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Sci Fi Writers Have / No Sense of Distance

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"Space is super could even say super duper large. Yes, bigger than a baseball stadium. Even bigger than America. Even though it's so large there are always idiots who come to Earth."
Doctor Slump Act One, A Far Off Hope

Sci-fi writers cannot determine length or distance.

For example, in 2017 a "nearby star" was found to have at least 3 Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone of that star. The "nearby star" is 40 light-years from Earth; that's only about 236,000,000,000,000 miles from Earth. 24.7 million times the distance from the Earth to the Sun, and ten times further away than the Alpha Centauri trinary star system, the closest stars to the Sun. If you were born after 1983, the light that you can see from Earth (through a telescope; as a red dwarf, this star is far too faint to be seen with the naked eye) was emitted by this nearby star before you were born.

Compare Conveniently Close Planet, which is a Sub-Trope of this subpage.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • 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...
  • Battle of the Planets: "G-Force: protecting Earth's entire galaxy!" Five people. And a robot.
  • The Five Star Stories: The eponymous Five Stars are most commonly referred to as "The Joker Star Cluster", even though real clusters contain thousands of 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.
  • An aversion in INVADERS of the ROKUJYOUMA!?: Theiamillis' challenge was to claim dominion over a randomly chosen set of coordinates out of the entire galaxy, which just happened to be the location of Koutarou's apartment. Ruth actually points out that this is the first time in the Empire's history that the coordinates weren't empty space: previous challengers could simply drop a beacon on the spot and call it good. Later in the series, Ruth figures that Theia's mother had hacked the system specifically to send her there, having met Kotarou years before via time travel.
  • Space Battleship Yamato: An inversion where the writers overestimate the size of the universe rather than underestimating it. In episode 4, "Test Warp to Mars", the eponymous ship warps from Earth to Mars and a character mentions they went 'thousands of lightyears in a matter of seconds'. Mars is only around 3 light minutes from Earth.
  • 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". There are (an estimated) 100 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy alone, and only 7 billion people on earth. Then there are the other 100 billion galaxies throughout the universe . . .
    • Also, at one point Voltron's top speed is given as Mach 10. For reference, under ideal orbital conditions, a ship travelling from Earth to Mars at Mach 10 would take six months to get there, yet some episodes have Voltron travel to another star system and back in a single episode.
    • Some episodes have planet-based weapons firing on other star systems. The orbital mechanics make the window of time for the weapon to even be pointed in the right direction be minuscule, not counting the time it takes for the attack to reach its target.

    Comic Books 
  • 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 bomb's timer for six months, to allow the aliens to get there from all over the planet.
  • 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.
  • 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 5000 light years. It is also never explained how these people decided to colonize a planet that is so very far away from them.
  • Green Lantern:
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • Someone 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.
  • 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 of 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.
  • Paperinik New Adventures: Subverted. Even going from Earth to somewhere as close as Venus is treated as next to impossible in a reasonable time, at least without an FTL drive. This also helps to underscore the technological divide between Earth and the Evronians, as the latter can move from an unspecified point in the asteroid belt to Earth in a matter of hours with vehicles as small as large carpets (even if it's hinted it was almost to the limits of that vehicle, it's still rightly impressive), and just how powerful Xadhoom is, given that she plays the Casual Interstellar Travel trope straight.
  • Quasar:
    • Subverted when Wendell Vaughn visits Uranus 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, super-speedsters have a race to the Moon. Despite their speed, it takes them hours to arrive. Mark Gruenwald actually did quite a bit of research for Quasar.
  • Discussed in Secret Wars (1984). When the villains are leaving Battleworld with the Colorado town taken from Earth, they're confident that the Molecule Man would be able to fly them home, while Dr. Octopus is the only one who seems to understand the vast distances involved: "An ant in the middle of the Sahara has a better chance of reaching Hawaii! Even in the off chance that we're going in the right direction, we're still millions of light years from Earth. We've only gone a few million miles so far; we're not even out of sight of Battleworld yet! [...] I'd rather take my chances on Battleworld than die of old age floating aimlessly through space!" Fortunately, after Otto's rant, the Molecule Man figures out how to teleport and gets them home shortly.
  • 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.
  • Superman:
    • There are many examples of Superman hearing something hundreds or thousands of miles away as it is happening. Even assuming the sound wave could reach his ears without interference, it should take several hours to reach him if he's in Europe and the event occurs back home in Metropolis. Even if he were as close as 50 miles away, it would take 4 minutes for the sound to reach him. One example was when he heard the sound of a gunshot and managed to fly across town and catch the bullet before it had crossed the room.
    • In the "For Tomorrow" storyline, Superman, lying in bed at the time, hears Green Lantern Kyle asking Superman to save him. Green Lantern is a million miles away in space, and appears to be in a completely different planetary system. To reach Kyle, Supes is shown flying past Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Setting aside the fact that (conventional) sounds cannot travel a million miles through space, if Kyle really were a million miles away from Earth, he'd be somewhere between Earth and Mars, but relatively close to Earth, not somewhere past Saturn, and definitely not in a completely different system.
    • Lampshaded in Superman: Secret Identity (an Elseworld that's supposed to be the 'real' world), where that version of Clark Kent - who got given the name by his parents as a joke - studies his powers and wonders about how on Earth he can hear things when the sound can't possibly have reached him yet. It's implied that his powers, and those of other superhumans in the setting, are derived from a Reality Warper artefact and shaped by subconscious expectations: he's called Clark Kent, so he models his powers on Superman. Superman can hear things instantly from thousands of miles away. Therefore, so can he.
    • In Supergirl story arc "The Super-Steed of Steel", Maldor's master gives him a magic powder to exile Biron to the constellation of Sagittarius. Sagittarius is a cluster of stars separated from each other by hugely vast distances, but the evil sorcerer talks as if it was a precise location.
  • In the first issue of Valérian, he mentions Arcturus being several thousand lightyears from Earth, even though it's only 36.7 in Real Life.

