This is the most boring video ever

It’s an accurately rendered flight through space at the speed of light. You start out at the surface of the sun, and then hurtle out at 300 million meters per second. It takes 3 minutes to reach Mercury. It takes 45 minutes to reach Jupiter. This is basically a video of empty space centered on a very slowly shrinking bright star, with an occasional rocky ball whipping by.

Man, lightspeed is slow, and space is awfully empty.

I did not make it to the end of the video.


  1. jehk says

    Yep. Still awe inspiring. All the light we see out there starts with a journey like. Thanks for the video PZ.

  2. Lofty says

    Of course light speed seems slow when you look at it that way, but lots of people would like to do a day trip to Jupiter if they could.

  3. Donnie says

    adding one side a clock that shows the speed of light traveling in seconds (the timestamp of the video) and the other side the number of years to cover the same distance via today’s probe speeds would add a level of comprehension of the massive emptiness of space and how impossible (as of the near future) interstellar space flight really is…

  4. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    When I saw this vid introduced on a nother site (that shall remain nameless), the blurb was, “Space is REALLY BIG, this vid demonstrates just how big.”
    I too, barely made it between Earth’s and Mar’s orbits, noticing the vid is only 45 minutes long. Pluto is 4.5 light hours away, so the vid has to be a bit longer.

  5. komarov says

    Long, boring, with brief moments of hope and excitement?* Once videophones become standard issue this could replace the music you hear when you’re on hold with tech support. “Yay, something’s happeni… oh, no, just their reminder that my call is important to them – which must be why they want to draw it out so much.”

    Re: Donnie #4
    That would be interesting. Even better: a version from the probe’s point of view. The only question is, where could you upload a 10+-year video for missions like Rosetta? (No fast forwarding, by the way, that would be unrealistic)

  6. Holms says

    I liked how obvious taht video made it that there are huge gaps, in the order of millions of km, between asteroid belt objects… none of this ‘swarm of grinding boulders’ shit. However, it bugged me perhaps more than it should have, that the start and end brackets {used to enclose the names and numbers and such] did not match.

  7. Mobius says

    Of course, from the frame of reference of the photon, zero time passes. Which would make for a rather boring video as well. Video start/stop video over.

  8. opposablethumbs says

    I can’t remember the site now, but somewhere there’s a scrollable to scale solar system. I did “go” all the way from the Sun to Pluto, but it took ages and a lot of obstinacy (plus there were occasional messages to read along the way). For some reason I associate this with Randall Munroe; I may have found the link via xkcd I suppose …

    ring any bells at all?

  9. says

    Mobius beat me to it. Photons experience no time passing between being emitted and being absorbed, possibly across the universe.

    Also the video doesn’t include the million years (from our reference frame) a photon takes to escape the interior of the sun.

  10. woozy says

    I too, barely made it between Earth’s and Mar’s orbits, noticing the vid is only 45 minutes long. Pluto is 4.5 light hours away, so the vid has to be a bit longer.

    The vid doesn’t go to Pluto; just to Jupiter. So that says something about distances if My Very Elegant Mother Just is only one *sixtieth* of the remaining Sat Upon Nine Porcupines.

  11. Menyambal - torched by an angel says

    I made the whole thing, thanks to bed rest and an audiobook. Saturn would be almost as long, again.

    The video is great, but the solar system is very poorly designed.

  12. eternalstudent says

    Man, PZ, you sure pile a lot of derision onto space and astronomy topics, for someone who stares at zebrafish guts all day! :-)

    I did an astronomy session with my daughter’s Brownie troop some years ago. It was a slideshow and several activities. One activity they really enjoyed was our scale model of the Solar System. The sun was a beach ball (of a carefully chosen size), placed at one end of the school corridor. Then I handed them a 100′ tape measure, and read off of my notes the distance to Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars (that’s all that would fit in the school at that scale). They were quite amused when I handed them Earth to place – a 1.5mm ball of clay. :-) Then I gave local landmarks for placement of the other planets – Jupiter was in a nearby ball field, Saturn in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart, etc. I think it gave them some feel not only for the distances involved, but also the relative sizes.

    It was a fun day, and I enjoyed it. And I think at least a few of the girls were excited about it. And it didn’t hurt that each girl left with a copy of “Hanny and the Mystery of the Voorwerp” autographed by Dr. Pamela Gay. :-)

  13. Gregory Greenwood says

    Yup – space is big. As Donnie @ 4 says, we aren’t going to be traveling between solar systems at all any time soon, and nipping between them with ease will be something that may never be possible, or at least will only be within the capacities of an incredibly advanced civilisation. The notion that we will be merrily creating our own version of the Federation within a few hundred years is… optimistic to say the least. If rapid deep space travel, and especially manned rapid deep space travel, is ever practicable at all it will most likely be on the time scale of several millennia in the future. That probably doesn’t make particularly good science fiction, but physics is a harsh mistress.

