Is it possible to travel faster than light?

To begin to understand this question you must first understand what light itself is. A seemingly obvious notion at first, it is the very thing that allows us to observe our surroundings, but you must also understand how light works.
Thanks to the power of todays communication technologies, it is becoming increasingly common knowledge that light does not travel at infinite speeds. In fact, the finite speed of light is 186,000 miles per second. This was first discovered by Ole Christensen Roemer in 1676 who studied Jupiter’s moons orbital patterns. He discovered the closer we are to Jupiter in space, the earlier moons appeared from behind it. At times when we are far from Jupiter, the moons appear later from behind it. His conclusions had birthed the speed of light.
Although, his actual work led him to believe the speed of light was around 140,000 miles per second, however, modern technology has allowed us to determine a more accurate speed.

Ole Christensen Roemer

So, we would need to travel at this speed to travel faster than light itself. So the answer to our original question is, quite bluntly, no.

To give you examples of our own records, the fastest unmanned vehicle is the HTV-2, that travelled at 13,201 miles per hour. The fastest manned vehicle is the North American X-15, piloted by William J. Knight, travelling 4,510 miles per hour.

Google search: HTV-2

However, to reach a speed of 186,000 miles per second (or 669,600,000 miles per hour) the factors of an engines power or a humans piloting skills are shot out of the window (not literally, of course).
Light can travel at such speeds because it has no mass, as it is made up of photons which equally have no mass. In Stephen Hawking’s, A Brief History of Time, he wrote than this is explained in Albert Einstein’s famous theory E = mc² (E = energy, m = mass, c = speed of light).
Einstein’s law was that nothing may travel faster than the speed of light. It is difficult to simplify this process but the more energy an object uses (say a car engine) this will add to its mass, making it harder for it to keep increasing its speed (resulting in a car only being able to reach a top speed and not forever accelerating faster and faster). This means than light, and other waves of no mass, can travel at or faster than the speed of light.

Sheldon from Big Bang Theory in a “doppler effect costume”. Waves increase in size the further they move away from the source.

This puts a rather dull dousing on the fantasy of galactic-light-speed-space-travel like in Star Wars, but also confirms we cannot travel faster than time itself as light allows us to experience time, however, that is a lesson for another day…

Google Search: Light Speed


Beginners Guide To (viewing) The Galaxy

This week sees the first step away from plants and right out into the depths of space, with planets. We’ll cover how and when you can spot planets, and the International Space Station, as the Earth orbits through the Solar System.

I had recently signed up to the free email service from NASA, named “Spot The Station” in which you input your geographical location and you’ll receive periodic emails on when is best to look into the sky to spot the International Space Station (ISS), as it flies over the night sky – weather permitting.

Last night, I combined this with my “SkyView Free” app which shows you what is in the sky wherever you point your smartphone. Very nifty.

Whilst I did see the International Space Station, it’s the above image that really grabbed my attention. I noticed a tiny dot in the sky and pointed my phone at it – Saturn was in visible range (sadly Mars, to its right, was not visible). To make that more understandable, below is the image taken away from the app.

You can just about make out Saturn in the night sky, even with all the interfering light from London. I decided I needed a closer look so I carefully zoomed in and snapped again.

Now you can really see Jupiter, but how can I be sure?

I carefully zoomed into the image once again and had to screenshot the picture, apologies for the low quality image.

Now I was certain – you can even make out Saturn’s rings! Although I feel the above is the best pic of the bunch, I did also grab the below image but this is very low quality.

You’ll have a much better experience if you live outside of London. (Or, quite plainly, if you own a telescope.) But I thought it was important to share this with those who perhaps are novice at sky watching and who didn’t know it were possible to view the sky’s with a smartphone.

I had intended to video the ISS flying over but the smartphone camera made the image too dark to capture, so I only have several images like that below.

Here is the image taken away from the app (sadly, zooming did not make this image any clearer).

Jupiter was also vaguely visible but as you see below, this appears as just a faint dot no matter how much you zoom.

Not ground breaking stuff I know – but remember this is just for anyone who is a novice sky-watcher with a smartphone.

So, to recap, you can see it for yourself with the following steps:

  1. Sign up to the email service Spot the Station (if you want to view ISS fly over – it moves fast! About 6 mins visiblity every 1hr 37mins.)
  2. Download SkyView Free app which is available on iOS devices (unsure about others)
  3. Wait for a clear night sky, point your smartphone and enjoy the show.

There is also an app I’d recommend (but you must pay – £3.99 I think I paid) called GoSkyWatch and it’s a more detailed view of the skies, but you cannot see through your camera view so matching with your eye can be difficult.

It’s a fun and simple way to check out the skies quickly, kids will love this too, and you’ll get to learn the constellations and planets in no time!