    Fan Works 
  • 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. Pandora is a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri, and the ships in the source material take six years to make the journey.
  • Child of the Storm generally tries to avert this when it comes up (which it usually doesn't, thanks to portal technology and hyperspace travel), with the author pointing out just how vast galaxies are, especially as compared to individual solar systems (this usually in respect to people who assume that the scale goes 'planet' to 'star' to 'solar system' to 'galaxy').
  • Pokémon Tabletop Utopus Region: In one episode, Lavi intercepts a Donphan and soccer kicks into the air to stop it stampeding Jade. The GM says that he gets it about ten metres into the air. Given that Donphans weigh 120kg, a kick with that kind of strength would be packing 25,400-29,500 Newtons of force, depending on the angle he kicked it at. Which is over ten times the amount required to crush a human skull. The more likely prospect is that the GM was exaggerating.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Ad Astra:
    • Near the end, Brad Pitt's character has to cross Neptune's rings from one spaceship to another. The first time he did this in a pod, but the pod tumbled away, so he has to use his feet to push off from one spaceship and get to the other, while using a piece of hull plating as a shield. Ignoring the sheer improbability of him actually hitting his mark, the rings of Neptune are at least several kilometers thick, which would make it impossible for him to make it across in under a minute just by pushing off with his feet.
    • Tommy Lee Jones's character claims that he spent years scanning the galaxy for other life forms and found nothing. The conclusion is that humans are alone in the universe. Except he's been parked near Neptune all this time. That's like sitting on your patio and looking around for any elephants, then deciding that elephants don't exist.
  • The key plot point of Ant-Man is that the shrinking ability of the Ant-Man suit can be turned up to eleven, making the user "go subatomic". Two characters use this technique to pass through a hermetically sealed metal plate. Disregarding the myriad other ways this concept screws physics, for a molecule-sized hero, passing through an iron plate should be tantamount to traversing the Earth's crust.
  • 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 whilenote .
  • In The Creator (2023), the NOMAD is a space station shown to be outside the atmosphere. However, it is clearly visible from the ground, looking more like it's flying at a high altitude.
  • The movie The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) 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.
  • 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 strip-mined 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.
  • The Last Starfighter
    • The Frontier is a big forcefield said to isolate a part of the galaxy. Trouble is that its generators look to be separated by kilometers, so just for one light-year square, you'd need a septillion (10 to the power of 24) of them.
    • The Ko'dan mothership launches large rocks at Starfighter Base from a breach that it has created in the Frontier. While the concept of using RKVs (relativistic kill vehicles, euphemistically also known as "rods from God") to bombard fixed fortifications from space is entirely valid, they're moving way, way too slowly. Based on the apparent velocities of the rocks observed on-screen, Starfighter Base is no more than a few kilometers from the Frontier and anyone there could have spotted the mothership by looking out the windows.
  • 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 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.
  • Mission to Mars:
    • 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. This should be impossible, and not just in the sense that it's unlikely: any normal astronaut would keep their ship far away from another object while performing difficult maneuvers such as orbital insertion. The crew was also preparing to fire their engines for orbital insertion, a procedure which normally means changing your velocity on the order of thousands of miles per hour. 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.
    • When the Martians leaving en masse after their planet is ruined, and their ships are shown to be heading for another galaxy, which is... a slight overreaction, to say the least.
  • 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. For reference, the Moon is 221,456 miles away. This is thankfully not used in the actual film, so it's less the sci-fi writers and more their marketing department on this one.
  • Paul. 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. The only way that made sense was if he was referring either to the north(-eastern) part of Andromeda as seen from Earth, or from where it's located that galaxy from said planet's perspective.note  In both cases, from the perspective of someone living in the Andromeda Galaxy this is totally nonsensical.
  • 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. On the other hand, it does explain how the human-designed rocket fuel formula he's after could possibly be valuable to him.
  • Prometheus has a character describe their (interstellar) mission as being "a half billion miles from Earth". 500 million miles is 5.4 AU, slightly more than the distance between Jupiter and the Sun — being that far from Earth would put them 6.4 AU from the Sun, about a quarter of the way between Jupiter's and Saturn's orbits. However, the movie mostly takes place on LV-223, which, like LV-426, is part of the Zeta Reticuli system - which is 39 light years from Earth, or about 230 trillion miles.
  • In Starflight One (a movie where a plane gets stuck in Earth's orbit) the box claims the movie is about the Starflight's first Intergalactic flight.
  • Starship Troopers
    • 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 throwing distance of another ship and you're not trying to dock with them (or ram them, which is another problem entirely), something is wrong. (This incident is actually taken directly from the book, but that only passes responsibility for the problem rather than solving it.)
    • 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. The plot point is so clearly nonsensical that many view it as a sign that the Federation simply took a natural disaster or False Flag Operation and blamed it on the bugs—something entirely in-character for them.
  • 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!
    • Played straight: the cloud is considered so far away that the USS Enterprise is the only starship capable of reaching it in time. On the other hand, it's described as on a direct trajectory toward Earth.
  • In Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, the Klingon Bird-of-Prey HMS Bounty travels at warp speed around the sun. Comparing the scale of the ship to the sun, the sun would be the size of a small world. The Bounty is supposed to be getting closer to the sun by the visual Friction Burn indicating proximity. The image on the viewscreen is more like the perspective of the sun from the Earth, forgetting that the sun is many times larger than the Earth, and getting up close would make it too large to see. The camera stops at this vantage point, indicating whatever distance it is from the sun to the viewer, and stops, as the Bounty disappears from the right side and reappears on the left, as if it just passed behind the image of the sun at impulse speed, reappearing near the same point but on the other side, still maintaining the same Friction Burn, as if instead of lightspeed the ship just casually sailed around the model, because there's no way to convey the true magnitude of the sun.
    • The concept is lampshaded when Scotty and McCoy pose as visiting scientists from Scotland.
    Scotty: I find it hard to believe that I've come millions of miles...
    McCoy: Thousands, thousands.
    Scotty: ...thousands of miles on an invited tour of inspection...
  • 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 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 about one 1/100th of a light year away from Earth.
  • At the beginning of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country Captain Sulu logs that his ship, the Excelsior is heading home at full impulse power after cataloguing anomalies in the Beta Quadrant. The Beta Quadrant is one-quarter of the Milky Way Galaxy. Impulse power is a sublight drive. Earth is in the Alpha Quadrant. He must not have wanted to get home that quickly. While Earth is on the border of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants, it's still interstellar distances. Kirk later says that they're 1,000 light years from Earth.
  • Star Trek: Generations:
    • Soren's fiendish plot involves blowing up a star.. with a rocket that 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 in a rather cartoonish fashion. 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.
    • Another especially egregious example is in the opening. The Enterprise-B is taking her maiden voyage and is the only ship within range able to respond to a distress call three lightyears away. That's between Sol and Alpha Centauri. They're on their maiden voyage from Earth, which is the capital of the Federation and the headquarters of Starfleet. And the only ship that's remotely operational is one which won't get most of its equipment until Tuesday.
  • Star Trek (2009):
    • 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. Ultimately retconned by Star Trek: Picard, which establishes that it was Romulus's own sun that exploded (which is marginally better but introduces new problems due to how stellar life-cycles work), that work was in progress to evacuate the system more than two years prior, and that enough Romulans survived to form an apparently stable successor state.
    • 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 a 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!" For reference, that's about 1/5 of the distance from the Earth to its own moon.
  • Star Trek Into Darkness has the Enterprise fall from the vicinity of the Moon into Earth's atmosphere in the space of a few minutes. In reality, this would take around 5 days.
  • Star Wars
    • Attack of the Clones: in the scene where Obi-Wan is discovering Kamino's location, Dax had said Kamino is 12 parsecs outside the Rishi Maze, which Obi-Wan then points to on a map of the galaxy. Apparently the Maze is at the top-left edge of the galaxy and Kamino is around the center based on where the map zooms in on. From this scene you can actually eyeball the whole Star Wars "galaxy" as only being 50 to 100 parsecs, or about few hundred light-years, across. For comparison the Milky Way is 170,000 light-years across.
    • The Empire Strikes Back:
      • The Millennium Falcon, with a disabled hyperdrive, decides to head for Bespin for repairs. One problem: the ship is in a different star system. That means the Millennium Falcon had to go from one star system to another without a working FTL drive. A trip like that is going to take YEARS. The early RPGs introduced the concept of Backup Hyperdrives to Hand Wave this, though that introduced its on set of Fridge Logic such as why they didn't just use that when they were being chased by the Star Destroyers.
      • The Rendezvous Point at the film's end. Are they staring off into a distant galaxy, a smaller than galactic-size nebula that just happens to look like a galaxy, or something else? Nobody knows. An old EU story says they went outside the galaxy and thus escaped the Empire, but other material claims no one ever achieved this, or even that it was impossible.
    • In The Mandalorian it's stated multiple times that the titular character's ship is explicitly traveling from one sector to another at sublight speeds, and he apparently makes it there within days.
    • The Force Awakens: Starkiller Base can only be described as a mess.
      • First, it is built on a snow-covered planet that is said in supplemental material to be 660 km in diameter. This is about half the diameter of Pluto. Yet it has a breathable atmosphere, Earth-like gravity, and even native life (unless those trees were planted for the decor, anyway) that suggest it's similar to Earth, barring the snow. Expanded universe material suggests the planet to be Ilum, which was generally shown to be pretty normal; this required some further declaration that Ilum's unusual core somehow gives it enough mass to have the Earth-like gravity and ability to sustain life that it displays in most stories.
      • The sun energy harvesting utility is about the size of a city, with the energy moving in a large and clearly visible pattern, without any of this visible energy from space radiating enough to affect anyone standing on the surface, while neatly siphoning the energy down to the size of a city. Not only should the features of the base be too small to do this, but a planet should also be too small to do this.
      • The destruction of Hosnian Prime by Starkiller Base is witnessed from the night sky of planet Takodana, which is canonically hundreds of light years away. Realistically, not only would this make only the tiniest of blips in the night sky, but it would do so centuries after it happened, not as it was occurring. This was explained by the Starkiller's beam weapon being made of phantom energy that "blasts through hyperspace", causing a "pocket nova" that's visible from "thousands of light years away", however as the new galaxy map indicates they're on opposite ends of the galaxy, even this explanation doesn't hold water.
      • Furthermore, the Hosnian System is said to house the entire New Republic Starfleet. Now consider the US Navy, which "only" has to account for 360 million square kilometers of water on a single planet, has around 500 ships. The Republic has on the order of 6.35*10^10 cubic lightyears. Unless the Republic is stretching their forces really thin, they should require tens of thousands of ships of to be able to patrol their entire territory properly, and thus inconceivable that the Republic could park their entire fleet in one system, not to mention the sheer logistics of maintaining the fleet all in one place. Even from a common sense POV this means the fleet would be unable to respond within a reasonable time frame to problems halfway across the galaxy.
      • According to Wookiepedia, the leftover energy of the Starkiller Base planet being destroyed was enough to create a brand new star, which would make a pretty small star.
  • 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! In the original Superman: The Movie, Krypton is stated to be in another galaxy. This weather satellite isn't merely crossing interstellar distances, it's crossing intergalactic distances.
  • For a version that stays on a single planet, in the film version of The Two Towers, Théoden dismisses the idea of seeking aid from his nephew's army by noting that they would be "three hundred leagues from here by now." Assuming he's not being hyperbolic and he means (as we generally do) for a single league to be three miles, this is an absurdly vast distance—going by most maps of Middle-earth, it's about twice or more the width of Rohan itself. While he's certainly right that this puts them out of range to call for aid, it makes little sense when only a matter of days ago, that army was well within Rohan's borders, and it would go on to successfully ride to their rescue in the climax (for comparison, the Mongol army considered eighty miles in a day to be seriously pushing it, and they were Born in the Saddle nomads rather than the relatively agrarian Rohirrim).
  • In Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets the traveling space station has been traveling for so long that it has picked up various aliens and their habitats. One of the characters states that the station has traveled 700 million miles, or just inside the orbit of Saturn in our universe.
  • Zardoz: The reason the Tabernacle was created was because scientists explored the universe and discovered that nothing existed outside of Earth. The problem is the universe is both massive and constantly expanding, so it's almost impossible that they were able to explore the entire universe, let alone prove that mankind was alone in the universe.

