What if we could travel at the speed of light? We’re still far away, but technology used in spacecraft could one day let us travel from New York to Los Angeles in just a second.
Light is the fastest thing there is. It runs at 186,000 miles per second. As such, it can travel from Earth to the Moon in just over a second. Creating vehicles that reach the speed of light is not going to happen right now. There are just too many variables to establish. However, the technology we use in spacecraft could allow us to utilize a small percentage of that speed. That could be enough to change the way we travel.
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Utilization of the speed of light for travel
Traveling with a percentage of something may not sound like much. But even at only one percent of the speed of light, we would be able to travel close to seven million miles per hour. That means it would take a little over a second to travel from New York to Los Angeles. It’s about 10,000 times faster than traveling on a commercial jet.
Of course, it will not be easy to harness that power. While scientists are working on things like warp drives, the technology we already use in spacecraft can give us a chance to achieve faster speeds.
In 2010, we started using things called awnings on some spacecraft. The idea behind solar sails is to capture the power of light from the sun and use it in the same way that normal sails use the wind. There is a lot of complex math behind the technology, but if we were able to convert it to more commercial transportation, we could have a breakthrough in how we travel.
Sunshades are essentially just thin plastic sheets that are attached to the vehicle. They use the sunlight they capture to push them forward, and some scientists believe they could one day power spacecraft at 10 percent of the speed of light.
The problem of traveling as fast as easy
NASA / Johns Hopkins APL / Naval Research Laboratory / Guillermo Stenborg and Brendan Gallagher
We already have the technology, so why not use it? Well, it’s not that simple. Energy is a big factor in moving fast. Every object that moves has energy because of that movement. This is called kinetic energy, and to go faster, you will need a lot of kinetic energy. The problem, however, is that it requires a lot of kinetic energy to increase the speed of an object.
Getting something to go twice as fast requires four times as much energy. Increasing the speed to some times three requires nine times the energy, and so on down the line. According to The conversation, it would take about 200 trillion joules to get a 110-pound teenager to travel at a percentage of the speed of light. This is roughly the same amount of energy that 2 million people living in the United States use every day. If we want to travel at the insane speeds, we will have to find new ways to create kinetic energy. Burning rocket fuel, like the one used to send a shuttle into space, just will not cut it down.
So far, we have not even managed to reach one percent of the speed of light. In fact, the closest we’re come is NASA’s Parker Solar Probe. In 2018, NASA launched the probe from Earth. After launch, it foamed the surface of the sun and used its gravity to reach 330,000 mph. It’s still only 0.5 percent of the speed of light.
See the original version of this article at BGR.com