At the beginning of Avatar, Jake says he has been in suspended animation for 6 years.

Because of this time delay, how can efficient planning take place?

To put this in perspective: We have the idea to put an avatar amongst the Navi. "Lets get some scientists sent out," they say - but they would take 6 years to arrive!

Also, at the end the humans are sent home, so that's 6 years to travel home, all the time Earth is wondering why there is radio silence.

How is this taken into account? Does time dilation affect these issues?


1 Answer 1


The authorised companion book ("An Activist Survival Guide" written by Maria Wilhelm and Dirk Mathison in consultation with James Cameron) explicitly states that supra-luminal communication is commonplace in the Avatar universe, albeit extremely expensive. Data can be shared between two "entangled particles" at a rate of three bits per hour and at a cost of approximately $7500 per bit.

At best guess, even with extremely high compression rates, the message length required to communicate the need to replace Tom Sully with his identical twin would therefore have cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars.

By the same token, a message would be sent to Earth to expect the arrival of the expelled military. This message would arrive six years ahead of the ship.

As far as time dilation is concerned, the Avatar Wikia suggests that relativity is an issue for transport ships which experience a dilation ratio of around 1.6:1 (I've been unable to locate a canon citation).

Also notable are the time dilation effects experienced at higher speeds; an Earth-time voyage of 6.75 years seems significantly shorter at 0.7 times the speed of light. In accordance with Einstein's theory of relativity, from the crew's point of view it is only four years' travel due to time dilation

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    Planning a scientific mission years in advance is challenging, but hardly impossible. The Cassini probe took 7 years (1997-2004) to reach Saturn. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cassini%E2%80%93Huygens Apr 4, 2014 at 13:58
  • Agreed. Many projects take multiple years. The new Wembley Stadium (in Central London) took nearly a decade to get planned and completed.
    – Valorum
    Apr 4, 2014 at 14:15
  • With sufficient planning, most messages could be brought down to a small handful of bytes. Essentially, each message is assigned an ID, and only the ID is transmitted. This fashion of compression severely limits the range of possible messages, but when each bit costs thousands of dollars, I'd say it's worthwhile.
    – Brian S
    Apr 4, 2014 at 14:49
  • @brian - the fact that grace didn't know about Jake strongly suggests that no return message was sent
    – Valorum
    Apr 4, 2014 at 15:12
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    The Avatar Wikia also has their calculations wrong. At 0.7 the speed of light, the dilation ratio is 1.4:1, not 1.6. Oh well.
    – Mr Lister
    Apr 4, 2014 at 18:08

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