  • The Star Challenge books had lots of this trope. One quite egregious example of both distance and energy has you and your robot being sent to explore an unknown dimension (how just an agent and a robot will explore an entire Universe is not discussed here). One bad ending of that book has copies of you and your robotic pal appearing everywhere until the Universe is said to be filled with clones of both. Your robot comments that dimension is being created with copies, and wondering where the energy comes from until he disintegrates — as you — because the dimension has used both your energy and the one of your robot to make all those countless copies.

  • A common misunderstanding of the title of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea would imply Nemo diving by more than the diameter of the planet. Verne intended, and contemporary readers understood, the title to mean travelling 20,000 leagues under the sea, equivalent to two complete circumnavigations of the Earth. A better translation of the title, from the original French, would be "20,000 Leagues Under the Seas."

  • Averted, and wryly lampshaded, in the Ancillary Justice trilogy, where established "gates" allow ships to leap swiftly from one location to another, and some ships can even generate their own gates, but various circumstances still require them to take the slower old-fashioned route. At one point, an urgent summons from a gate to the nearest space station still results in our heroines cooling their heels in the shuttle for an entire day.
    "We often speak casually of distances within a single solar system—of a station's being near a moon or planet, of a gate's being near a system's most prominent station—when in fact those distances are measured in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of kilometers."
  • Averted in Aniara. The author consulted heavily with Niels Bohr to get the science aspects as right as possible. Instead, the author uses the size of the void between the stars for horror, drama and tragedy. Aniara is just a small speck in infinity, and the crew and passengers are powerless against the vast, all-consuming void, and doomed to travel through nothingness for eternity. Several of the passengers can't deal with the fact that Earth is within spitting distance, astronomically speaking, but beyond their grasp even if they could restore the engines.
  • Animorphs:
    • In one book they go to another planet said to be 500 million light years away. It is implied this planet is in the Milky Way when in fact 500 million light-years would be enough to traverse the entire Milky Way 5000 times.
    • In the final book, the protagonists search through an area stated to be "billions of light-years" across in a matter of a month. Even with an FTL ship, this seems far-fetched.

  • Belisarius Series: The Malwa are pictured sending orders trying to direct covert operations in Constantinople. 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, but given the technology of the time period, it's equivalent to us trying to control a probe outside the solar system. For comparative purposes, the Pony Express passed mail 1900 kilometers in 10 days on average (190-200km per day) which is consistent with the speeds claimed for the systems used by the Mongolian, Roman, and Persian empires. It's about 5000 kilometers from the historical capital of Malwa to Constantinople, giving a one way message time of about a month.

  • Brandon Sanderson's Cosmere was originally said to be a dwarf galaxy that contained all the worlds the various stories take place on. This trope spurred him to trim that down to a star cluster containing no more than 100 stars, because even a dwarf galaxy would be far too much to write in.

  • The Death of Sleep, in Anne McCaffrey's Planet Pirates series, has the protagonist's ship get 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, Dragonriders of Pern, 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 Encyclopedia Brown book averts this. A scam artist attempts to raise money for a scale model of the universe in the Grand Canyon, using an inch-wide model of the Earth to show he's legit. Encyclopedia, of course, points out that a scale model of the universe, even with an inch-wide Earth, would be too big to fit on the planet, much less the Grand Canyon.

  • In The Flight of the Eisenstein, James Swallow errs on the side of too much scale. Mortarion is described as an analogue of the Earthly legend of the Grim Reaper despite being a billion light years away. All action in the Warhammer 40,000 universe takes place in the Milky Way which is 100,000 to 120,000 light years in diameter.

  • Averted in Good Will Mission, where the intelligence branch wants to use an unsuspecting diplomatic graduate to help them locate something that has been hidden somewhere in the sector of space owned by the Haptors. The head of the diplomatic academy doesn't like using the cadet this way and wonders why they don't simply use the fleet's vast resources to search the sector. He points out that the Haptors only have about two hundred inhabited planets and maybe a dozen that are in the process of being colonized. The spook counters that they also have thousands upon thousands of uninhabited systems, just like any galactic race's sector, and searching them all would take way too long.

  • 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 first novel in the setting, 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. Foster exploits this throughout the whole series to get his characters where he wants them to be.

  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
    • 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.
    • Lampshaded by 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.
  • In the Honor Harrington books, David Weber averts this: ships in his books routinely battle at ranges of millions of kilometers or more, battles take hours or even days before anyone is in range of anyone else, and until the Manticorans finally invent a workable FTL communication system, everyone deals with long delays between sending a message and getting a reply due to the distances involved. Given his original concept of Wooden Ships and Iron Men IN SPACE!, the invention of FTL communications is tantamount to giving such warships early line-of-sight radio.

  • In I Am Number Four, the planet Lorien is described as 300,000,000 miles away. It's so far away that their advanced spaceships took a year to traverse the distance to Earth, and they are trying to prepare Earth for when the bad aliens arrive in their less-advanced spaceships. Unfortunately, 300,000,000 miles would put Lorien between Mars and Jupiter in the Asteroid Belt, and even our 'primitive' spacecraft can make that journey in less than a year.
  • 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, or fifteen miles, wide at the point they're trying to cross.

  • 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) and yells at the other captain across the intervening space.

  • Averted in The Lost Fleet series. Once proper fleet tactics are re-introduced, battles consist of hours or even days of maneuver punctuated by tenths of seconds of combat as the fleets finally get within firing range before going out of range again. And in multiple cases, there are concerns over whether events are happening elsewhere in the solar system they don't know about (such as enemy reinforcements arriving) because the light won't reach them for hours. In addition, the characters explain to a non-military person why all battles takes place in star systems: there's simply nothing in interstellar space worth fighting for. No planets, no stars, no resources, no jump points. In fact, the only time anyone ever went to interstellar space was before the jump drive was invented, so the first colonies were settled at sublight.

  • In Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles, colonists on Mars can see the nuclear war on Earth with their naked eyes, because the planet in the night sky briefly blazes three times brighter than before. Only way this would be possible is if the nuclear blasts had produced an Earth-Shattering Kaboom, and since the colonists later return to a still intact and somewhat livable Earth...

  • Larry Niven's books generally avert this.
    • 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, travel-wise.
    • One alien species on the Ringworld once created a massive empire covering 1/10 of one degree of other words, larger than all the planets in our solar system combined.
    • Located in one of the Ringworld oceans are small archipelagos where the islands form a map of the continents of various inhabited worlds in Known Space. The maps are at 1:1 scale.
    • Protector has 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."

