Tag Archives: speed

You Won’t Believe How Fast it Goes… Part 2

Alright, it’s Monday & that means we’re back with another installment of Bill’s Bologna.

Let’s continue where we left off on the topic of speed.

Alright, so last week, I stopped writing when I hit the speed which currently holds the record for the fastest any human being has ever gone. That’s what happens when you fly in the Saturn V rocket at the absurd speed of 25,000 miles per hour.

When rocket scientists make changes to something so it can be safe for human flight, they call it man rating. Many things come into play here, like acceleration, the amount the vehicle can shake, G forces & acoustics (Yes sound can kill you. Check out the Sound Suppression Water System on NASA’s manned flight launch pad, 39A). The thing is, if you aren’t launching living things, you don’t have to worry about killing them. To an extent, you can do away with some of these requirements. This means that the limit of G forces can increase, especially after leaving the atmosphere. Since there’s no air, there is no atmospheric drag holding the craft back & threatening to rip it apart. This means the rocket can accelerate faster.

I’ll talk about distances in another post, but in short, space is unimaginably big. To get from point A to B might be billions of miles. You need to go fast to get there in any kind of timely manner & timely is definitely a relative term. Let’s start with the New Horizons spacecraft. You can find some interesting information about it here. It’s going to Pluto, & holds the record for the fastest object launched. By the time it left Earth’s orbit, it was moving about 10,000 miles per hours faster than the Saturn V, at 36,373 miles per hour. Here is the launch, if you’re interested.
Voyager was launched in the 70’s. Its mission was to explore the gas giant planets & make its way out of the solar system, into interstellar space. It’s the farthest man made object from the sun & is also the fastest man made object moving away from the sun. It’s only traveling a few thousand miles per hour faster, at about 38,610 miles per hour.

Painting of one of the Voyager probes passing Jupiter. Currently. Voyager I is the farthest man made object in the solar system & it's moving at about 39,000mph.

Painting of one of the Voyager probes passing Jupiter. Currently. Voyager I is the farthest man made object in the solar system & it’s moving at about 39,000mph. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

Okay let’s move away from man made objects. Let’s talk about things that occur naturally, & if you think the things we’ve talked about are fast, you have no idea what’s coming.

Asteroids. They’re space rocks & they’re hurdling through space at fantastic speeds. 65million years ago, one the size of a small island decided to hurl itself into the Gulf of Mexico, killing the dinos, while leaving a 110 mile wide crater. To do that, it needed to smack into the Earth at 44,600 miles per hour. That’s 20 times faster than a bullet. To stop something that big, which was traveling that fast, unleashed an amount of energy equivalent 100 teratons of TNT going off at once. That’s 2 million times more powerful than the largest man made explosion. Speed & mass equal lots of power. No wonder they’re all dead.

Let’s keep moving. We all know the Earth orbits the Sun. It takes 365.26 days to make one orbit of about 585 million miles. If we do the math & divide by 365.26 to get how far it travels in a day & then divide that by 24, we can get the speed in miles per hour. That comes down to 66733.28 miles per hour around the Sun. That’s about 18.5 miles per second. If it takes two seconds to read that last sentence, you’ll be 37 or so miles further into your yearly circuit.

You never really stand in the same place twice. This little ball where you live is moving at more than 65,000 mph.

You never really stand in the same place twice. This little ball where you live is moving at more than 65,000 mph. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

Okay, moving up. Did you know the Sun is actually in orbit as well? You know that white splotchy thing you can see in the sky, on a clear night? That’s the Milky Way & it’s the center of our galaxy. Behind all that gas & dust you see is what astronomers call a super-massive black hole. That’s exactly what it sounds like & everything in our galaxy, from dust to the 400 billion possible stars, are moving around it. The time it takes for the Sun to complete one orbit is called a cosmic year. Because the Sun is 2/3 of the way to the edge of the galaxy, it orbits at a slower velocity than stars which are closer. It takes 225 million Earth years to equal one cosmic year. The last time the Earth was here, those dead dinos were just starting to show up. The velocity of the Sun around the galactic center is 137 miles per second. Multiply by 60 to get miles per minute & multiply by 60 again to get miles per hour. That’s staggering 493,200 miles per hour. We’re all absolutely flying & we can’t even feel it.

