both Ford's semi-cousin and Trillian, the apparent only other survivor from Earth, be piloting it: something he couldn't plausibly have pulled off otherwise, again due to space's sheer size.
Both averted and lampshaded in the form of the Total Perspective Vortex, a device which, when hooked up to a person's mind, will give them a perfectly clear conception of both the entire universe (as extrapolated from a small piece of fairy cake) and themselves in proportion to it. This has the effect of instantly and painfully annihilating their mind (unless that person is inside an artificial universe created entirely for their benefit), conclusively proving that the last thing anyone living in a universe this size needs is a good sense of perspective.
A misunderstanding of the title of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea would imply Nemo diving by more than the diameter of the planet. Verne used a metric league, equaling four kilometres. Verne intended, and contemporary readers understood, the title to mean a journey of 20,000 leagues while under the sea. This is equivalent to two complete circumnavigations of the Earth.
A better translation of the title, from the original French, would be "20,000 Leagues Under theSeas."
The Hunger Games: Each district of Panem is portrayed on a map as being the size of at least one or more real-life US State. Regardless, the inhabitants of each district seem to be concentrated in a single town or city. What are they doing with all that extra space?
Could well be that it was allowed to grow wild and that the population is drastically reduced to where they would plausibly live in a few megasettlements where they can be much more easily controlled— there are some fringe conspiracy theories that claim that a shadowy cabal wants to do the same thing in Real Life.
Belisarius Series: The Malwa are pictured sending orders trying to direct covert operations in Constantinople. Given the technology of the time period they might as well have been sending orders to the moon.
While not exactly easy, the authors do go to the effort to make it a possibility - a large spy network in Rome and Persia set up to allow the messages to be passed back and forth, in a similar way to real-world royal couriers by supplying ready remounts. The one time we have a specific sense of how fast an order travels, it takes about the same time as it takes Belisarius and co. to make it to the same city - in other words, the order travelled at the speed at which people could move.
Alan Dean Foster's Humanx Commonwealth has a thriving merchant trade. There would have to be millions of ships running nonstop routes between every star system to deliver even a fraction of the goods required to sustain an economy the size of the Commonwealth's. On the other hand, The Tar-Aiym Krang posits a concept both unique in space opera and brilliant; it is impossible to patrol interstellar space! If you don't travel within sensor range of a monitored system, you can go anywhere you want.
The aforementioned Starship Troopers example occurs in the book too. Johnny explains that the ships were attempting to drop their Mobile Infantry in a meaningful formation... though he does not mention if one of them was hit by G-to-A, only that they collided, which opens the door to major piloting error. (This is also just one disaster in a battle where everything goes wrong. "I've heard it called a strategic victory... but I was there, and I claim we took a terrible licking.")
This is certainly older than space opera. Rudyard Kipling wrote a couple of science fiction stories about air travel in the 21st Century, and made his atomic powered airships pretty convincing given that hydrogen blimps were still cutting edge technology. But when it comes to speeds and distances, he treats them as if they were steamers in the English Channel. In one memorable howler, a captain gets so mad at another airship's dangerous handling that, too angry to use the radio, he opens the cockpit (Kipling also overlooked pressure changes with altitude, which was pure research failure, because any balloonist could have told him) and yells at the other captain across the intervening space.
Writers in the Star Wars Expanded Universe generally are aware that space is big, and they try to avert this (although a depressingly large number keep revisiting the planets established by the movies for no good reason). In the first book of The Thrawn Trilogy, Luke flees from a Star Destroyer by going into hyperspace, and since his X-wing is damaged it falls back into realspace after he's gone about half a light year - and he's stranded impossibly far from anything, only likely to be found on accident since his communications systems have gone out. On two occasions TIE fighters, which have no hyperdrives, struck out on their own and couldn't really get that far before life support ran out: an alien fleeing genocide nearly died before reaching the nearest system, and a handful of deserters had to turn back to the ship they'd abandoned when they ran out of atmosphere scrubbers.
Some authors apparently decided to balance these efforts by putting in some egregious errors. For example in New Jedi Order Sernpidal, a planet that orbits its star at the same distance our moon orbits Earth. While this could potentially work were Sernpinal's star a White Dwarf it is also the third (or fifth, there are conflicting accounts on Wookiepedia) planet of that star system.
David Weber practically inverts this: ships in his books routinely battle at ranges of millions of kilometers or more.
In the first Ringworld novel, the main characters spend a (Earth) year exploring what turns out to be only a very small fraction of the Ringworld's surface because of its immense size. In addition, even with faster-than-light travel (that has a constant rate of one light-year traveled per three days), the Ringworld is almost two years away from Earth, travelwise.
One alien species on the Ringworld once created a massive empire covering 1/10 of one degree of arc...in other words, larger than all the planets in our solar system combined.