  • In Perry Rhodan spaceships have trouble using their FTL close by large masses. This trouble is also visible in areas with 'increased stellar density', like the center of the Milky Way, where stars are constantly interacting with each other and the fifth dimension because they are only light-months apart. Thus, when a messenger needs to meet up with someone in the galactic core, he travels by FTL, with a few light-weeks or light-months of relativistic travel to avoid going FTL into dangerous areas, yet he has to arrive at his destination in days. He arrives on time.

  • The Railway Series takes place on the fictional Island of Sodor, which is in the place of the real-life Isle of Walney. Walney is only 11 miles long and one mile wide with a population of 10,000 people and is municipally incorporated as part of the town & borough of Barrow-in-Furness. It has no rail transport of its own. The fictional Sodor is many times larger at 62 miles wide and 51 long note . This presents some headscratchers, because the island would be too large to fit comfortably between Barrow and the Isle of Man, but still far too small to have the massive railway network depicted in the books (and especially the TV series). Perhaps it's Bigger on the Inside?

  • Much like in the Honor Harrington books, David Weber gets distances, times, and communications speeds right in the Safehold series. But he's got no sense for what makes a "confined space" for a ship of the line. Characters routinely describe channels tens of miles across as uncomfortably narrow; here on Earth, the Strait of Gibraltar (ten miles across), the Great Belt (12 miles), and other similarly-sized passages have seen battles of maneuver.
  • 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.
  • In Ann Aguirre's Sirantha Jax series, "galaxy" and "solar system" seem to be used interchangeably. A lot. The most egregious example is when the new fleet deploys ONE starship to patrol each galaxy.
  • George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire: Although it's set on a continent about the size of South America (to judge by the distances given), going by travel times, it's roughly the size of Great Britain. Even that seems to be a stretch, because the North, which according to GRRM is based on Scotland, is effectively administered at the top by a single Lord and Lady, one Maester, and one knight. Then there's the multi-continental spy network with an extremely flat hierarchy of all field agents reporting to one man (Varys)...
    • The Wall, a 700-foot tall wall (~215 meters) which marks the northern boundary of the Seven Kingdoms, is probably the most obvious example. Martin is said to have been shocked by the first images of it for the TV series, having never pictured it being as huge as it turned out to be. For comparison, the highest point on the Great Wall of China is only about 50 feet (15m) at its tallest, the tallest castle walls in the world are closer to 180 feet (55m), the Statue of Liberty is 305 ft or 93 m and the tip of the Eiffel Tower is 1,063 ft or 324 m. Considering the wall is supposed to also be a continuous structure, hundreds of miles in length, the end result has more in common with geographical features than anything man-made; even if it was somehow built by people it'd be absurd as a defensive structure, as hitting targets at the bottom with any accuracy would be impossible.
  • Generally averted in the Star Carrier books. The setting has no FTL sensors, which can be a blessing and a curse. For example, the first novel starts with a human carrier battle group arriving in the Eta Boötis system. The moment they arrive, they pick up the hours-long sensor readings from the hostile Turusch forces orbiting a planet, knowing full well that the Turusch won't see them for some time, giving the scattered battle group a chance to link up. Immediately upon arrival, the star carrier America launches a fighter wing towards the planet. The grav-fighters use Artificial Gravity for propulsion, which allows them to accelerate to near-c in minutes. Thus, the fighters are traveling just behind the light announcing the fleet's arrival to the enemy, and are able to launch a number of devastating strikes, taking out several enemy ships (note: this only works because the Turusch are in predictable orbits).
  • 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.")
  • Mostly averted by Star Wars Legends, whose writers are aware of the scale of objects.
    • The Thrawn Trilogy:
      • When the heroes know they need to find something on an unfamiliar world, they don't act like knowing what planet it's on will make things easy. Even if most things are measured in the order of light years, planets are still big.
      • When Luke's X-Wing is determined to be somewhere within a light-year of Thrawn's Star Destroyer, Thrawn hires mercenaries to find it since it would take too long to search for themselves. Just because hyperdrive allows traveling along such a distance very rapidly doesn't mean that finding a 40-foot ship in a 4.2 cubic lightyear volume is an easy prospect. Even then, Luke is only found because another Force user follows a hunch.
      • When Luke returns to Dagobah to search the old site of Yoda's hut, he finds (to his surprise) that he has absolutely no problem landing on the planet this time, and wonders if he originally crashed on Dagobah in The Empire Strikes Back because Yoda intentionally pulled his X-Wing to the surface with the Force. For confused fans, this finally explains how Luke managed to "accidentally" stumble upon Yoda's dwelling when he had never even been to Dagobah before: Yoda sensed his presence and guided him there.
    • 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.
    • In The New Rebellion, after casually lampshading the idea of 2-D Space, Wedge takes a turbolaser cannon and shoves aside the targeting computer — he doesn't have the Force, but he's confident in his own abilities and, while normally targets are too far away to get a visual, this one is close enough to see.
    • In Darksaber, an Imperial fleet has come to attack the Jedi Academy on Yavin IV. One of the Jedi defending this manages to harness the energy which has been stored in the temple structures there to hurl them back across the solar system, crippling their hyperdrives while doing so and dying from it himself. Admiral Pellaeon, who commands the fleet, states that by sublight drive it will take months until they reach Yavin IV again. However, at this point, Daala enters the system in her Super Star Destroyer anyway.
    • Even so, a few errors do slip through. 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) planet of that star system.
    • Lucas himself isn't even clear on just how big a planet is. In a conversation with Alan Dean Foster, who was writing Splinter of the Mind's Eye for him, Lucas had this exchange (Foster is noticeably polite throughout the transcript, though one gets the distinct impression he's fighting the urge to grab Lucas by the shoulders and shake him):
      Lucas: [Princess Leia] hasn't been heard from since, so Luke wonders what's happened to her.
      Foster: Then you don't use her as much because you can't find her.
      Lucas: Well, he can find her instantly. I mean you've got them both there on the planet.
Even if Lucas meant Luke finding her with the Force (as they become aware of each other's locations in The Empire Strikes Back by it for instance) Luke still wouldn't be able to get to her instantly.
  • The hybrid sci-fi/Wuxia story Stellar Transformations gives grandiose numbers that often makes it comically unbelievable instead (like having a single continent with medieval infrastructure support 10 billion people), but none of his transgressions are as insane as the ridiculous distances he quotes, such as the size of the Astral Chaotic Sea, which is between two continents on a single planet, and according to the main character's calculations, 300 billion li wide. While li is a somewhat ambiguous measurement of distance (its length was different depending on the era), the modern li is exactly 500m or 0.5km long. That means that the Astral Chaotic Sea (which is, if I may remind you again, an actual sea with water and everything) is 150 billion kilometers wide. In other words, it's a body of water 16.5 times larger than the diameter of the solar system!

  • 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 concludes it's an issue with different calendars. The real answer is that the goddess traveling with them was cheating with space and time a bit.

  • WIEDERGEBURT: Legend of the Reincarnated Warrior: Volume 12 states that the Demon Beast Mountain Range extends for "several million kilometers". This would be nuts even by fantasy standards, especially since the characters are exploring the place on foot (albeit at Super-Speed), but factor in that volume 9 revealed it was Earth All Along and it becomes patently absurd. Maybe the author meant square kilometers?
  • The playable world in World of Warcraft is drastically reduced from what it should realistically be (indeed, at one point, scaling using the height of a female Tauren, a group of players determined the entire world was roughly the size of the city of London). This is fine; no one wants to have to travel a month before starting a new quest. The problem is that some writers in the expanded universe seem to take these distances as accurate and replicate them in their books, such as Varian crossing Ashenvale in less than a day on foot in Wolfheart.

