Light is fast. It is, in fact, the quickest object that exists, and it is a universal law that nothing can go faster than light. Light travels at 186,000 miles per second (300,000 kilometers per second), and it takes just over a second to get from Earth to the Moon. Light can move from Los Angeles to New York in less than a second.
While 1% of anything may not seem like much, with light, that’s still quite fast — about 7 million miles per hour! It would take slightly more than a second to go from Los Angeles to New York at 1% the speed of light. This is over 10,000 times faster than a commercial airliner.
Have we made an The Parker Solar Probe, seen here in an artist’s rendition, is the fastest object ever made by humans and used the gravity of the Sun to get going 0.05% the speed of light. NASA/Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben that could travel 1% the speed of light?
The fastest things ever made
Bullets have a top speed of 2,600 mph (4,200 kmh), which is more than three times the speed of sound. NASA’s X3 jet plane has the quickest highest speed, reaching 7,000 mph (11,200 kph). That may sound remarkable, but it is still only 0.001% the speed of light.
Spacecraft are the fastest human-made objects. They use rockets to escape Earth’s gravity, which requires a speed of 25,000 mph (40,000 kmh). NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is the spaceship moving the quickest. It launched from Earth in 2018 and flew through the Sun’s scorching atmosphere, using gravity to reach 330,000 mph (535,000 kmh). That’s insanely quick – but it’s only 0.05 percent the speed of light.
Why even 1% of light speed is hard
What is preventing humanity from achieving 1% of the speed of light? In a word, energy. Any moving thing generates energy as a result of its movement. This is referred to as kinetic energy by physicists. To go quicker, you must increase your kinetic energy. The issue is that increasing speed requires a lot of kinetic energy. It takes four times the energy to make anything go twice as fast. Increasing the speed of something requires nine times the energy, and so on.
For example, to get a teenager who weighs 110 pounds (50 kilograms) to 1% of the speed of light would cost 200 trillion Joules (a measurement of energy). That’s nearly the same amount of energy as 2 million Americans use in a day.
How fast can we go?
It is feasible to speed something to 1% the speed of light, but it would require a vast amount of energy. Could humans speed things up even more?
Yes! Engineers, on the other hand, must develop new methods for moving objects in space. All rockets, including the sleek modern rockets used by SpaceX and Blue Origins, burn rocket fuel, which is similar to gasoline in a car. The issue is that burning fuel is inefficient.
Other techniques of propelling a spacecraft include the use of electric or magnetic forces. Nuclear fusion, the method by which the Sun is powered, is likewise far more efficient than chemical fuel.
Scientists are working on numerous additional ways to travel quickly, including warp drives, the faster-than-light travel popularized by Star Trek.
A solar sail is one promising approach to get anything moving quickly. These are large, thin sheets of plastic attached to a spaceship and meant to be pushed on by sunlight, much like wind in a sail. A few spacecraft have used solar sails to demonstrate their effectiveness, and experts believe that a solar sail may drive a spacecraft to 10% the speed of light.
One day, when humanity is no longer limited to a fraction of the speed of light, we may be able to travel to the stars.