Trying to answer this question, I was looking into how long the Martians' journey took in the first place, but the book seems to be quite vague about it - chapter 1 mentions that the construction of the launch cannon is seen in 1894, there are then two oppositions of Mars afterwards, and the first launches are seen at the next opposition. The next line says, "The storm burst upon us six years ago now," but I can't find any particular reference to when the book was written (in-universe) relative to the landing.

Is the implication here that they took six years to make the journey? If so, did Wells ever elaborate on where this number came from, or was he just pulling it out of thin air? Obviously the real world experience with space travel wasn't there yet, but the astronomy was presumably well-known.

Additionally, if the journey did take multiple years, is there any discussion of how the Martians sustained themselves that long? The scale of the cylinder that lands on the common is also vague, but since a Martian falls out of it and appears to survive, it can't be enormous, which means it also can't be carrying large amounts of blood or similar provision along with the war materiel.

I might well have missed something from the book, but I'm also interested in anything relevant Wells might have said in correspondence, etc. or even adaptations that might have addressed this issue in a way that suggests they were extending the book (e.g. not the 2005 movie)

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    I think that "the storm burst upon us six years ago now" means that the Martian invasion was 6 years before the writing of that line. Commented Mar 3 at 2:50
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    As to the size of the Martians' projectile, I recall reading that the cylinder's butt end was approximately thirty yards in diameter. Concerning the height that the emerging martian fell, the cylinder had buried itself in the earth until only the butt end was exposed. Commented Mar 3 at 16:50
  • Another note - I recall reading a line saying that the martians brought some form of martian cattle in the cylinders with them, to eat.
    – user25730
    Commented Mar 3 at 21:32

1 Answer 1


I think that "the storm burst upon us six years ago now" means that the Martian invasion was 6 years before the writing of that line.

So there is no clue in that line as to how long the voyage from Mars to Earth lasted.

In another place the narrator says that humans were sill complacent in the early years of the 20th century, so the invasion clearly happened after 1900. Oppositions of Mars happen about every 26 months.

This list https://ops-alaska.com/time/gangale_mst/Opposition.htm

says there were oppositions of Mars on:

1894 October 20

1896 December 11

1899 January 18

1901 February 22

1903 March 29


Thus the launches of the Martian projectiles should have been about February 1901.

If the Martian vehicles were launched near opposition with the plan to travel a short almost straight trajectory to Earth, their travel time would be rather short and the landings should have been sometime later in 1901. In that case the voyage should have lasted less than ten months.

The Martians might have - almost certainly did - aimed ahead of the Earth in its course, so that the Eartha and the Martian cylinders would arrive at the same place in Earth's orbit around the Sun at the same time. That makes me think that the Martian cylinders probably took no more than a month or two to make the trip. The longer the trip took, the sooner before the opposition the Martians would have fired, so that half of the voyage would be before the closest point and half of the voyage after the closest point. And the sooner before the opposition the Martians fired, the more likely it would be for the time span before opposition to be mentioned.

The other possibility would be that the Martian cylinders made a long curving voyage around the Sun to finally reach the Earth, taking over a year, maybe several years to finally meet the Earth after Earth had circled the Sun at least once. In that case the Martian cylinders would have contained supplies for at least an Earth year.

And it is possible that the Martian super cannon fired giant cylinders with much supplies which went into orbit around the Earth, and that the Cylinders which landed were comparatively small landing craft.

And there is the whole problem of how the cylinders which landed on Earth survived the change in velocity which should have destroyed them. It is possible that Wells and/or the narrator and/or Earth scientists, then largely ignorant of rocket science, merely assumed that the Martian cylinders were shot out of a giant cannon on the surface of Mars. Instead the flashes seen could have been giant rocket ships taking off from Mars.

So my guess is that the voyage from Mars took either just a few months at most, possibly just a few weeks, or else took at least an Earth year for the Martians to circle the Sun and catch with Earth from behind.

And it may be speculated that maybe the Martian cylinders which landed on Earth were mere small landing craft and the main spacecraft stayed in space and might have been much larger with much more supplies.

  • Yep. "It was early in the twentieth century came the great disillusionment". That whole section is part of my vocal warm-up. Commented Mar 3 at 17:25

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