And in Protector he gives us a running interstellar space battle conducted entirely at sublight speeds - which gives a whole new order of magnitude to the saying "long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of terror."
Several times in Inheritance Cycle the distances are ridiculously skewed. One of the more egregious examples is in the first book when Eragon and Murtagh need to cross a river to escape pursuing enemies. The river is stated to be five leagues wide at the point they're trying to cross. The author seems unaware that one league is equal to about three miles, making the river fifteen miles wide and yet they have no trouble getting themselves, their horses, and a dragon across this river before their enemies, which are close enough to be heard, can catch up to them. There are also several instances of characters traveling thirty or more miles between breakfast and lunch while on foot.
Averted in Ender's Shadow. By analyzing a completely random book, Bean determines that it's impossible for the International Fleet to protect the Solar System in three-dimensional space, especially since it would only take a single Formic ship to slip through the defenses to Earth and launch nukes at cities. This ends up being proven by Ender when he throws his fleet at the Formic homeworld despite the thousands of defense ships; several ships make it through and activate the Little Doctor.
In the Grand Finale of Smallville, Apokolips simply moved way too fast. Not to mention somehow the Earth and the Moon is next after it just went past Saturn...
Blake's 7 showed someone laying mines all around the Milky Way galaxy to keep out aliens. This is simply impossible. By the time you gathered enough matter to build this minefield, there'd be no Milky Way galaxy left.
Blake's 7 uses "galaxy" and "solar system" interchangeably. Travis on one occasion spots the Liberator and crows, "There he is! I knew he'd have to return to this galaxy!"
Despite traveling from Earth to the edges of the galaxy and back, there was a part of the galaxy it would take them centuries to travel across.
Blake's 7 is awful with this trope. Almost every single exterior shot shows a dozen planets in the frame, all big enough to make out surface details and arranged more-or-less completely randomly. Another technique they used was having the alien-designed Liberator measure speeds using a completely different system than the Federation, presumably due to having a different type of FTL engine (Standard by X, as opposed to Time Distort X). Due to the unfamiliar cockpit, none of the Liberator crew seems to ever figure out exactly how fast "standard" is, all they know is that it maxes out at Standard By 12, which is (evidently) faster than anything the Federation has. Even more confusing, the Time Distort measure seems to be non-linear, while the Standard measure is linear.
A Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode featured a mine field around a solar system. While this is much more plausible than mining a galaxy (in the way that swimming across the Atlantic is more plausible than swimming across the Pacific), they did it in a 2-D plane, so that anyone trying to avoid this minefield could simply fly over or under it. Even then, they were building it at a rate that would have taken them hundreds of years to complete. A later episode averted this with a space minefield around a very small area (the opening of a wormhole) with a realistically long time spent laying it (or rather, using matter replicators to let it lay itself - but that just gets into Energy usage, below).
In the Star Trek: The Next Generation two-part episode "Redemption", the Federation needs to prevent the Romulans from using their cloaked ships to deliver supplies to one of the factions in a Klingon civil war. To do this, 23 Federation starships create a "tachyon detection grid" that somehow covers the entire Klingon-Romulan border, which would have to be fairly small for something like that to work, even though on most maps it looks like it would be thousands of square light years if you factored in three dimensions.
In the pilot episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine the station starts off in orbit over Bajor, but Sisko orders it moved to a position near the mouth of the wormhole. That must have been a considerable distance, since never again is the station seen to be close enough to Bajor that the planet is visible from the station at any angle. Not bad for only having 6 working thrusters considering the trip was completed in only a few minutes. Later in the series it's mentioned that the trip back to Bajor was a few hours by Runabout (this is justified in that warp drive within a star system is a major no-no).
The did at least have a Hand Wave in the episode: They reconfigured the shield emitters to create a low-level warp field around the station, increasing the effective thrust of the thrusters by rather a lot.
Also remember that the wormhole is supposed to be in the "Denorios Belt", a charged plasma field that is naturally hazardous to shipping... something the size/mass/structural strength of the station could batter its way through, but the runabouts are gloried shuttles and prone to going off-course/getting lost with monotonous regularity.
The series did get a bit better with distances. In several episodes, the cast get stuck without warp drives. It was noted that planets that had taken a few hours to get to at warp speed would now take years if not DECADES to get back with impulse engines (in "A Time to Stand" this was a real problem, since the ship the were on only had several weeks worth of field rations). Only the intervention of friendly, warp capable ships, saved the crew from a long trip back home.
