While 1% of anything may not seem like much, that’s close to 7 million miles per hour at the speed of light! It would take little more than a second to go from Los Angeles to New York at 1% the speed of light. This is almost 10,000 times the speed of a commercial airplane.
Bullets can travel at speeds of up to 2,600 miles per hour (4,200 kilometers per hour), more than three times the speed of sound. NASA’s X3 jet plane is the fastest aircraft, reaching a peak speed of 7,000 mph (11,200 kph). While it may seem remarkable, it is still just 0.001% the speed of light. Spacecraft are the fastest artificial things. They employ rockets to escape Earth’s gravity, which requires a speed of 25,000 miles per hour (40,000 km). NASA’s Parker Solar Probe is the spaceship going the quickest.
After launching from Earth in 2018, it skimmed the Sun’s searing atmosphere and accelerated to 330,000 mph using the Sun’s gravity (535,000 km). That is a mind-bogglingly rapid speed — but it is just 0.05 percent the speed of light. What is preventing humanity from achieving 1% of the speed of light? In a word, vitality. Anything in motion generates energy as a result of its activity. This is referred to as kinetic energy by physicists. To accelerate, you must increase your kinetic energy. The issue is that increasing speed requires a significant amount of kinetic energy. To double the rate of anything requires four times the power. Three times the speed of anything needs nine times the point, and so on.
For example, it would require 200 trillion Joules to accelerate an adolescent weighing 110 pounds (50 kilograms) to 1% of the speed of light (a measurement of energy). That’s almost the same amount of energy that 2 million individuals in the United States use in a single day. It is theoretically feasible to accelerate anything to 1% the speed of light, but this would need a vast amount of energy. Could humans accelerate things further? Yes! However, engineers must devise novel methods for moving objects in space.
All rockets, even the sleek modern rockets used by SpaceX and Blue Origins, utilize rocket fuel similar to gasoline used in automobiles. The issue is that fuel combustion is very inefficient. Other means of propulsion include the use of electric or magnetic forces. Additionally, nuclear fusion, where the Sun is powered, is far more efficient than chemical fuel. Scientists are investigating several alternative methods of traveling quickly — including warp drives, the faster-than-light travel famous by Star Trek.
A solar sail is one possible method of rapidly moving things. These are big, thin sheets of plastic linked to a spaceship and meant to be pushed by sunlight, much way a typical sail is caused by wind. Solar sails have been shown to operate on a few spacecraft, and experts believe that they could push spacecraft to 10% the speed of light.