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Let me pose this question as a hypothetical.

Your ship makes a warp/jump through space. There's a malfunction. You're definitely not at your intended destination. You've warped to an unknown star, but you have managed to land you and your crew on a habitable planet orbiting this star. Survival is not an issue.

You need to know where Earth is. How would you go about triangulating Sol's position?

What tools and knowledge would you need?

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  • $\begingroup$ You need the information stored in the voyager which describe the position of Sol relative to known pulsars (I think). This was exactly the problem Carl Sagan was trying to solve when he inscribed the gold disks riding on Voyager. $\endgroup$ – ja72 Sep 22 '18 at 15:01
  • $\begingroup$ @ja72 Only works if we are in the local vicinity, Galactically speaking. $\endgroup$ – Rob Jeffries Sep 22 '18 at 15:18
  • $\begingroup$ and for only the next $10^5$ years, given a typical lifetime of the pulsar phenomenon. $\endgroup$ – Rob Jeffries Sep 24 '18 at 6:08
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If the star is in our galaxy, then you can in principle triangulate your 3d position in the Galaxy from the positions of M31 and the Magellanic clouds.

With access to more specialised equipment (telescopes, spectrographs etc.) it should be possible to identify a set of well-known globular clusters to obtain more accurate Galactic coordinates.

If you have really specialised equipment - like a Gaia satellite (!) - you can use the positions of a network of distant quasars to pinpoint the shift in position from the Sun, using the minute parallax changes due to the differing perspective.

If you weren't too far away from the Sun and had a radio telescope, then the positions of radio pulsars should also give the game away. However, move too far away from the Sun and many pulsars will not be visible because of their narrow beaming angles.

All this assumes you have shifted in space, but not time.

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