In the Star Trek: Voyager episode "Renaissance Man," The Doctor complies when aliens capture Captain Janeway and demand Voyager's warp core in exchange for her release. His justifcation: "Voyager can survive without its warp core... but not without its captain." No. The ship was in interstellar space, and the warp core is a critical component in the ship's warp drive. Without it, the ship can only travel at sublight speed using its impulse engine. In interstellar space, losing the FTL drive is a death sentence. And you thought their trip to Earth was a long one WITH the warp drive... That's nothing compared to a sublight journey to the nearest star! Surely losing Janeway, while tragic, would be preferable. At most, one can claim they could rebuild the warp core, like they managed to keep rebuilding those warp-capable shuttle craft (possibly from those warp-capable shuttle craft).
Star Trek: The Original Series was better with this in some episodes than in others (as with most tropes). There were battles sequences where the enemy ship was shown on the viewscreen as coming out of the far distance, firing, and passing out of view, and others where it seemed to always be in visual range.
In the third season of Star Trek: Enterprise they introduce the Delphic Expanse, a mysterious region full of Negative Space Wedgies and other assorted mysterious phenomenon that is visually distinct from normal space and impossible to see into (or through). Humans have no idea it exists. It's described as 2000 light years across, and it takes the Enterprise about three months to get there at high speed. This works out to about 60 light years. Something 2000 light years across 60 light years away would cover half the sky. Thus leading to the conclusion that human astronomers in the Star Trek universe are remarkably unobservant for failing to have noticed it.
Even more down-to-Earth distances are erroneous. The first Xindi attack etches a swath of destruction 4000 kilometers long, all the way from Florida to Venezuela. 4000 kilometers would reach all the way from the northwestern corner of Florida almost all the way across Venezuela. However, from the starting point that the crew observes from orbit, it would reach all the way across Venezuela and into Brazil-if it were going in the right direction. As shown from orbit, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru should have been affected instead.
Every incarnation of Star Trek falls victim to this in the form of tactical range, ships are always ridiculously close to each other (which is odd considering all of their weaponry with the exception of the ST: Enterprise era weapons travel at least at light speed, with torpedoes capable of FTL speeds).
In Stargate Atlantis, First Strike, six "tactical" nukes take out sizeable portions of a planetary surface covering several hundreds of miles. In real life, even the biggest nuclear devices wouldn't have anywhere near that kind of yield, never mind the much smaller tactical nukes. However, the show states that those were fictional Mk. IX "Gatebuster" missiles. The low estimate for their yield is 35 gigatons. The high estimates for their yields top out at around eight to ten teratons. They're a bit like hydrogen bombs today, but replace hydrogen with refined naquadria. So despite their small size they have incredible destructive capability.
The original Battlestar Galactica did this as well. Adama says that Earth is located in "a galaxy much like our own" ...and in the last episode, the basestar is apparently the only one in the galaxy in which the Galactica is located, and the rest of the Cylon fleet is spread throughout the universe looking for the Galactica's fleet! They'd have greater success looking for an electron-sized needle in an haystack the size of Jupiter.
Not only does Adama say that Earth is in "a galaxy much like our own", but he prefaces that by pointing out that the Earth is in a different solar system. While perfectly true, it's kind of like saying that your friend lives in a different house, in a continent very much like the one you live in.
Also factor in that the show stated that Galactica's top speed was "light speed" and they spent the bulk of the series traveling at the pace of the slowest ships in the fleet.
The pilot episode for the original show also had a spaceship's location described as "20 microns and closing." Yes, this was later explained as an invented unit of time, rather than the very small unit of length, but they clearly didn't actually do the research.
While the new Battlestar Galactica avoids most of this kind of silliness, it still has the familiar problem of spaceships flying in formation about two meters away from each other, and fighting battles far too close to the enemy. They try to justify it early on - the Cylons have to jump in as close to the human fleet as possible to maximize their chances of destroying their ships before they jump away - but later on, they lost the justification and kept the shoddy tactics.
Although how would you then justify realistic distances when the only way to move between ships is by non FTL shuttle and apparently the only way to communicate is radio? At realistic distances it would take days to move goods and food around. Additionally, with things so close, those shuttles can burn back to the ship should they be attacked and not left to die.
In later seasons, the Cylons discover the planet that the humans have settled because they detected a nuclear explosion from one light year away, which happened a year ago. From that distance, even the sun would appear as only slightly brighter than the other stars in the system (think Alpha Centauri). Yet the Cylons conveniently manage to detect and isolate the radiation of nuclear explosion which would be insignificantly small by comparison? They wouldn't even know to look at this particular star, or they would have simply investigated it up close and discovered the human territory a lot sooner. So that means that their scanners would have to be searching for something infinitely insignificant from an infinite number of directions.
They're Cylons. They could have been lying. Two far more possible explanations present themselves: First, Gina, who was the one who used the aforementioned nuclear weapon, managed to be resurrected and transmitted the coordinates, despite the "Jamming Effect," that the nebula supposedly had. Second, Deanna, a Cylon who was never exposed until the Cylons showed up, could have told them... somehow.
