Traveling at the Speed of Light

Have you ever imagined what it would be like moving at the speed of light? To have the ability to travel that quickly (think ~300,000,000 m/s) would be incomprehensible — you’d experience a host of different effects, including time dilation (how more rapidly moving objects experience time more slowly), relativistic aberration (how your field of view distorts as a result of moving at such high speeds), and even the Doppler effect (changing light frequencies from high speeds). In essence, things would be very different if you chose to start traveling at around the speed of light!

 

However, what’s interesting is that physics dictates that it’s actually physically impossible for humans to travel at the speed of light. As a result of Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity (E = mc^2), an object moving at the speed of light must have an infinite mass (which doesn’t seem right). So, even though humans can’t actually travel the speed of light, they can travel “almost” the speed of light, causing the host of effects listed in the paragraph above.

speedoflightpic
This picture represents an artist’s rendition of what traveling at around the speed of light could look like. You can find this picture at the following website.

And, as a brief overview, the speed of light represents a fundamental physical constant used throughout Astronomy and Physics. It’s not only used in quantitatively-based equations — it’s also commonly used to describe vast distances between objects in space (as constants we use on Earth would be orders of magnitude too small to describe the distances). All in all, the speed of light serves as a significant physical quantity that manifests itself in all sorts of different parts of the sciences.

3 thoughts on “Traveling at the Speed of Light

  1. This was a great post summarizing the implications of the speed of light. Thanks! It’s a difficult subject for almost anyone to wrap their head around.

    The picture you posted was a good insight in terms of visualizing the effects you described, but it reminded me of a much more important question: you can explain light speed, but can you explain ludicrous speed? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NAWL8ejf2nM

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Hey, Aaron. Your post on light speed is very informative, especially your explanation as to why objects cannot reach the speed of light.

    I always wonder what it means exactly for an object to increase in mass as its velocity increases. Does this refer to the general curving of space, or some other meaning of the word “mass”?

    Considering that particles actually moving at the speed of light (photons) actually have zero mass and do not conform to E=mc2, I wonder if there is a better formula for relating the hypothetical properties of an object moving at light speed.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It makes me sad knowing that we could never get to the point of light speed. It makes more sad thinking about all the other practical boundaries we face in even approaching that. We’d have to be able to survive the trip, so accelerating and decelerating in such a way that we would be safe would be a huge issue, not to mention something that could even get that fast!

    Like

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