Speaking of the Milky Way, did you know it’s moving too? Kind of. See scientists consider galaxies to be the largest reference points for velocity. The only reference points for velocity we have are other galaxies. If the Milky Way was the only thing out there, we’d have no idea. Thank God there are are billions of others because we know the Universe is expanding. Using the other galaxies as a point of reference, relative to where you are, nearly everything is moving away from you. I say nearly because this is where it gets a little complicated… again. Because of this constant expansion, most of the galaxies are moving away from each other at 600 miles per second. That is- Are you ready for this?- 2,160,000 miles per hour. However, all matter has mass & with mass, comes gravity. This causes galaxies which are close to each other to fall towards each other. For example, while the Milky Way is flying away from other galaxies, it’s also moving around with respect to its galactic neighborhood & that makes its expansion speed significantly lower. It’s still unbelievably fast speed of 1,404,000 miles per hour, though. This is a lot of typing. If you want to get a general idea, head over to Wikipedia.
Just don’t use it in a paper. That’s bad.

There are trillions of different things in the Universe, traveling at breakneck speeds. I’m going to spare you every single one of these things, & head straight to the the most massive, yet most compact thing in the Universe. Black holes. Just like the one in the middle of our galaxy. Remember the term “escape velocity,” which I mentioned in Part 1? A black hole has such a gigantic gravitational pull, the fastest thing in the known Universe doesn’t even have enough speed to reach escape velocity. That would be light, & believe it or not, so far, after all my ramblings about speed & velocity, we’ve only reached .002 times its speed. Want to know how fast that is? Of course you do.

Okay, sit down.

The speed of light is 186,000 miles per……


That’s just about equal to 670,000,000 miles per hour. Yeah, that’s 670 million, but humans will never get there. You know why? Mass & time distort, that’s why. You’re going so freaking fast that everything you experience around you effing changes. You know what else? If someone was at a dead stop watching you careen away from them, they’d have a completely different experience watching you as you’re having, as the one doing the careening. If your crossed the event horizon, (that’s the invisible boundary where the gravitational pull of the black hole becomes so strong, it not only pulls matter in, but it pulls space, itself, but I digress.) & started falling, you would experience what scientists like to call spaghettification. That’s exactly what it sounds like. See, a black hole has so much gravity, its pull would be much stronger at your friend’s feet than at his head. That means that your feet would be falling insanely faster than your head, which is just about 6 feet away. So much, in fact, that you would be pulled into a single line of atoms… like spaghetti.

That’s what you’d experience falling in. If you were outside watching a friend fall towards a black hole, you would see your buddy fall closer & closer to the black hole, accelerating the whole time. This is where the whole “time distorts” thing comes into play. Time actually slows down the faster you go. Eventually time will slow down enough &  he’ll get to a point where he’s accelerating faster than the light he’s giving off. It will start to look like he’s falling slower & slower until he gets just before the surface. Then he. just. stops. Even at 670 million miles per hour, his light can’t escape anymore. You’ll never see him hit the surface. You can read more about this here.

Einstein says you can never accelerate past the speed of light. Presumably because if you the above scenario happens, you’ll create some rift in space time & everything will just blow up or something because 2 things are happening at once. Hey, I’m not a scientist, but I have a feeling I’m right.

Anyway, I’ll leave you with that thought to sleep on. Now you know. You’re welcome.

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You Won’t Believe How Fast it Goes… Part 1

Today’s post is going to be a little different. I know I usually write about origins of words & phrases, but I’m going to start throwing some science related stuff in here as I write more.

So today I’m going to write a little bit about speed & how what we perceive as fast, really isn’t that fast in the large scheme of things. Hopefully, I can put some of this stuff into perspective for those who don’t know.

Let’s start simply with things we’re used to here on Earth. How fast do you walk? The average running speed of a human is between 5 & 8 miles per hour. Doesn’t seem that fast just yet, right? What if I told you that Usain Bolt holds the record for being the fastest man alive with an average of 23.5 miles per hour? That’s close to how fast you’d drive down a residential side street. Speaking of cars…

We’re going to pick up speed a little, here. Remember how fast it felt when you hopped behind the wheel on the highway for the first time? You were traveling about 65 miles per hour. Keep that feeling in mind while we accelerate to almost 4 times that speed.  Depending on the size of the track, NASCAR racecars can reach speeds of up to 230 mph. Those things are a blur as they pass. Now, things are starting to get fast, right? Well, actually no. Let’s keep accelerating.