The objection to being able to detect a nuclear explosion really rests on our own current limitations of being able to detect phenomena, but Cylon sensors could just be able to scan much more discretely than we would currently think possible. Of course, that brings up the question of why the Cylons wouldn't be able to detect the ships when they're not blowing up.
Babylon 5 generally tried to avoid this, but creator J. Michael Straczynski acknowledged the problem of space's true scale when talking about showing space battles on TV, pointing out that TV viewers want and need to see the ships in the same screenshot pounding away at one another, but that any actual kind of space battle would likely take place at distances far too extreme for this (thousands of kilometers at minimum). The battle between the Shadows and the Narns in "The Long Twilight Struggle" attempted to acknowledge this on the screen; most of the fight consists of the ships simply accelerating towards one another, and only the last (catastrophic) few seconds includes any visual proximity. Nonetheless, most of the series' remaining battles gave in to the Rule of Cool anyway.
Somewhat allowable given that the station, being immobile, has impressive long-range defences and we are repeatedly shown attacking ships launching boarding parties in an effort to capture rather than just outright destroy the station.
The moon in Space: 1999 was variably described as being billions of kilometers, miles, and light-years from Earth, resulting in roughly equal difficulty in returning despite the fact that the first case would put the moon closer to Earth than Saturn, while in the latter case the moon would be vastly more distant from the Milky Way galaxy than the Great Wall, currently the largest known feature of the universe. It (the moon) passed between star systems at speeds fast enough that the passengers went through a star system per week, yet remained close enough to each and slow enough to reach a planet via shuttle for days at a time.
Firefly was ambivalent as to whether action was taking place in a "system", presumed to be a solar system, or the galaxy. It was finally pinned down into a series of five star systems, four of which were orbiting around a single giant star, which was reached from Earth by Generation Ship. The show was admirably vague about distances and speeds, e.g. "How far can it go?" "Standard short-range."
The followup movie Serenity has a barely noticed and 'lost' planet on the edge of the system. However, this planet appears to be known — it is in Serenity's navigation computer, but all reference to its name and population are wiped from the records, so no one knows what it is, nor do they want to approach it to check it out due to the presence of Reavers.
The Official Map of the Verse confirmed that Miranda was indeed on the very outer edge of the Blue Sun system, orbiting its own protostar, Burnham, at about fifty AU from the main star. At the time of the series, it was the outermost world in the entire Verse.
Probably the most spectacular example is in the first segment of the Doctor Who story The Trial of a Time Lord, where Earth was apparently hidden by moving its entire solar system several million miles, which is the celestial equivalent of hiding from your date in an empty movie theater by leaning an inch to the left. For scale, Mercury never comes within 28 million miles of our Sun, despite being its closest planet.
The distance that the Time Lords moved Earth is given in various Doctor Who literature as being "Two light-years". Whilst slightly more plausible than several million miles, this is still only less than half the distance to Alpha Centauri, our nearest neighbouring star. It would be equivalent to hiding from your date in an otherwise empty cinema by moving one seat to the left.
In Castrovalva, when the Tardis is flying through space out of control, Nyssa says it will fly until it crashes into something, and as "star density in this galaxy is very high", it will. Well, no. Just no.
Depends how the TARDIS is flying... travelling through the vortex could be akin to flying in hyperspace in the Star Wars universe, and Nyssa may be talking colloquially about whatever the equivalent of mass shadows are.
It's been established that the TARDIS flying in space tends to naturally home in on the nearest planet, and that an uncontrolled landing will look pretty much like you'd expect an indestructible one-tonne object falling out of space to look (i.e. impressive burning trail streaking across the sky and then BANG). If the star density is high then the planet density is presumably quite high too.
In The Wheel in Space the Cybermen divert a meteor storm in the direction of the eponymous space station by sending a star nova in the Hercules Globular Cluster, which is 25,100 light years away. The disparity in scale is at least 12 orders of magnitude.
In the 1996 TV movie for Doctor Who, Gallifrey is stated to be some 250 million light years away from Earth, on the other side of the Milky Way. For reference, the diameter of the Milky Way Galaxy is estimated 80-100 thousand light years, making it so it Gallifrey would have to be far past the edge of the Milky Way.
Earlier episodes had already established Gallifrey to be only 25,000 lightyears from Earth (fanon often locates it in either the centre or the very edge of the galaxy for this reason). Of course, the Time Lords can move planets...
In "The End of Time" A spaceship is described as 105,000 miles above Earth. The shot of Earth is far too big for it to be at that distance, which is nearly half-way to the Moon.
In the "Groundhog Day" Loop episode of Stargate SG-1 ("Window of Opportunity"), Teal'c mentions that a planet called Alaris is "several billion miles" away from Earth. The fact that the next closest star to Earth after the sun, Proxima Centauri, is approximately 25 trillion miles from Earth is, apparently, not relevant.