    Live-Action TV 

In General:

By Series:

  • The Almost Human episode "You Are Here" revolves around an inescapable magic bullet "with an accuracy of 25 centimetersnote ". Or enough to turn a shot to the heart into a complete miss.
  • Another Life (2019): The Salvare can't fly blind through a few light-years of black-matter space because they might hit a planet. The odds of that happening are so infinitesimally low that they defy calculation. As a matter of fact, it's highly unlikely that there is a planet anywhere in there.
  • Babylon 5
    • The series generally tries 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" attempts 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. Indeed, the battle also features quite a bit of Old School Dogfighting, but the fighters are so small compared to the capital ships that you can only discern them as specks and flashes of light around the bigger ships. Nonetheless, most of the series' remaining battles give in to the Rule of Cool anyway. It's also explained that space battles happen so close due to beam weapon dispersal.
    • One example played completely straight is with Babylon 4, formerly located in Sector 14, which was quarantined after the station's mysterious disappearance, reappearance, and re-disappearance into a time distortion. Its former location is stated more than once to be only 3 hours flight time in normal space from Babylon 5. FTL travel doesn't exist in this series except through hyperspace, yet the trip is made by Starfuries and transports, ships not even capable of creating hyperspace jump-points. At sublight speeds, travel time that short would not only put it in the same solar system, it would very likely be no farther away than the Moon is to Earth. Babylon 5 wouldn't need to send ships out to investigate, they could just use a telescope and a radio.
    • Unfortunately, there's no justification for the scene in which Londo, representing the Centauri, and Morden, representing the Shadows, appear to be splitting the entire Milky Way into two spheres of influence on a map. The series is otherwise very consistent that all the sapient races depicted only inhabit a speck of the Orion Arm. Of course, real life Earthly colonial empires regularly did the same thing - after founding a bare colony, they'd form agreements with other colonial powers about who gets which half of the entire colony.
  • The original Battlestar Galactica:
    • "Star system", "galaxy" and "universe" get mixed up a lot, with the show using "galaxy" when logic would dictate they meant a star system, and "universe" when logic would suggest they meant "galaxy." For example Commander 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 a haystack the size of Jupiter.
    • "Lightspeed" is also frequently mentioned as the Galactica's top speed, with most of the fleet being much slower, and they're talking about crossing galaxies when they likely would barely make it to the next star system.
    • Episode "Lost Planet of the Gods Part II". The Galactica discovers a star in the middle of a great dark void. Commander Adama says to search for a planet in an orbit 1-3 parsecs (roughly 3.25-9.75 light years) away from the star. When the Galactica reaches the planet, the star's light illuminates the planet. Even if the planet were only 1 parsec away, it would still be too far away for the star to provide daylight to the planet or the gravity of the star to hold the planet in orbit around it.
  • Battlestar Galactica (2003):
    • While it mostly avoids this trope, 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 questionable tactics.
    • 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. 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.
  • Blake's 7:
    • One scene showed someone laying mines around the Milky Way galaxy to keep out aliens. There are two ways to interpret this, neither of which is plausible:
      One: It's meant literally and the entire galaxy is surrounded by mines. By the time you gathered enough matter to build this minefield, there'd be no Milky Way galaxy left.
      Two: The mines aren't surrounding the entire galaxy, just on the likely invasion route. Of course this runs headlong into another trope as the alien invaders could just navigate around it.
    • The show, 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.
    • Almost every single exterior shot shows a dozen planets in the frame, all big enough to make out surface details.
    • One technique they used to mitigate this 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.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The classic series tended to throw around "galaxy" very casually. Early episodes of the show are particularly bad, regularly using "universe", "galaxy" and "solar system" interchangeably. To give just a few examples: The Dominators rule the ten galaxies; "The Daleks' Master Plan" is set at an Intergalactic Conference, with the Outer Galaxies allied with the Daleks; and in "The Monster of Peladon" The Federation is at war with Galaxy 5 (although the Expanded Universe later retconned this as a terrorist organisation with a grandiose name).
    • In "The Wheel in Space", Cybermen divert a meteor storm in the direction of the eponymous space station by sending a star nova in the Hercules Globular Cluster, 25,100 light years away. The disparity in scale is at least twelve orders of magnitude.
    • In "Castrovalva", when the TARDIS is flying through space out of control, Nyssa says it will fly until it crashes into a star. Space, being extremely empty, makes this highly unlikely to happen.
    • Probably the most spectacular example is in the first part of the story The Trial of a Time Lord, in which Earth is hidden by moving its entire solar system several million miles, the celestial equivalent of hiding from your date in an empty movie theatre by leaning an inch to the left. For scale, Mercury never comes within twenty-eight million miles of our Sun, despite being its closest planet. This was later changed to "two light-years". While 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 the 1996 TV movie, 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 at around 100,000 light-years, making it so Gallifrey would have to be far past the edge of the Milky Way. Earlier episodes establish Gallifrey to be only 29,000 light-years from Earth. 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 halfway to the Moon. And Earth-launched missiles can still reach it without trouble.
  • Earth: Final Conflict often mentions how the war between the Taelons and the Jaridians is millions of years old and has spanned galaxies, yet one episode mentions that the Jaridian homeworld is in orbit around Tau Ceti, one of the closest stars to Earth.
  • The Expanse: The series is called "The Expanse", so this is generally averted or at least downplayed. In "Dulcinea" for instance, two days is considered, "Not far out of our way," and that only gets Canterbury within 50,000 kilometers, a distance easily within reach of their "leaky lifeboat." Inter-planetary communication also consists of sending video messages back and forth rather than real-time conversation due to the immense distances. That said, visuals are sometimes configured so that several objects travelling together that could easily be many, many miles apart are shown tightly grouped to fit on the screen together.
  • 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.
  • Firefly was ambivalent as to whether action was taking place in a "system", presumed to be a solar system or the galaxy. It, however, tries to avert the whole issue by being vague about distances, for example: "How far can it go?" "Standard short-range."
  • The Invaders (1967) 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 find something closer.
  • Lost in Space acknowledged the depths of space in the first episode: because of the distance to Alpha Centauri, the Robinsons are put in suspended animation to survive the trip. After that though, they are tootling around the various star systems with no difficulty and no reference to time dilation.
    • The remake makes a mistake of its own when Maureen says they are "trillions of light years off-course." For reference, the diameter of the entire observable universe is only about 93 billion light years.
  • The Mandalorian:
    • Upon being told there's a Mandalorian on Tatooine, Mando scoffs that he never saw one there, on the entire planet. Even given that the majority of Tatooine's surface is inhospitable to human life, the habitable area is still large enough that Mando wouldn't have seen all of it with his own eyes, so that's some overconfidence there.
    • In "The Passenger", Mando has to ferry a frog alien and her eggs to another system...without hyperdrive. And in one day.
  • In the Monty Python's Flying Circus episode "You're No Fun Any More", the "Science Fiction" sketch has the narrator say that either the universe or a galaxy (the wording isn't clear) is 77 billion miles across, which is about 1% of a light year. Both the universe and a galaxy are much larger than that.
  • In The Orville, during the Battle for Earth, the ship is at one point said to be 50,000 km from Earth. Except Earth is shown to be filling the screen instead of being the size of a large saucer.
  • Power Rangers
    • The franchise as a whole is guilty of this, having Rangers and villains travel to other galaxies like it's a hop, skip, and a jump away. The United Alliance of Evil is in control of multiple galaxies, and in Countdown to Destruction, launches an attack on the whole universe.
    • On the other hand, in 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. One could presume they're intending to cruise until they reach their destination and then use up the rest of their fuel to decelerate, but then one wonders what's powering the life support.
  • 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...
  • 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. The moon also 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.
  • In Stargate SG-1, Teal'c claims that the planet Alaris is "several billion miles" from Earth. An interesting measurement, considering that the closest star (Alpha Centauri) to our Solar System is over 20 trillion miles away. Very liberal use of the term "several".
  • The Star Trek franchise frequently made huge errors in distance, both in the script and on-screen, as production often didn't allow anyone to verify accuracy, and the pre-internet resources at the time of production were far more limited. Recent Star Trek installments have improved significantly.
    • Star Trek: The Original Series, with Early Instalment Weirdness varied in this trope.
      • Regarding space battles, sometimes 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.
      • Interstellar distances and speed tended to be wonky, as it was not established properly yet how fast the Federation's spaceships could go. The crew of the Enterprise went both to the edge of the galaxy and to its core over the course of the series and movies, both of which would be years long journeys in the other series of the franchise.
      • The second pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before," attempted to described the vastness of space to their new audience. Owning to Early-Installment Weirdness, Kirk described what happened in his log as:
      Kirk: Heading back on impulse power; the ship's space warp ability gone. Earth bases that were once days away are now years in the distance.
