Riding Light: How Fast Will Light Have Travelled in the Solar Syatem During a 45-Minute Class Period?

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Sun at solar maximum

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  • Videos or Animations


Alphonse Swinehart


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 inverse, it's unfortunately very slow. The animation illustrates, in realtime, the journey of a photon of light emitted from the surface of the sun and travelling across a portion of the solar system, from a human perspective. I've taken liberties with certain things like the alignment of planets and asteroids, as well as ignoring laws of relativity concerning what a photon actually "sees" or how time is experiences 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.

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