Then again, the actual distance wasn't important (O'Neill was hitting golf balls through the stargate for fun) so Teal'c likely just made up something to the effect of "really far away", and it was one of the less serious episodes, and O'Neill and Teal'c are not the 'smart ones' on the team anyway.
Wizards of Waverly Place episode 5. They zap themselves to Mars and just happen to land right next to a Mars rover. Mars is a pretty big place and this is vanishingly unlikely (though as a comedy it runs by Rule of Funny anyway).
This incident kind of belongs in the same category as the "landmark-seeking asteroids" in Armageddon, which only hit places like the Eiffel Tower.
Power Rangers Lost Galaxy the Terra Venture is traveling to the next galaxy, but they have used more than half their fuel a mere 14 light-years into the journey, and if they had traveled the entirety of the distance between the last time they gave an update on how far from Earth they are in 1 day (and they didn't) it would take over 500 years to get to the next galaxy. (In fact, most of the super-long-range travel is done by portals.)
The Invaders are aliens from a dying planet. They are coming to Earth. They intend to make it their world. They originate in another galaxy... Considering that they'll need to do a partial terraform anyway, you'd think they'd have found something closer.
In the Farscape pilot episode, a Peacekeeper ship is chasing Moya, and Aeryn says that its weapons' effective range is "45 metras." Elsewhere, it's established that one metra is about a kilometer. A 45-kilometer range on a space-based weapon system would be like having a gun that was too short-ranged to hit somebody standing next to you.
In The Twilight Zone episode "Thursday We Leave For Home" an Earth colony is stranded on a hellish planet orbiting two suns. The planet is described as being two billion miles from Earth, which would make it less distant than Neptune.
Europe's "The Final Countdown" contains the lyrics "We're heading for Venus... with so many light-years to go." Maximum Earth to Venus distance: approximately 0.000027 light-years.
The music video for "The Ghost Inside" by the Broken Bells features a toll booth in space.
In "Written In The Stars" by Tinie Tempah, he sings "Written in the stars, a million miles away..." A million miles wouldn't even get to the closest planet, let alone stars. In fact, the nearest star from Earth that we know of (after the sun), Proxima Centauri, is about a quarter of a billion times further than one million miles.
Katie Melua's "Nine Million Bicycle In Beijing" featured the lines "We are 12 billion light-years from the edge. That's a guess — no-one can ever say it's true," until a writer/scientist corrected her. She went on to record an alternate version, changing the line to "We are 13.7 billion light-years from the edge of the observable universe; that's a good estimate with well-defined error bars,". This is technically an aversion, since the original certainly had the right scale (12 billion is not that far from 13.7 billion at the scale of the universe), but is included anyway because it's funny.
Dune's 1997 song "Million Miles from Home" claims that the narrator is "floating through the galaxy" with the task "to find another happy place". Consider the fact that the distance from Earth to Sun already is approximately 90 million miles, he couldn't yet have gotten very far.
Planet Man referred to the Astro Drive, which would enable the hero to travel the "millions of light-years to Alpha Centauri." Alpha Centauri is just 4.37 light-years away — in fact, it's the closest star system to our own. Actually traveling "millions of light-years" would be a lot more impressive.
In Orson Welles's Radio Drama adaptation of The War of the Worlds, rocket-launch explosions on the surface of Mars precede the Martian invaders' arrival by only a few minutes, as allowing any more time for their multimillion-mile journey would've run too long for the broadcast.
BattleTech was originally hit pretty hard with this, as the game stated that a Hex is roughly thirty meters, meaning that no weapon short of artillery had a range equal to or greater than a single kilometer. Catalyst Games, the present owners of the license, have kept the Hex and range measurements, but have gone on record saying that Battletech Weapons are really not that short-ranged. The official rationale used is that a) at actual, real-world ranges, a typical playing field would have to have at least 7 mapsheets laid end-to-end, and b) that sort of a game would not be particularly fun, as it would negate tactical movement and physical combat and other dramatic moves in favor of what would essentially be a sniper's duel.
The problem with this stance being something like 20 years' worth of novels saying that they most certainly are and various plots and tactics that more or less hinge on this fact to work at all. At some point it really is just better to go "Yeah it's kinda silly, but this is a game about giant walking tanks a few dozen of which are considered a reasonable force to invade a planet, just go with it."
Very carefully averted with the Warhammer 40,000 space battle Gaiden GameBattlefleet Gothic, for all its joyful use of Space Is an Ocean and the Rule of Cool in general. The actual models are completely out of scale with the rest of the game, but the manual itself explains that, in scale, the ship the model represents would be somewhere in the stand holding it up. Thus, distances are measured based on the center of the ships' bases so that you can have nice looking miniatures without also requiring a spare country to play the game in. Base-contact in the game is "close range," generally of the order of thousands of kilometers. This is also the reason you need a command check to ram another ship - the captain not only has to order a potentially suicidal course of action and make it stick with the crew, he also has to hit a target equivalent to headbutting a pinhead from a mile away...