      • In the episode "Arena", Sulu comments that the Metrons threw the Enterprise "clear across the Galaxy, 500 parsecs" from where they were. Except that the Milky Way is 100 thousand light-years across, and 500 parsecs is only 1630 light-years, or 1.5% of the diameter of the galaxy. This would be equivalent to walking to the end of a typical home's driveway, and saying you walked a mile.
      • In the fan-favorite episode "The Trouble with Tribbles", Chekov reports to Kirk that the Klingon battlecrusier is "100 kilometers off (space station) K7". At that distance, the station and Klingon ship should appear as dots in space, relative to each other's position. Only their blinking running lights should discern either of them from the background stars. But subsequent exterior shots show the Klingon ship orbiting within hundreds of meters of the station, same as the Enterprise.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation
      • The episode "Yesterday's Enterprise" features Capt. Picard telling Wesley Crusher to keep Enterprise-D "within two hundred kilometers of the Enterprise-C" during their battle against the Klingons. Enterprise-D and Enterprise-C are both around half a kilometer in length, so at 200 kilometers apart (400 times their length), the ships shouldn't be visible to each other except by sensors or scanners. Yet in the very next shot, the two ships are shown sitting almost next to each other.
      • In the 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, twenty-three Federation starships create a "tachyon detection grid" that somehow covers the entire Klingon-Romulan border without leaving a gap of a few hundred square meters that a ship could sneak through. The border would have to be ridiculously small for something like that to work, even though on most maps it was on the order of thousands of square light years.
    • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
      • In the series pilot, "Emissary", Deep Space Nine is physically moved from a near orbit of Bajor to the mouth of the wormhole in the Denorios belt, a "charged plasma field" some 116 million kilometres from Bajor (expanded universe sources suggest that the Denorios belt is the Bajoran system's equivalent of our own asteroid belt, which is around 330 million kilometres beyond Earth's orbit). With only six working thrusters on the station, even miracle worker O'Brien believes this would take at least a month; but they manage to make this trip in less than a day by using the station's deflector shields to generate a low-level warp field and "lower the inertial mass of the station", which nearly tears the station apart in the process. Even O'Brien's original estimate suggests the station's sub-starship thrusters are very powerful, since it would need to achieve an average speed of ~47km/sec to do that journey in a month; for comparison, Voyager 1 is currently travelling at 15km/sec.
      • The series, however, did get better with distances. In several episodes, the cast gets 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 they 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.
      • The episode "By Inferno's Light" has a trilithium weapon like Star Trek: Generations, only this time fired from space. This should solve the problem of depicting distance to the sun, but here the Bajoran sun appears to be no more than the same scale as its own model relative to the ships flying close to it, instead of the model successfully conveying a far off distance with perspective. That means the sun is really, really small.
      • The episode "Call to Arms" featured a mine field around a solar system. Even ignoring that the characters seemed to be operating under 2-D space logic so that anyone trying to avoid this minefield could simply fly over or under it, they were building it at a rate that would have taken them hundreds of years to complete. A later episode tackled the issue a bit more sensibly with a space minefield around a very small area (the opening of a wormhole), as well as using matter replicators to let it lay itself.
    • Star Trek: Voyager
      • In the episode "Renaissance Man", the Doctor complies when aliens capture Captain Janeway and demand Voyager's warp core in exchange for her release. His justification: "Voyager can survive without its warp core... but not without its captain." Though heartwarming and poetic, the ship was in interstellar space and without it the ship can only travel at sublight speed using its impulse engines, meaning that in this case it literally cannot. Losing Janeway, while tragic, is the more sensible option.
      • In the episode "The Swarm", Voyager's initial phaser shot against the Swarm doesn't work, and Lt. Paris says that the Swarm is only "7,000 kilometers away". At that distance, the Swarm wouldn't be visible to Voyager's crew except by using long-range scanners. Yet during the chase, multiple shots show the Swarm literally on Voyager's tail. Judging by Voyager's length of 345 meters, the Swarm is less than 700 meters behind them for most of the chase.note 
      • In the episode "Hunters", Seven says that the Hirogen ship is "at 50 thousand kilometers and closing", yet in the previous shot, the attacking ship looms large over the shuttle that she and Tuvok are piloting. The attacking ship is no more than six-to-eight times the size of the shuttle, and wasn't more than 100 meters above and behind them when Seven made her statement.
      • In the episode "Bliss", an anomaly is described as 300 million kilometers away.note  Later, Seven states that they are 3.4 light-years away from it.
      • In the series finale, "Endgame", the Borg transwarp conduit that Voyager emerges through is stated to be "less than one light-year from Earth". However, the ship appears to emerge closer to Earth than the Moon is; approximately one light-SECOND away from Earth. Which that is technically less than one light-year from Earth.
    • Star Trek: Enterprise
      • In the pilot "Broken Bow", it's stated Warp 4.5 can get the ship from Earth to Neptune and back in six minutes, placing it around 82c. Then, they need to get to Qo'noS in 4 days, which is about 90 light years away, yet the Enterprise manages to do it using aforementioned Warp 4.5. Thus, in a single episode we get Warp 4.5 representing two different speeds, one of them being nearly a thousand times faster than the other.
    • Star Trek: Discovery
      • In the episode "The War Without, The War Within", the Discovery needs to reach Starbase One and we're told this will be difficult because the sector is crawling with Klingon ships. There are two problems with this scenario. The first is that Discovery is stated to be only one light year away from Starbase One which, in interstellar terms, would mean they're practically there already. Secondly, Starbase One is said to be 100 AUs from Earth, which would put it on the outer edge of the solar system, and basically means the Klingons are at our doorstep. Yet Starfleet Command acts as if this was just another unfortunate defeat, not an immediate existential threat.
    • Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
      • In the episode "Strange New Worlds", Kiley 279 is stated to be less than 1 light-year from the Xahea system, allowing the Kileans to have observed the battle in "Such Sweet Sorrow, Part 2" without faster-than-light technology. While this isn't as bad an example as some in Star Trek (the math at least works this time), it's still practically spitting distance by astronomical standards: some of the two stars' outer satellites would probably be orbiting inside the other star's heliosphere, and theoretically they could even be a binary pair.
  • The Twilight Zone (1959):
    • "The Lonely" takes place on an asteroid whose orbit brings it within 9 million miles of Earth on a regular basis. The asteroid is "6,000 miles from north to south, 4,000 from east to west" (about 5,000 miles wide). In Real Life, the largest known asteroid in the solar system is Ceres, which has a diameter of 587 miles. If an asteroid 5,000 miles wide had an orbit that often brought it within 9 million miles of Earth, astronomers would certainly have detected it by now.
    • In "Third From the Sun", aliens living on an Earth-like planet say they're going to Earth, which is 11 million miles away. A planet that close should be able to be seen with the naked eye.
    • In "I Shot an Arrow into the Air", a rocket sent to visit an asteroid crash lands. The location of the landing, while unpleasantly hot, has Earth-normal gravity and an Earth-normal atmosphere... so normal that, in fact, the astronauts are still on Earth and never made it anywhere. That's realistic, but any astronauts who would believe that they actually made it to an asteroid despite having a very short journey and the landing place not requiring space suits or the like should not have passed the mental examination, even given 1959 levels of space knowledge!
    • The introduction to "Elegy" says that the astronauts are "lost amongst the stars" in "a far corner of the universe". They end up on an asteroid in a solar system with two suns, which shows that they're outside Earth's solar system. However, they say (twice!) that they're 655 million miles from Earth, which shows that not only are they not lost, but they're actually inside the Earth's solar system between the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn!
    • "To Serve Man":
      • Prior to boarding the Kanamit spaceship, a woman says that their planet is "billions" of miles from Earth. Mr. Chambers later says that it's 100 billion miles out in space. The nearest it could possibly be is in the Alpha Centauri system, around 4.3 light years (more than 25 trillion miles) away. By comparison, Pluto is on average 3.67 billion miles from the Sun.
      • Rod Serling's narration says that the Kanamits come from another galaxy and the Kanamit ambassador says that they "come from a planet far beyond this galaxy" (i.e., outside the Milky Way galaxy). If these statements are true, the comments by characters that the Kanamits' planet is billions of miles away are even more untrue.
    • In "On Thursday We Leave For Home", an Earth colony is stranded on a hellish asteroid orbiting two suns, which means it's in another solar system. The asteroid is described as being either ten billion miles from Earth (in the previous episode's preview) or one billion (repeatedly, in the episode itself). In either case, it's much closer to the Sun than it is to another star (or stars), and in the second case it's closer to the Earth than Saturn.
    • In "Probe 7: Over and Out", the pilot of a starship says that he has crash-landed on a planet 4.3 light years from his home planet. In the narration, Rod Serling says that he's "several million miles" from his launching point, which is a lot less than 4.3 light years (more than 25 trillion miles).
  • UFO (1970): In both "The Dalotek Affair" and "Ordeal", Commander Straker says that aliens from another solar system came from a billion miles away, which would mean that they came from inside the solar system. The nearest star system to Earth is Proxima Centauri, approximately 4.24 light years or about 25 trillion miles away. Even if he had been using "billion" in the long scale, which is 1,000,000,000,000, it still would have been wrong, because that is still much less than the necessary distance.

