Riding Light
February 4, 2015 5:08 PM   Subscribe

Follow the realtime path of a photon leaving the surface of our Sun
posted by a lungful of dragon (26 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite
 
Jupiter is waaaay the hell out there.
posted by axoplasm at 5:33 PM on February 4, 2015


Neat!
posted by brundlefly at 5:36 PM on February 4, 2015


Quite! It's like a non-exponential version of Powers of Ten.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:51 PM on February 4, 2015


Over the weekend, at the museum I volunteer at, I had the children make "pocket solar systems," which is a really simple activity that requires some pencils and easy-to-find cash register tape. Each participant tears off a piece of tape maybe a meter long, and we write "Sun" at one end, and "Kuiper Belt" at the other. Thus, our tape now represents a scale model of our solar system. It's always fun to ask the kids to put a little mark where they think the Earth is, as most will put it about halfway out from the sun, or maybe 1/3rd of the way out.

As a group, then, we all fold our tape in half, then in half again, making little folds at the 1/4, 1/2, and 3/4ths point in the paper. Halfway, the kids write, "Uranus," then at 3/4ths, "Neptune," and 1/4th, "Saturn." Next, we fold the tape in from the sun to Saturn, which we mark "Jupiter," and then from the Sun to Jupiter, where we mark "Asteroid Belt." Now things get exciting, as the kids start to realize we haven't written Earth yet, and there's precious little tape left. So, next, one more fold between the Sun and the Asteroid Belt, and we have Mars, and finally, we fold from Sun to Mars, and then fold that tiny little flap once again, creating three lines for Mercury, Venus, and Earth.

This is a very long explanation, I know, but this exercise does get ballpark the true ratios in the distances. If you can memorize this, then in a pinch, as long as you remember the distance from the Earth to the Sun is about 93 million miles, you can figure out how far it is to the other bodies. This comes in great on planes, when people find you you're an astronomer, and start asking questions.

Jupiter is way out there, axoplasm. But Neptune. Oof.
posted by RubixsQube at 6:02 PM on February 4, 2015 [40 favorites]


Nice use of Steve Reich.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 6:04 PM on February 4, 2015


I'm glad we're not following the path of a photon immediately following a fusion event... we'd be here a while before it even left the sun.
posted by Jpfed at 6:05 PM on February 4, 2015 [9 favorites]


When travelling at the speed of light
Space sounds a lot like Steve Reich
Which is nice as you scootle
Past Neptune and Pluto
And on, into infinite night
posted by Devonian at 6:07 PM on February 4, 2015 [10 favorites]


RubixQube: it was just kind of startling to experience in “realtime” how far it was to MERELY JUPITER which is like, practically the next planet over. I expected a long journey to NEPTUNE sure.

Also, if we’re traveling the speed of light, from our frame of reference shouldn’t the trip be instantaneous?
posted by axoplasm at 6:26 PM on February 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


From the comments:

"Due to time dilation at light speed, it's been suggested elsewhere that a photon travels instantaneously to its destination."

Is this true? Hard to wrap my brain around it. Would that mean that from a photon's point of view, it exists everywhere it ever will all at once?
posted by slappy_pinchbottom at 6:38 PM on February 4, 2015


Is this true?

Yes via New Scientist
posted by DarkForest at 6:44 PM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


It was easier to follow a photon than my own train of thought...thanks for the link!
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 7:02 PM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm glad we're not following the path of a photon immediately following a fusion event... we'd be here a while before it even left the sun.

30,000 years from fusion to surface, give or take.
posted by scalefree at 7:03 PM on February 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


What blew my mind was the time from Mars to the asteroid belt. For some reason I was thinking it'd be a quick jaunt.

I now stand corrected.
posted by Hactar at 7:06 PM on February 4, 2015


Five and a half hours to Pluto. I would totally watch that video.
posted by perhapsolutely at 7:17 PM on February 4, 2015


The asteroid belt itself is very wide, and very sparse. You could orbit in that plane for years and never see a single asteroid on account that there really aren't all that many of them, and they are very small compared the the vastness of space.
posted by surazal at 7:34 PM on February 4, 2015


Yeah but if you wanna get yourself an asteroid, that's your joint.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 7:53 PM on February 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


I can't make any sense of the lens flare in this video.
posted by aubilenon at 8:05 PM on February 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


You're an interesting species. An interesting mix. You're capable of such beautiful dreams, and such horrible nightmares. You feel so lost, so cut off, so alone, only you're not. See, in all our searching, the only thing we've found that makes the emptiness bearable... is minimalist music.
posted by dephlogisticated at 8:28 PM on February 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


Yeah but if you wanna get yourself an asteroid, that's your joint.

No kidding -- home delivery turned out to be way more expensive than it was worth.
posted by jamjam at 8:35 PM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


For some reason the fact that it takes light 5.5 hours to get to Pluto makes me very sad.
posted by grumpybear69 at 8:54 PM on February 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


In our terrestrial view of things, the speed of light seems incredibly fast. But as soon as you view it against the vast distances of the universe, it's unfortunately very slow.

It's also very slow when you're looking at modern computer chips. When a computer is running a 3 GHz clock, light travels about four inches per clock tick.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:20 PM on February 4, 2015


"Due to time dilation at light speed, it's been suggested elsewhere that a photon travels instantaneously to its destination."

My understanding is that it's instantaneous only from the point of view of the photon, which should maybe be less mind-bending. For us slow-ass humans, it still seems like 8 minutes and change for the photon to get from the sun to us.

Relativity!
posted by sparkletone at 10:41 PM on February 4, 2015


Great video, though now I want to be able to dial in a percentage of the speed of light to see what the perceptual time passage is at various fractions of it.
posted by maxwelton at 11:26 PM on February 4, 2015


RubixsQube; thank you so much for explaining the 'pocket solar system'. I just made one, showed it to two people (with masters degrees), and blew their minds. Cheers!
posted by buffalo at 7:09 AM on February 5, 2015


From the comments:

"I agree I would love to see the entire solar system with objects of interest including Cassini and other man made deep space explorers, The Khyper Belt objects, and all the way to the Oort Cloud.
I would stream it for hours on my tablet and check it every now and then."

"Actually, if Alphonse could make it into an app, it could send notifications for when interesting things are bound to happen so that you did not miss on anything."

I would pay for this app.
posted by MsVader at 7:35 AM on February 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


For those of you who want to control the ride or explore other parts of the universe at arbitrary speed, check out Space Engine.
posted by dephlogisticated at 7:53 PM on February 6, 2015


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