A jaunt to Jaques!
Being an astronomer I felt I had a fairly good grasp of the scale of the galaxy. It’s big. Bigger than that. Multiply what you’re thinking by 100. Square it. Times by PI… you’re still not there, trust me.
Suffice to say it’s beyond huge. The diameter of the galaxy is 100,000 lightyears, that’s pretty much 6 x 10^17 miles. That’s impossible to get your head around.
One of the best parts of the Elite Dangerous game is that it simulates the real galaxy with a remarkable degree of verisimilitude. Distant but recognisable stars and nebula are present. The gaps between the spiral arms are less dense with fewer stars, as you’d expect. There are different types of stars, depending on your location.
The distance is ‘real’.
Many explorers don’t need a reason to go venturing off into the galaxy. Many might give the same answer George Mallory did when asked why he climbed Everest… “Because it’s there.”
With the novel workload I don’t have too much time to play the game, but when I heard that Jaques station had been found earlier in the year, that a series of community goals had been arranged to repair the station and that a new community was beginning to form out there – a new ‘bubble’ – I knew I had to see it myself as it formed.
So I decided to go.
I could have asked FDev to teleport me out there for ‘research’, but that would be cheating. So I decided to make the trip myself. I needed to keep my main account in the vicinity of the core worlds for other reasons, so I new shiny Elite Dangerous account was procured and – after a little bit of circumspect rare trading – I had a reasonably outfitted Cobra Mk3.
Named after a real explorer (read about her here) the ‘Lady Jane’ was prepped at George Lucas station and painted in Canadian colours. I was born in Canada, so wanted to fly that flag for this trip. I wanted to use a Cobra for a few reasons. It’s big enough not to have to compromise too much and you can fit it out with a good exploration build. Mostly though, it’s the iconic ship from the Elite franchise and it felt appropriate to use it.
An exploration loadout was finalised. I only had limited cash so had to compromise. A 4A Frameshift drive was non negotiable, but other aspects of the ship were trimmed for efficiency and lightness. I retained a limited shield, but no weapons. I prevaricated on whether to take an extra fuel tank or an AMFU and decided on the fuel tank. For maximum range I forewent heatsinks too. I spent money on the advanced discovery scanner and the surface scanner. Money was now tight, the best fuel scoop I could afford was a 4C. It would have to do.
Open mode all the way. 24 light years max range. 22,000 lightyears to cover, somewhere near 920 hyperspace jumps. Something like 25-30 hours of game time.
I set out on the 29th of August.
There were some remarkable sights along the way. Unscheduled, I came across an undiscovered T Tauri system only 1,500 lightyears out from Leesti and stopped for a little reconnaissance. T Tauri stars are non main-sequence variable stars that are very luminescent. They look rather desolate places in Elite Dangerous.
On the third day of the outing I rued my decision not to take heatsinks. The Lady Jane materialised ‘inside’ a star as it came out of hyperspace in a quaternary star system. Heat jumped to 140% and sparks flew. I managed to wrestle the ship out of range, but suffered 7% hull damage in just a few seconds. Modules took a battering too. Now I was lamenting the lack of the AFMU. No stations means no repair. If this sort of thing happened too often my ship was going to be toast long before I reached Jaques.
But I made the 1/3rd waypoint without further incident. This was the Eagle nebula. A familiar marker for Elite Dangerous explorers and home of the famous ‘Pillars of Creation’ Hubble space telescope image. It’s about 7,000 light years out from Sol. Many explorers had been this way before, I found no undiscovered stars in this region.
I voyaged straight through the heart of this nebula, finding a little cluster of bright white O type stars within. No time to stop though. This was just the first waymarker on the route and I had a long way to travel.
Then I ran into another problem. As I left the Orion arm of the galaxy, in which Sol lies, the stars began to thin out dramatically. With increasingly regularity I hit unscoopable stars, brown dwarfs for the most part. This is entirely correct astronomically speaking and shows the level of attention that’s been paid to the science in Elite Dangerous. The age of the components of the galaxy’s various zones are not the same – there are older and younger regions. That affects what stars you find out there and can present navigation challenges.
The skies around the ship were dark, the ship hard to see in the dim light. Only the occasional bright star broke the monotony. Now the additional fuel tank came into its own allowing me to continue on, but I had to make several detours to refuel which slowed down progress through this region. I was glad to leave it behind.
Eventually I made it across though, only to bump into my first Neutron star. This was unexpected and chucked me out of Frameshift again. More damage, hull down to 91% percent and (worryingly) the Canopy down to 82%. Without v2.2 I didn’t even get the benefit of some new special effects! Still, it was a salutary lesson to review the route that was plotted. Each 1,000 lightyears was about 40 jumps and I managed to avoid a few other problems by checking in advance of jumping.