  • The Mechanisms have a filk version of Tony Goodenough's "Pump Shanty", where the crew of a spaceship are pumping manually to keep the damaged life-support system functioning for three days until they can reach "the Periphery". The original lyric is "we're just a thousand miles from home" - about one twenty-fifth of Earth's circumference, and a very long way to go on a sailing ship that predates engine-powered bilge pumps. The Mechanisms' lyric is "a million miles from home". Assuming they're heading for the periphery of their solar system (and not, say, their galaxy) and theirs is roughly the same size as ours - well, the minimum distance between Earth and Pluto is 2.66 billion miles. Either they've already been on this ship for at least twenty years, or they should be able to cover a million miles pretty quickly, which takes some of the bite out of the sarcasm of the original lyric. Or they're just being figurative when they say a million.
  • The short narrations that precede the lyrics of Ayreon's album The Universal Migrator 2 - Flight of the Migrator have a goof putting the quasar 3C 273 in the Virgo Cluster of galaxies. While 3C 273 is in the direction of the Virgo constellation, that quasar it's at nearly 2.5 billion light-years and that galaxy cluster at just around 50 million light-years, being totally unrelated to the latter.
  • The music video for "The Ghost Inside" by the Broken Bells features a toll booth in space.
  • Doctor Steel has a song called ''12,000 Miles Through Space" which is about aliens crash landing on earth and jumpstarting humanity. These aliens apparently didn't come from very far, as the Moon orbits at just under 240,000 miles from Earth. The song samples a recording about satellite transmission, and that's far more reasonable, as some satellites do actually cruise at about that altitude.
  • 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.
  • "The Final Countdown" by Swedish band Europe. "We're heading for Venus and still we stand tall [...] With so many light years to go and things to be found." Admittedly, light seconds doesn't sound nearly as good.
  • 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."
  • 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.

  • Journey into Space: In Journey to the Moon / Operation Luna, while under the control of the Time Travellers, Mitch claims that their ship is from hundreds of lightyears away: the other side of the universe.
  • 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.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The space battle Gaiden Game Battlefleet Gothic put some thought into scale issues, 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 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, but he also has to hit a target equivalent to headbutting a pinhead from a mile away.
  • 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 gone on record saying that BattleTech Weapons are not that short-ranged as form of Gameplay and Story Segregation so that players don't need to rent a tennis court to play a properly scaled round, though unfortunately there's also 20 years' worth of novels have various plots and tactics that more or less hinge on this fact to work. On the other hand, Battletech's sense of interstellar scale is, barring a few errors, fairly good. Even going faster than light, it can take months to cross the Inner Sphere and it's clear that even after a thousand years, explored space is little more than a rounding error compared to the entire Milky Way.
  • D20 Future's FTL rules fancifully claim that the first faster than light drives make humanity able to "reach distant stars in mere weeks"... and then proceeds to put up stats that make the first FTL drives 5 times the speed of light and the best 25. For reference, Proxima Centauri (the nearest star to earth) is a 9-month journey at 5 times the speed of light. A 'distant star', like for example ULAS J0074+25 which is one of the furthest stars away from us in our own galaxy, would be a 36,000 year trip at the fastest speeds available in the system.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Gameplay and Story Segregation means that many weapons have laughably small ranges, such as 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.

    Video Games 
  • 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, however, could be justified as the locker contains the remains of a supernatural creature, and some form of divine intervention is implied (though not stated outright).
  • Aurora 4X 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 Moon's. Some comets have extremely large orbits, taking decades and centuries of game time to approach the Earth.
  • Dragon Age: Origins. Given the size of Ferelden according to the official maps, and the time frame of events prior to the start of the game, only two of the six possible PC origin stories (City Elf and Mage) could have actually happened due to the travel times involved.
  • Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl has the plot twist that you are really somewhere in post-apocalyptic Japan. One of the characters, Raquna, is from Ontario, and the game includes skits where they get various provisions (including a cream churn) from there. If Ontario is where it commonly is, and not a Fantasy Counterpart Culture or different type of Ontario, we are looking at traveling 6000 miles at minimum. And there are no known means of fast transportation between cities.
  • 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.note 
    • 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 coordinates. Complexes are reached by short-range intra-stellar "acceleration gates", which catapult you into the location.
    • 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, and would look no different from being elsewhere in open space.
  • 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. Either he meant he could see Las Vegas from Mexico City, which isn't possible due to the curvature of Earth, or he saw the ICBMs flying towards Las Vegas, which is highly unlikely as not only do ICBMs usually fly far too high up to be seen, this would mean the missiles were for some reason being launched from the South Pacific or taking a giant detour south.
  • FreeSpace gets this wrong in the other direction. 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 (4.3 ly away), so in the 30 years between games, there would have been plenty of time for ordinary radio messages to and from home, even if the signal degradation meant only basic Morse Code could be sent.
  • Halo series
    • Harvest, one of the most remote Human colonies, and the site of first contact with the Covenant, orbits the star Epsilon Indi and is 12 light years away. Reach, the "Second Military Capital" of the UNSC, orbits the star Epsilon Eridani, at 10.5 light years away. Not only that, but it's closer to Harvest than it is to Earth. In addition, the UNSC has, by the time of First Contact, settled hundreds of other planets and moons, yet they had never encountered, say, the Kig-Yar, whose homeworld is only 41 light years away from Earth. Word of God later hand-waved some of this as being the result of Slipspace simply being weird (for example, Harvest was considered the most remote colony because it took the longest to travel to, not because it was the furthest away in real space, but then it raises the qeustion why there's a very clear link between the distances in the two spaces: after all, why would the UNSC be so (relatively) densely concentrated within a few dozen light years rather than being spread around the galaxy at random?
    • The Covenant failing to find Earth for 27 years... when the first planet they discovered was Harvest, less than a dozen light years away. When considering the capabilities of their technology and the size of their own territory (which spans a thousand worlds scattered throughout the Orion Arm), this is equivalent to the Mongol Empire invading Japan in 1274, landing an army in Kyushu, and then spending the next three decades wandering around that small island looking for Fukuoka, while Honshu goes on completely untouched, the invaders being unaware it exists. Warfleet attempted to explain this by noting that the Covenant can barely navigate their own territory, and that entire planets can simply go missing and not have contact reestablished for decades. Yet, even with that explanation, it defies belief that they couldn't have found Earth much earlier simply by scanning for radio waves. Note that the Jackals' home system is closer to Earth than some of Earth's own colonies, and that the Jackals have been part of the Covenant for over 1,200 years by the time of the games.
  • 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. Then there's the issue of the apartment-sized moon that randomly falls to Earth...
  • MechWarrior, adapted from BattleTech, carries over most of the source material's silliness, resulting in 200mm+ caliber guns having an effective range roughly equal to an handheld assault rifle, and in most of the games the projectiles instantly vanish at the end of their short maximum range. A long range sniping mech will usually have an absolute range of 900 meters to 1500m, while a close range brawling mech will be in the ~300m range; long for infantry, but at a Humongous Mecha's scale it is more like shooting someone at 30 meters.
  • No Man's Sky features planets grouped uncomfortably close to each other (only taking a few minutes for a player-ship to travel from one planet to another one). The devs admitted this was due to Rule of Cool, and given the result is some truly impressive alien skies it's acceptable.
  • Ratchet & Clank: 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 might have one too), and a fairly substantial city. Giant Clank can jump high enough to significantly reduce its size.
  • Starfield suffers a similar problem with the X-Universe games in which the asteroids and space debris are way too close in orbit with their parent moons/planets, which roughly means they run the risk of impact events that can affect their moons/planets at an alarmingly high frequency rate, and therefore will most likely cause a Class 6 or Class X Apocalypse How event due to how close they are from a scientific point of view. The developers admitted this to coming up with their own versions of writing up space travel and objects for the sake of convenience as almost all of the levels are procedurally generated, but even one with a passing knowledge of astrophysics should take into account that the orbital distances of such objects should be far more distant than what is portrayed in the game.
  • Star Trek Online inherits some issues from the canon it is derived from (with the exception of the Hobus Supernova, as the game more than once emphasizes that it doesn't make sense, and ultimately suggests that it was a subspace effect deliberate caused by meddlers operating on a technological scale significantly beyond the Federation or the Romulans), and has some of its own (partly for gameplay reasons), but it also has a civilization where the point is made that one of their flaws is that they really suffer from this trope — the Iconians, due to their massive usage of gateway technology for a very long time, apparently have a hard time grasping distances compared to the various civilizations travelling around at warp, since from their perspective pretty much everything is just a step away.
  • 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 of 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.
  • System Shock
    • In the original game, SHODAN wants to fire Citadel's mining laser at Earth from Saturn. While this is theoretically possible, the precision needed to aim across such distances to hit an object the size of Earth would be absolutely insane... not to mention it would take about 43 minutes for the laser to even get to Earth.
    • In System Shock 2 the grove jettisoned from Citadel Station has somehow made it to Tau Ceti in the 42 years between the games. Tau Ceti is just under 12 light-years away from our solar system. The developers have admitted this doesn't make much sense, but haven't given a definite explanation for how it happened either. While not impossible the grove somehow traveled at 28.6% of the speed of light, how it was accelerated to that speed and slowed down again without being destroyed is another matter (getting up to speed in a remotely feasible manner would take longer than the journey). The most commonly accepted theory is that the grove ran into some kind of Negative Space Wedgie that transported it to Tau Ceti; the System Shock Remake adds an extra audio log mentioning a mysterious wormhole recently discovered near Saturn, which ties into that theory.
  • Wing Commander was never all that clear on what units to use, depending on the game, but all of them were ludicrously off, giving us distances of less than 100km between planets in a system. 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.
    • In both Wing Commander and Freelancer, some planets are 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 the other hand, if we use planets as a rough benchmark, stars are damn tiny in these games, and the ships are massive.
  • World of Warcraft: One quest claims that Swamp of Sorrows is only a day's march away from Stormwind. Assuming their positions on the in-game map are accurate, this would mean you could cross the entire continent on foot in about a week.
  • 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. X: Rebirth features more logical distances as it shifts to a new interplanetary travel system, though planets are smaller than they should be.

