See What It’s Like to Circle Earth at the Speed of Light 

We throw around terms like “light year” and “faster than light travel” frequently. But to really understand the scale it helps to feel how fast the speed of light is. The flight simulation video below does just that. As it turns out, it would only take 0.13 seconds to go around the entire Earth at the speed of light. That’s literally faster than the blink of an eye to go nearly 25,000 miles. It also compares that to the speed of sound, which seems downright leisurely in comparison.  

We’ll get briefly into the math, but you’re most of the way there if you’ve ever estimated the distance of a storm by counting the time between seeing lightning and hearing thunder. Every five seconds is about one mile, right? The same calculation puts the speed of sound at about 767 miles per hour. The video above only shows about one minute of the journey; however, it would actually take almost 33 hours. In comparison, light travels at over 670 million miles per hour. 

So while airplane technology might be evolving into nuclear-powered hotels or zero emission helium blimps, no one is seriously contemplating going anywhere near as fast as the speed of light. We see it all the time in our science fiction and fantasy stories though. And thankfully someone else has already done the math to explain whether it’s even possible to explore space without faster than light travel like warp drives in Star Trek or hyperspeed in Star Wars.

A Google Earth image showing a line from New York City going around the Earth's circumfrence
Airplane Mode

The Airplane Mode YouTube channel has lots of other cool flight simulation videos that show relative speeds. What would the International Space Station look like if it orbited Earth at an altitude of 10,000 feet instead of 250 miles? There’s the short answer but also a 33 minute video that shows the journey in real time.

Melissa is Nerdist’s science & technology staff writer. She also moderates “science of” panels at conventions and co-hosts Star Warsologies, a podcast about science and Star Wars. Follow her on Twitter @melissatruth. 

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