On the old Battlefleet Gothic Mailing List, Andy Chambers, the Game Designer even provided a scale ratio. One table top centimeter was equal to one thousand kilometers.
Also Warhammer 40K Background fluff has reinforcements taking years sometimes decades to reach a planet.
Given that it's The Warp, there are also accounts of ships arriving at their destinations before they left. One story about an Ork warlord has him somehow arriving back at his starting point before he left, so he attacks and kills his past self so he could have two of his favorite gun.
They run straight into the same problem as BattleTech when it comes to the main tabletop game: most egregriously with the release of the Deathstrike Missile, an ICBM with a maximum range of less than a mile (and indeed, less than the Earthshaker field howitzers fitted to Basilisk self-propelled guns). That did get fixed fairly quickly (the Deathstrike now has an unlimited maximum range), but we still have the problem of an ICBM most commonly used to kill someone less than 100' away.
Somewhat averted with artillery at the same time. Although the short ranges seem unrealistic, Warhammer 40K only represents small skirmishes, usually assumed to be part of a much larger battle or war. So any artillery seen in the game are not working batteries firing at their proper range, but those in transit forced to fight at close range. Some rules actually allow artillery in reserve to fire from off the map to represent their correct use.
Game Play And Story Segregation explains the rest. The game must remain small enough in scale to fit on a reasonable table, and if artillery ranges were accurately scaled to the model, the players would need acres of land and surveying equipment. In scale, the Leman Russ (a fairly representative tank) can fire about one football field, which is laughable for a real tank. Giving it a scale range of approximately four miles would require a board well over 400' long. When you need that much room for a game, it's an Acceptable Break From Reality to scale things unrealistically.
One White Dwarf attempted to justify this by stating that ranges doppler out as they extend, so 24" represents quite a bit more than twice 12". This made even less sense and has never been mentioned since.
Half-averted in Mage: the Awakening. Though its unlikely players will ever actually experience space travel, it is possible to experience a version of it in the Astral Realms. In the Tenemos (the Dream World of humanity) it would be mostly played straight, because of human conceptions of scale and space travel. In the Dreamtime (the Dream World of the Earth) the conceptual representation of the universe is mostly to scale (since the Earth is devoid of any kind of romanticism). The sheer scale of the Solar System alone is presented as staggering, and since there is no FTL in the Dreamtime (though there is the rare shortcut), travel between conceptual planets has to be taken the slow (read, years long) way. And that's not even getting into traveling beyond the conceptual Solar System. The only reason any of this is practical is because of the Year Inside, Hour Outside nature of Astral Space.
In Star Wolves most of space is empty, and you almost never visit space where inhabited planets are. Instead, you spend most of your time visiting out-of-the-way systems that have a couple space stations in them, if anything. And yet, for some reason, these space stations, which are placed five minutes away from each other, are treated as though they're light-years apart in terms of communication and physical contact.
7 Days a Skeptic by Yahtzee revolves around an old locker discovered floating in another galaxy by an exploration ship. Ignoring the staggering improbability of finding anything that size in a galaxy, the locker was launched from Earth four hundred years before the game starts, in the modern day. The Canis Major Dwarf Galaxy, our galaxy's closest neighbor, is 25,000 light years away. This simple metal box would have had to travel at multiple times the speed of light to make it out of the Milky Way in such a short time.
This can probably be explained as the work of Chzo. Indeed, the supernatural nature of such an astronomically unlikely event is implied (though not stated outright).
EVE Online - distances in solar systems are realistic: from any particular planet, all other planets seem like points, and are several AUs away. FTL technology is required to get anywhere. There are even two types of FTL: short range warp drives which are used to travel within systems (fitted to ships), and long range star gates for traveling light years between star systems. Combat is frequently with ships that are only visible by their targeting icon.
Interestingly, they also point out the sheer size inherent in a single system. The game's equivalent of dungeons and hideouts are not actually hidden, per se. It's just that there is no conceivable way to locate them without acquiring the specific co-ordinates. Complexes are reached by short-range intra-stellar "acceleration gates", which catapult you into the location. Why a society with casual FTL drive lacks halfway decent sensor ranges is a mystery.
Even so, ships don't need FTL technology to travel in-system. A ship would travel 100AU (i.e. out of the solar system) in a mere 12 days even at just 10% SOL, and 1AU in under 3 hours. Even at 5% SOL you would clear the solar system in 23 days (these figures are based on actual physics, not in-universe 'facts'). Couple that with the fact (se below) that some ships are capable of picking up objects within 14AU, and it seems as though the size of the system should not be such a problem but it's a game and most people aren't that patient (especially considering EVE's Griefer population).