  • Darths & Droids elaborately parodies the destruction of the Hosnian system in The Force Awakens, where the explosion could be seen right away from lightyears away (fifty in the comic), by revealing that the Peace Moon's beam travelled backwards in time to explode the system fifty years ago so that the explosion could be seen now. Heck, they weren't even aiming at the Hosnian system in this version; they just assumed they could shoot right through that area because there hadn't been anything there for fifty years. (The odds of aiming at one system and happening to have another in the way, given how space is almost entirely empty, is probably a straight example of this trope.) This was all because the designer of the beam had known his ignorant superiors would want to see a big explosion right away.

    Web Original 
  • In the BIONICLE web serial Federation of Fear, the characters make a quick getaway from a villain by boat and shortly thereafter randomly happen upon Tren Krom's island. A map of their world shows this quick random escape route was actually over a thousand miles long and spanning almost half a dozen other islands that they somehow missed.
  • An In-Universe example happens in the SCP Foundation entry SCP-1958, a microbus that, through means unknown, was able to achieve spaceflight, with the occupants' goal of reaching Alpha Centauri. They thought they would get there in maybe four weeks at most, despite the van only being able to reach 130 km/h. For reference, Alpha Centauri is 4.3 light years away. After two months, they were not even past the moon; the journal detailing the tragic journey points out that one of the crew "fucked up the math", which they did big time; at their current pace, they would've taken another 37 million years to reach their destination. By the time the Foundation discovers the ghost vessel, it was near Mars at best.

    Western Animation 
  • Technically an issue of area rather than distance, but the Grand Finale of Avatar: The Last Airbender was based on the Fire Nation using Sozin's Comet to burn the Earth Kingdom to the ground, using about five zeppelins. Although we don't know the exact size of the Earth Kingdom, it is the largest continent and country in the show's world and based on China, which has an area of about 10 million square kilometers.
  • The beginning scene of BIONICLE: The Legend Reborn 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 knows 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.
    • The story of the film involves the heroes traveling across the desert under what appears to be a handful of days. Looking at the official map published in a tie-in guidebook, this journey seems more or less feasible. But other measurements and comments given by the story writer throw a wrench into the calculations since according to these, the distance would actually be thousands upon thousands of miles, and the planet's relatively small and crammed settlements should be the size of countries. The movie also ends with the characters (most of them below human-size) pulling these settlements together with mere ropes, manpower and a few motorized vehicles, dragging them across the vast desert again under no time.
  • On The Fairly OddParents!, Timmy wishes that Vicky was "a million, million miles away from here." Cosmo responds by taking a measuring tape and flying into space until he counts the miles out to "one million one million and ends up on Yugopotamia, the home of Timmy's alien nemesis, Mark Chang. Assuming Cosmo counted one million + another million, ergo two million miles, that means Yugopotamia should be in viewing distance of Earth, being about 5 times the distance from Earth to the Moon. Assuming Cosmo counted a million of a million miles, meaning 1000000^2, that's still only about a sixth of a light-year, and the closest known star system is more than 4 light-years away.
  • 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.
    • 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.
    • In A Farewell to Arms, Mars suffers a doomsday event and is pushed out of its orbit. It comes close enough to Earth that the residents of Mars are able to jump to safety. Leela is unable to jump and, as Mars moves away, the scene ends. In the next scene, everyone is safely on Earth and Leela thanks Scruffy (the janitor) for saving her. Scruffy replies "Don't thank me, thank the ladder" while holding a ladder no more than 8ft in length.
  • In episode 12 of Green Lantern: The Animated Series, 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 (or rather, over) one in a spaceship.
  • Invoked in Justice League Unlimited: 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.
  • Loonatics Unleashed: it is revealed that Zadavia's planet is "over 600 parsecs from your own galaxy". 600 of them are still peanuts to a typical galaxy (the Milky Way measures over 50 times that distance).
  • The Magic School Bus: Some liberties are made for Rule of Drama, however to lessen the chance of misinformation (it is an edutainment show, after all) at the end of each episode a segment is featured where the writers explain what liberties are taken.
    • The pilot episode has the class manages to explore the entire solar system in one day. There was also a scene where 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).
    • In the 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.
  • SilverHawks: In the first episode, the team has to be converted into cyborgs so they can survive a very long trip to the "Limbo Galaxy" (which actually appears in the series to be a solar system), which is stated to be VERY far away. A couple of sentences later, the distance is stated to be 2 light years. Our closest neighboring solar system is farther than that.
  • Challenge of the Superfriends:
    • 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 observable universe is at around 46-47 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.
  • Transformers tended to have problems with this. One early episode has the Autobots investigating a desert to learn why it has frozen over, determine that the Decepticons are doing something to cause it in the arctic and drive there. Yes, they drive from a desert containing palm trees and cacti to the Arctic, and it doesn't seem to take them more than a couple of hours max.
  • Voltron: Legendary Defender: The Galra Empire controls hundreds of galaxies, has been in existence for ten thousand years, and is under threat from five ships that regularly combine into one mech.