Airplanes. A normal passenger jet can get you across the Atlantic Ocean in 5-6 hours, depending on what kind of winds it’s facing. That’s because they travel on an average of 600mph. That’s almost the speed at which sound travels through air. That would be 761.2 mph. At this speed, a moving object creates pressure waves which are compressed together because they’re moving too fast to get out of their own way. They mesh into one wave & this creates the familiar sonic boom. 761 miles per hour.

Takeoff speed is only about 160mph, but cruising speed can be much faster.

Takeoff speed is only about 160mph,
but cruising speed is much faster.

Throttle up. Bullets. Their speeds range, but the average pistol fires a bullet at about 800mph. Certain hunting rifles fire bullets at 2,000 mph & ammunition from some military weapons can reach speeds of 3,000 mph. That’s too fast for the brain to process, so we can’t see it. Believe it or not, compared to other things, it might as well be stopped.

Before I move on, I want to let you know that the reason I kind breezed through those is because, while we consider a lot of those things fast, we’re very familiar with them. Now, it’s time to leave Earth & head into space, where speed & velocity tend to really rocket away.

Speaking of rockets… What do the International Space Staion, the Space Shuttle & the Gemini Capsule have in common? They all orbit Earth.  In order to reach an orbit around the earth, the pull of gravity needs to be equal to the velocity of the object. The gravity of the central object is trying to pull the orbiting object towards it, while the orbiting object’s inertia is trying to keep it going in a straight line. It results in a constant free-fall around central body. In the case of Earth, how fast does the orbiting object need to be moving? Well, to us humans, it’s astronomical (Yeah, all pun intended. Har har har). That speed is about 17,500 miles per hour. The website What If, is a weekly updated site which answers questions in layman’s terms about physics. To put that speed into perspective, they put it this way: “The ISS moves so quickly that if you fired a rifle bullet from one end of a football field, the International Space Station could cross the length of the field before the bullet traveled 10 yards.” Nuts.

Gemini 6 & 7 rendezvous at 17,500mph. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

Gemini 6 & 7 rendezvous at 17,500mph. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

To be safe for human flight, the space shuttle & other man rated rockets need to accelerate to the same speed, but need to do it in a manner which is safe enough for humans. It reaches it’s top speed in just under 10 minutes. In other words, the when the space shuttle needed to go from 0-17,500 in about 8 minutes. Think about that for a second.

By the time it cleared the tower, the shuttle was already moving at over 100 mph. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

By the time it cleared the tower, the shuttle
was already moving at over 100 mph.
(Photo courtesy of NASA)

The last bit I’ll give you today is about the Saturn V. That was the moon rocket.

  The Saturn V. The most powerful vehicle to successfully work & this photo proves it. The entire rocket was about 360ft tall. The flame is big enough to fit at least 3 Saturn rockets inside it. (Photo courtesy of NASA)

The Saturn V. The most powerful
vehicle to successfully work &
this photo proves it. The entire
rocket was about 360ft tall. The
flame is big enough to fit at least
3 Saturn rockets inside it.
(Photo courtesy of NASA)

It was bigger, but needed to go much faster than the space shuttle. You see, while something is in orbit, it is still held to the central object by gravity. In order to break this hold, you have to reach what physicists call an escape velocity. The more massive an object, the faster you need to be moving to leave its gravitational influence. The Saturn V was a three stage rocket. That means it had three parts. All three stages of the rocket fired to put it into a temporary orbit around Earth. When everything was squared away & stowed properly, the third burned again to accelerate the spacecraft to reach Earth’s escape velocity of 25,000 miles per hour. That’s about 7 miles per second. The spacecraft would’ve covered 28 miles in the time it takes you to read this sentence, which means the astronauts who flew in the Saturn V hold the record for being the fastest humans on (& off) Earth.

That’s it. Humans haven’t moved faster than that yet. Hopefully, we’ll reach faster speeds as we head to other planets in the future. At any rate, I figure reaching the end of man’s physical capabilities is a good place to put the bookmark, but believe it or not, what I’ve discussed so far doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the mind blowing speeds the rest of Universe is capable of. I’ll touch upon those next week

For now, this has been another installment of Bill’s Bologna. Thanks for reading. You can walk away knowing just a little bit more about than you did 10 minutes ago.

Now you know. You’re welcome.

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