The Speed of Light isn’t so Fast.

Sit back and relax as we prepare to take a journey from the surface of the Sun and through our Solar system at the speed of light. You may want to pop the kettle on though because it’s going to take quite a long time. The Speed of light isn’t all that fast.

We start our journey at the surface of the Sun.

As every school child knows, the speed of light is finite, and although in practical situations it appears instantaneous we are really experiencing everything we see in the past. At just under a 300,000 km per second (that’s about 1.3 seconds to the Moon) the speed photons and other massless particles travel at is intensely slow on a cosmological scale. The incredibly talented Alphonse Swinehart had the wonderful idea of creating an animation showing the actual speed a photon of light travels at after it has left the surface of the Sun. Here’s his film, Riding Light:

Alphonse description of his video:

In our terrestrial view of things, the speed of light seems incredibly fast. But as soon as you view it against the vast distances of the universe, it’s unfortunately very slow. This animation illustrates, in realtime, the journey of a photon of light emitted from the surface of the sun and traveling across a portion of the solar system, from a human perspective.

Woosh, there goes Mercury which is already a staggering 3 minutes from the Sun.
Woosh, there goes Mercury which is already a staggering 3 minutes from the Sun.
Neeeooowwww, there goes Venus, after 5 minutes.
Neeeooowwww, there goes Venus, after 5 minutes.
It took us 8 minutes to get home! I can walk to the shops quicker.
It took us 8 minutes to get home! I can walk to the shops quicker.

Alphonse does admit that he’s had to take some liberties to create the animation, such as having all the planets being perfectly aligned:

I’ve taken liberties with certain things like the alignment of planets and asteroids, as well as ignoring the laws of relativity concerning what a photon actually “sees” or how time is experienced at the speed of light, but overall I’ve kept the size and distances of all the objects as accurate as possible. I also decided to end the animation just past Jupiter as I wanted to keep the running length below an hour.

The animation lasts somewhat disappointingly for just an hour, however if there were no limit on Vimeo uploads, render times or our own patience here’s the lengths the film would need to be to see other objects:

Woah, no wonder Alphonse stopped when he reached Jupiter.


H/T One Universe at a Time

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