EVE ships have incredibly powerful sensors - the maximum range for onboard sensors is around 14 AU - and they can find all the stuff in that radius (a sphere) immediately (very FTL sensors for those of you counting). This is also the problem - there is a lot of stuff in the systems. You need to isolate the stuff that actually concerns you. Even when you do, you still don't have the coordinates - you need to use scanner probes and by positioning them in space (again, at very FTL speeds) can you get accurate coordinates for warp-in. However, it isn't a complete aversion - due to technical limitations, this doesn't apply to missions - those generally create your own piece of space on demand and destroy it again as you complete the mission.
With ships capable of picking up everything within 14AU on sensors, it wouldn't take particularly long for the entire solar system to be scanned. Our solar system is quite large at 100+AU.
Eve also falls victim to this trope, with the asteroid fields that tends to consist of a few dozen asteroids tightly packed into a crescent shape. In real life the average distance between asteroids is 2-4 million miles. However, since a realistically depicted asteroid field would be impossible to implement in a playable fashion, this counts as an acceptable break from reality.
Ratchet & Clank: Clank said early into the first game that Drek was going to 'Destroy the solar system'.
The second game gave us a moon approximately 200m in diameter. It has its own atmosphere (probably; Ratchet has a helmet supplying him with air, so everybody else could have one too), and a fairly substantial city. Giant Clank can jump high enough to significantly reduce its size.
Ratchet & Clank's cosmology and physical constants have extraordinarily little to do with our own.
Wing Commander was never all that clear on what units of distance to use, depending on the game, but all of them were ludicrously wrong. Less than 100km between planets in a system (Privateer)? Um, no. Just... no.
There are also the shenanigans it plays with measuring speed, by using a variable "klicks" (which, unlike in Real Life, isn't slang for kilometers) for the distance portion of stated speeds...
Let's face it: Every space shooter gets the distances wrong, assuming you don't vaporize enemies far outside of visual range.
Freelancer is often just as bad or worse about it as Wing Commander; some planets being within tens of kilometers apart from one another and sometimes as close as 20 kilometers from their system's star(s). Said planets are sometimes visible from one another as sizes larger than the area the moon fills in the sky.
On one hand, Units Not to Scale is clearly in effect. On the other hand, if we use planets as a rough benchmark, stars are damn tiny in this game, and the ships are massive.
FreeSpace gets this wrong in the other direction for once. Earth gets cut off from the FTL network at the end of the first game, and a major plot point of FreeSpace 2 is the chance of reestablishing contact with Earth, since nobody has heard from it in the intervening 30 years. However, we still have FTL access to Alpha Centauri, so in the 30 years between games, there would have been plenty of time for ordinary radio messages to and from home.
The Minecart Madness level of I Wanna Be the Guy starts with a sign indicating the distance of 10,000 kilometers to The Guy's fortress, which you reach in 78 seconds. That gives you an average speed of 286,786 miles per hour, or 373 times the speed of sound.
Though it also means The Kid, as compared to the track's length, must be several kilometers tall. But then there's the issue of the apartment-sized moon that randomly falls to Earth...
The Space Engine-Free Universe Simulator as well as the program Celestia, available respectively here and here, demonstrate just how big space is, and how close one has to be in order for anything to look like more than a dot.
Raul in Fallout: New Vegas remembers that in the great nuclear war, he could see Mr. House's defenses shooting down the nuclear bombs heading for Las Vegas... from Mexico City 2,800 km away. note Taking into account the Earth's radius (6,371 km aprox), from the ground level a surface distance of 2,800 km would be aprox 605.5 km below the horizon; in other words to see Las Vegas from Mexico City you would need to be at a Low-Earth-Orbit altitude; now assuming that the bombing was done with ICBMs the visibility of their interception still doesn't sound feasible as the re-entry stage of an ICBM is at 100 kms of altitude, well below the 605.5 km of horizon depth.
Aurora mostly averts this, with each star system being realistically sized. With Sol as an example, the Luna orbit is only a few hundred thousand kilometres wide, but the planetary orbits are hundreds of millions of kilometres wide, Pluto's orbital radius being 40 times larger than Earth's and over 8000 times larger than the Moons. Some comets have extremely large orbits, taking decades and centuries of game time to approach the Earth.
The X-Universe hits this, hard. Aside from the issues where the biggest ships can be outrun by a Toyota Prius (if you floor it, mind), the sector planets are terrifyingly close. While they seem massive up close, you can fly between them if you really want to. Argon Prime, an Earth-like world, has a moon that is closer to the planet than the distance between Florida and California. The series averts this between sectors, however - it's never explicitly stated where any of the sectors are, meaning that they could be on opposite sides of the galaxy or adjacent to each other. And if you use the Unfocused jumpdrive, you'll typically wind up in the dead space between galaxies.
