In an effort to explain daunting astronomical concepts like the speed of light and the scale of the universe, a NASA scientist has turned to animation and created a series of nifty and easy to understand explainer videos that have become popular across social media.
So far James O’Donoghue, the creator of the videos and a planetary scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, has six explainer videos on YouTube.
The videos have amassed almost a million combined views, which is quite a feat considering the complicated concepts he deals with.
Dr. O’Donoghue has even used his animation talents to make fun of flat earthers, which of course won us over immediately.
A flat-Earther would have a lot mind games to perform to convince you this is flat, or that Earth is the only flat planet.
— Dr. James O’Donoghue (@physicsJ) January 21, 2019
O’Donoghue’s latest animation tackling the concept of the speed of light has been particularly popular, already raking in 200,000 views on YouTube.
The speed of light is the theoretical speed limit of our universe, around 299,792 kilometres per second.
O’Donoghue’s animations make us realise that the distances throughout the cosmos are insanely vast. Even at that ridiculous speed, interplanetary travel is still like a snail traversing the Gobi desert.
Another example of the galaxy’s vastness is the moon. It is considered to be on our “celestial doorstep”, it is actually so far that it takes 1.3 seconds to reach it at the speed of light. That’s almost 360,000 kilometres.
That might not sound so bad, after all, it’s just a blink of the eye. But as we go deeper into space things get trickier.
Mars is approximately 54.6 million kilometres from us. If we had a ship capable of sailing through the universe at the speed of light, it’ll still take us roughly 3 minutes to get there.
In other words, when you look up into the sky and see Mars, that sight of the planet took 3 minutes to get to your eyes. What you’re looking at is Mars from 3 minutes in the past.
A round trip from Earth-Mars at the speed of light would take just over six minutes at closest approach, which is about 54 million kilometres. But on average, Mars stands at about 400 million kilometres of earth, so most of the time a round trip at the speed of light would actually take about 28 minutes and 12 seconds.
Star Trek has been lying to us about interstellar travel speeds all along eh?
A sad footnote to this story is that O’Donoghue is one of the thousands of federal workers in the US who suffered as a result of the government shutdown. The shutdown ran for 35 days from December 22 to January 25, making it the longest in American history.
I’m a contractor working at NASA as a Postdoctoral Fellow. We are now on unpaid leave due to shutdown, with no guarantee of backpay. My company @USRAedu is loaning us money to cover us, and it has to be repaid before we leave. Sadly, I leave in just 2 months😒. #ShutdownStories
— Dr. James O’Donoghue (@physicsJ) January 20, 2019
During the shutdown, about 800,000 federal workers were forced to work without pay with millions of other citizens affected by the disruption to routine government services.
[Feature image by PXhere]