Exploring Our Solar System At The Speed Of Light Is Remarkably Slow

The speed of light is fast, but the solar system is very, very big. This video explores the intersection of scales by travelling through an idealized version of our solar system at the speed of light, starting at the surface of the sun and heading to Jupiter over 45 minutes.

Illustration for article titled Exploring Our Solar System At The Speed Of Light Is Remarkably Slow

It's a common factoid that if the sun were suddenly vanish, it'd be minutes before the light reached us for us to learn of its absence, and the trials of communication lag constantly haunt our efforts at robotic exploration. But it's hard to intuitively grasp that, to really understand how freakishly huge space is even when travelling at light speed. This video by Alphonse Swinehart helps by exploring the solar system by hitching a ride on a photon leaving the sun, keeping a consistent scale between the size of objects and distances between them. This is similar in concept to the fixed-scale interactive from last year, If The Moon Was Only One Pixel, where both the size of astronomical objects and the distances between them were kept to the same scale, except with the added factor of travelling at light speed.

The video takes some liberties with accuracy in exchange for approachability: the planets and asteroids are in a thoroughly implausible system-wide alignment to allow for a simple linear tour. It cuts off at Jupiter instead of continuing into the far reaches of the system to keep the running time below an hour. But by far the greatest contributing factor to keeping the running time manageable was by having the journey start at the surface of the sun, not its center. The estimates of how long it takes a particle to escape from the core to the surface vary from a few hundred thousand years up to a million: even the short end of that spectrum would result in a painfully dragging start to the film! It focuses on scale alone, ignoring the quirks of travelling at such colossal speeds.


Michael Zaite

Perspective: When 671 MILLION Miles Per Hour feels like being stuck in a school zone, that goes on for EVER!

I tapped out after 1 AU