Amid the hoopla over Virgin Galactic’s commercial space ship tourism, and considering proof of water on the Moon, the thing that’s on everyone’s mind is obviously the Moon Colony. I need to tell you something: Lunar Internet ping times are going to be very slow – possibly longer than 3 seconds.
You might be thinking, “so what!? I’m on the freaking moon as a freaking moon colonist, and I don’t care about some stupid Lunar Internet anyway.” But that’s just your inner Troll coming out in a particularly ironic way, because without the Lunar Internet, you will have no forums in which to Troll. So, obviously, you want the Lunar Internet if you’re a Moon Colonist, and obviously you’re going to care about ping times.
You might be thinking, “what’s a freaking ping time? When I became a moon colonist, they didn’t tell me about the ping times.” Of course they didn’t mention the ping times, because the uncomfortable truth is that they’re freaking slow. Let me explain.
On the stupid-fast Terrestrial Internet, the Internet is mostly connected by long-haul fiberoptics, which means your lame-ass racist forum-trolling gets blasted around the Earth via lasers and some copper wiring. Aside from routing overhead, most of this process happens at the speed of light, which is why you see ping times like this:
PING google.com (126.96.36.199): 56 data bytes
64 bytes from 188.8.131.52: icmp_seq=0 ttl=54 time=41.112 ms
64 bytes from 184.108.40.206: icmp_seq=1 ttl=54 time=40.746 ms
64 bytes from 220.127.116.11: icmp_seq=2 ttl=54 time=40.468 ms
64 bytes from 18.104.22.168: icmp_seq=3 ttl=54 time=40.158 ms
--- google.com ping statistics ---
4 packets transmitted, 4 packets received, 0% packet loss
round-trip min/avg/max/stddev = 40.158/40.621/41.112/0.352 ms
In other words, it took 40 milliseconds to get a packet to Google and back. Here’s the part where you throw up in your mouth: the Moon is about 1.2 light-seconds away, meaning round-trip ping times are going to be at least 2.4 seconds due simply to the speed of light (or apparent lack thereof). Let me be clear: 2.4 seconds is 2400ms, which is 60 times slower than the Terrestrial ping times I demonstrated.
As always, Wikipedia has something to say about this. This animation shows a gigantic killer laser being fired at the Moon. Take note: the killer laser beam travels at the speed of light.
Here comes the math. Light travels at 300,000 km/s. The moon is an average distance of 384,000 km from the Earth. Since velocity = distance / time, and we want to know how our ping times will be affected, we solve for time (in seconds).
300,000 km/s = 384,000 km / seconds;
seconds * 300,000 km/s = 384,000 km;
seconds = 384,000 km / 300,000 km/s;
seconds = 1.28 s
When I said round trip ping times would be 2.4 seconds, I was secretly reporting the best case scenario, which only happens when the moon is at its perigee (i.e. minimum distance to Earth). As you can see, in the average case, round trips are closer to 2.56s. Guess what happens when the moon is at its apogee? That’s right – it takes even longer!!!
So while you might enjoy Lunar life toiling in the ice mines (because that water isn’t going to excavate itself) you will certainly not enjoy the high-latency Lunar Internet. Keep in mind: all of the best content will be available from Earth for some time to come. Sure, you might find a few servers that are local to the Moon Colony, but they’re going to be lame like the 1990s Internet, with heavy use of the HTML blink tag and “under construction” icons.