Let This Scale Visualization Of The Speed Of Light Fill You With Wonder, Existential Dread

Light finally reaching Mars three minutes and two seconds after leaving earth
Gif: Youtube/jayphys85

Every so often, I like to have a “woah, man” moment. Usually, it can take hours of watching documentaries about space and physics (yes, even while sober) to get to the mind-blowing moment. However, one of my favorite channels posted a video last month illustrating the true speed of light, and it might just blow your mind in just over three minutes.

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It’s hard for our monkey brains to really grasp the size and scope of the universe, though sometimes you can get a glimmer of realization. The videos posted by Dr. James O’Donoghuea, a planetary scientist researcher at the Japanese space agency JAXA and former NASA fellow, can help us come close to visualizing what is actually pretty inconceivable. His YouTube channel is filled with excellent ways to visualize our universe. His most recent video, posted last month, really helped me grasp the size of just our solar system and just how slow light speed really is in the vastness of space:

This videos makes me think of the opening lines of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, a Wikipedia-like book featured in Douglas Adam’s classic sci-fi radio show and novel of the same name:

“Space,” it says, “is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space, listen...”

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Light is fast. At 186,282 miles per second, it’s the fastest thing there is, but even our quickest universal constant is slowed to a crawl by the vastness of space. I suggest sitting through the entire three minutes and two seconds it takes light to travel from Earth to Mars so that you can really drink in the vastness of just how much nothing exists between us and our “closest” neighbor. O’Donoghuea previously illustrated this idea in a video last year as well:

When you consider it took the Mars Curiosity rover 253 days to make it to Mars, you can see why getting people there is such a tall order. The size and scope of the universe is equal parts jaw-dropping and bone-chilling and, let’s face it, you’ve got enough on your plate as it is. Just worrying about grocery shopping and getting an oil change can fill a whole day, thinking about the true definition of endless is a huge drain. But every once in a while, I think it’s important to stop and remember just how incredibly small and fragile we are when compared to this vast universe.

Managing Editor of Jalopnik.

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goat7
son of a motherless goat (PSA: wash your hooves)

And that’s just our neighboring planet. Our nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, is about 4 and a half light years away which means it would take a whopping 9 years to get a response to any communications sent between us and them.

Imagine if a human colony existed in that system right now. They’d just now be receiving news that Donald Trump is leading in the GOP Primaries, which happened back in February of 2016. They wouldn’t know for another 8 and a half months that he beat Hillary Clinton for the Presidency.

Then again, they may not even care about Earth bullshit any more. That distance is so great that they’d almost certainly be self-governing over enough time and more or less insulated from the influences of Earth politics. It’s like the New World except multiplied by a hundred since the interstellar ocean takes years for radio to cross and a lifetime for humans to traverse.*

*Until Warp Drive, bitches.