Not even the halfway point yet, but on the plus side, stars came back into view and I reached the next spiral arm, which I would proceed down until I reached Jaques.
And then I’d reached it! The halfway mark. 11,000 lightyears down, and 11,000 lightyears to go. It felt like a massive climb to get this far, but psychologically I felt a little bit more optimistic. I’d learnt how to plot more efficiently and safely and the ship was running well. I felt confident I could keep going.
But confidence is a fickle mistress. It was shortly after this I encountered my first blackhole of the trip. The crushed remains of a giant stars, blackholes are merely a tiny point in space, but their gravity is so strong they can distort the light that passes around them, giving them a strange effect when seen against the backdrop of the galaxy. This one didn’t cause any damage as I spotted it because of the gravitational lensing effect, but had it been against the blackness it would have been much harder.
This was a moment in the game when I genuinely felt my stomach clench. It was *scary*. The game doesn’t do anything with the gravity (perhaps in a future release?) but cautiously approaching the blackhole in frameshift, seeing the milkyway distort around it as it grew closer and knowing that such a strange object was out there was tense. I enjoyed the experience, but was glad to leave it behind!
Another nebula was growing ahead of me. The Skaude Nebula. This one is procedurally generated, but no less pretty for that. It’s another well known marker on the way to Jaques, and well worth a visit. There are a number of blackholes and neutron stars in the vicinity.
Then the sky around me began to brighten considerably. The further on I went the greater the effect became. I was entering a region where the density of stars was increasing dramatically and most of the stars were O or B type stars, very bright and distinct. If only we had skies like this on Earth!
I encountered some amazing vistas along the way. Here is a ringed brown dwarf star in orbit around a bigger O type star. The ring system was almost three times wider than the one around Saturn in the Sol system.
There were also more mundane locations, the fiery light of a Red Dwarf and an asteroid field.
The trip proceeded without further incident. I reached the 2/3rds mark on the 5th of October. Somehow it started to feel like a downhill run after that, with 7,000 lightyears remaining.
And then… as just a faint smudge in the distance, the Colonia nebula finally came into sight. With a bit of time on my hands I had a chance to make the last few thousand lightyears in a single stint. It was October 13th, seven weeks after I’d set out. I gave a heads up to the Colonia network that I was on the way in and hoped for the best.
I was quickly contacted by two familiar Commanders who were already at Jaques. CMDRs Stephen Usher and Kerrash need little introduction and CMDR Kerrash headed out from Jaques towards me to provide an escort. We rendezvoused about 1,500 lightyears out. There was a palpable sense of relief in seeing another ship for the first time in weeks. The galaxy felt a little smaller for a moment.
Rendezvous complete we headed on in, the Nebula growing before us.
With the wonders of social media, twitch, discord and the like, news of my arrival seemed to have spread. I started receiving messages indicating that a few folks would be turning out at Jaques station to welcome me in. Some warned that I might be griefed as a result, but that’s par for the course. It’s Elite Dangerous after all…
Then with a final wing-up, I arrived at Jaques station with Kerrash and Stephen Usher in escort. 22,000 lightyears of travel and adventure concluded.
But there was one final surprise. The good folks of the Colonia Citizen’s Network had turned out in force to welcome me in. After a little difficulty with instancing, we managed to make it work. Ships were chaffing and boosting all around. I felt very honoured to be part of this adventure in a distant part of space, having been part of this brave new outpost far out into the core of the galaxy.
I wasn’t able to note down all the names – please leave a comment below and I’ll credit you all. But they made me feel very special as I arrived, even giving me a station welcome in lieu of Jaques not having a ‘voice’ yet. You can see the twitch stream of my arrival here.
What did I learn from the trip? It’s a long way, and not for the faint hearted. At times it was very boring, at others nerve-wracking. There are risks out there, the unexpected… there is beauty too. Exploration is harsh on mistakes. Seeing a nebula appear in the distance and then travel through gives a great sense of voyaging into the unknown. Jaques station is located in a very pretty part of the galaxy.
I didn’t find anything particularly unusual on my trip, no strange artefacts or lost civilisations, but it did give me a renewed respect for all the explorers out there and for the awesome scale of the galaxy. And, it was fun.
I made around 8 million credits upon selling the exploration data, taking my new commander directly from ‘Mostly Aimless’ to ‘Pathfinder’ in one hit. The ship was repaired and I decided to swap out the fuel tank for the AFMU and stock up on heatsinks.
My next plan is to visit the neutron star fields nearby and then head to the core and visit Sagittarius A. Then it will be back to Jaques for repairs before heading out to the edge. There’s a patch of the galaxy that’s been nicknamed “Wagar’s reach” – it would be rude not to go there…!
Now I’d better get back to the book and… well… write on, Commanders!