In Justice League Unlimited, an egregious case occurs in the second AMAZO episode, where the android, on an interstellar journey to Earth, destroys Oa—or rather, teleports it out of the way— rather than make what is, given the scale involved, a ridiculously minor course adjustment. This is meant to showcase just how ridiculously powerful AMAZO has become: given two choices (remove planet or go around planet), removing the planet is more convenient.
Not so egregious when you actually think about it. The scene is there for two reasons - one is to make the audience and the League believe AMAZO has become evil (they don't find out it was only teleported until later), and also to demonstrate his aforementioned power level. The power level showing also works for this reason - AMAZO is in a hurry, and is only thinking in terms of "what is the quickest way back to Earth?" At his power levels, moving the planet might actually take less time than going around it. Only a few seconds, true, but in his mind he might not care whether he is delayed by seconds or days - a delay is a delay, and the shortest period of time to his destination is the only course of action. A human equivalent might be brushing aside a strand of spider silk hanging down from the top of your doorway, rather than carefully walking around it.
It establishes his power level by using the Worf Effect on the Green Lantern Corps!
Challenge of the Super Friends was never known for its rigorous scientific accuracy... or even for being terribly coherent. In the episode "Conquerors of the Future," a distress call arrives from the planet Santar, and Superman announces: "Santar is trillions of light-years from Earth. We'll have to leave immediately!" (For comparison, the edge of the obervable universe is a mere 13 or 14 billion light-years from Earth.)
In another episode, the Legion of Doom cut the moon in half, requiring Superman and Batman to come out and help. Batman and Robin fly to the moon in the Bat Rocket, a trip that lasts less than one minute. The Bat Rocket must have had some kind of inertial dampeners, because making a quarter-million mile journey in that kind of time would have required them to accelerate at roughly 20,000 g.
Never mind the fact that Superman pushed the two halves of the moon back together, and then welded them with his heat vision.
Futurama parodies broken physics very very often, often screwing with perspective, logical sequences of events, and so forth. It shouldn't come as a surprise that scale is messed with, too:
Occasionally planets in Futurama will be shown to be several SHIP LENGTHS away from each other.
"Just a few.. more.. hundred.. thousand.. miles!"
In the episode When Aliens Attack, the camera starts at Earth, spends about 10 seconds panning through our solar system (with all the planets bunched together as usual), and once finished, takes 2 more seconds to pan to "Omicron Persei 8 (1000 light years away)".
Also used comically in one episode where Bender was contemplating the conquest of Earth as they headed to the planet. Leela quickly points out that said planet wasn't Earth, and the ship promptly leaps over it.
The beginning scene of BIONICLE: The Legend Reborn messes up not only the canon continuity, but has scale and distance issues to boot. When the Mask of Life flies through space, we are treated to a montage of the object traveling past planets and whole galaxies under seconds, after which it curves around a bunch of other planets, and then finally lands on the planet Bara Magna. The scene didn't make any sense, thus the writers Retconned it for the official storyline, so that instead of traversing who know how many light years, the mask only flies from Bara Magna's "planet moon" to the planet itself. This also prevented Makuta's eventual journey from said moon to the planet from having distance issues, though the scale was still off.
In episode 12 of Green Lantern, our heroes need to go through an asteroid belt on the way to Oa. Not only is the belt shown as an Asteroid Thicket, but asteroid belts are things on solar system scales and they are travelling on a galactic scale—it wouldn't make sense for the asteroid belt to be so big that avoiding it would be a noticeable course change. This not even considering that an asteroid belt is in a flat orbit and it would be easy to go around one in a spaceship even on a solar system scale.
In The Magic School Bus episode about stellar life-cycles, a star several million light-years from Earth goes nova and then is compressed into a new star by the class. Both the nova and the stellar formation are immediately visible from Earth.
There was also the pilot episode where the class manages to explore the entire solar system in one day. Granted, the compressed time might be somewhat justified by the the fact that they were using the Magic School Bus, except Ms. Frizzle gets blown away early in the episode and later turns up on Pluto (they go through a few different planets before finding her).
This sort of went the other way the week of 8 November 2011, when the asteroid 2005 YU55 came past Earth. While 201,700 miles is indeed close on a solar system scale, you could see years of science fiction and scientific ignorance clouding the media into thinking this was an Asteroid Thicket and it was right on top of us. (Indeed, the astronomy community had known for some time that there was absolutely no danger.) Jet Propulsion Labratories even added to the public confusion by stating that the asteroid was "the size of an aircraft carrier", which is an oddly non-scientific description for something round, and did not apply to its mass, volume nor shape. There was even a comment on JPL's facebook feed saying that there was no standardized "Aircraft carrier units".
To a certain extent, this applies to even near-future and modern stories. As number 3 of this Crackedarticle notes, even the modern dogfight takes place well outside of visual range.