  14. chris61 says

    I’ve always liked the scale model of the solar system on the Mall in Washington.

  15. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re @15:
    [tongue in cheek] may I reminisce of PZ’s occasional “spats” with Phil Plait The Bad Astronomer”, back when they both had their blogs on ScienceBlogs?[/tongue-in-cheek]
    they are great friends and the “spats” were obvious friendly nudges to look at the BA site. Perhaps this derision is a subtle callback to those friendly times. [or, so I infer, with zero motivation]

  16. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re ^
    only Bad Astronomer was to be bolded, I html failed

  17. caseloweraz says

    You think that’s boring? Imagine what an accurately depicted battle in space would look like. The crew of one ship would never see the other ships, and a hit would probably wipe out the target ship in an eyeblink. At least that’s how I expect it would be: No dramatic scenes of sparks flying out of control panels and people being thrown out of their seats — just BOOM and a cloud of rapidly dispersing gas.

    But of course that’s true of most of life. Accurate depiction of most activities would never draw enough viewers to make it worth filming. Being a lifelong trekkie, I used to fantasize about an episode in which Enterprise approaches an unknown planet and the crew spends the entire hour taking mineral surveys from orbit.

    (Hey, it would have held my attention. Maybe I should revert to calling myself a trekker…)

  18. caseloweraz says

    It takes 3 minutes to reach Mercury. It takes 45 minutes to reach Jupiter.

    And this assumes the very rare situation when all the planets are aligned nearly on the same line of sight.

  19. brett says

    @18 Chris61

    That’s the one. And holy shit is Jupiter far out compared to even Mars – no wonder they call it the “outer solar system”. Jupiter to Saturn is even worse.

  20. rietpluim says

    @caseloweraz #23 beat me to it. You could fly for ages and never see a planet!

  21. Holms says

    It should be noted that the make of the video makes note of the liberties taken re. the planetary alignment and the relativistic time-warp, on the linked page.

  22. moarscienceplz says

    Hey PZ,
    Tell us again how we better not try to talk to ET because they may decide to send a fleet on a journey of hundreds of light-years to Earth to enslave us.

  23. thebookofdave says

    A few days ago, I discovered Tacoma Nature Center’s scale model of the solar system, represented as a series of plaques posted on their interpretive trail. It took over fifteen minutes to travel from Pluto to the terrestrial worlds. The stretch from Earth to the sun would have fit comfortably inside the gift shop. The sun was shown the size of a pie plate, with most planets no larger than a pencil eraser.

  24. Tethys says

    I made it to Mars, but otherwise it is similar to driving through the eastern Dakotas. There is nothing in the terrain to use as a landmark, and you will miss the few extant towns/ planets if you blink at the wrong time.

  25. edmond says

    @23 caseloweraz

    The alignment makes the video more interesting, but it doesn’t change the time scale. It’s still 3 minutes to the orbit of Mars, and 45 minutes to the orbit of Jupiter, even if you don’t pass anything along the way.

  26. sparks says

    Yes Virginia, the Cosmos really is that big. Even at the speed of light. :)

    This has the happy consequence of limiting humankinds scope of buggery to our own star system, which I consider a really good thing.

    Forgive the cynicism, I haven’t a lot of hope in the future of our species.

  27. Menyambal - torched by an angel says

    Regarding the speed of light: Ours is the first generation where the speed of light is noticeably less than infinite. Up to now, only scientists cared, but for us, watching the news every night, and seeing that little time delay when remote reporters hand over a story, that is the speed of light being less than instant.

    The Apollo moon missions were the only thing before that, but they were a special occasion. The news, and that little delay, that’s part of our lives.

    But it is hard for us to understand just how far light goes in that little bit of time. Geostationary communications satellites are roughly as far up as the earth’s circumference. It takes a long distance to make light take any time at all, and light takes 45 minutes to get out of the inner solar system – it’s a big universe.

  28. brett says

    It’s actually one of the reasons why I think interstellar expansion would peter out after a while, even if you could do it. You’d have to want to be far enough away from the home system that it takes years just to send and receive a signal.

  29. chigau (違う) says

    brett #34

    You’d have to want to be far enough away from the home system that it takes years just to send and receive a signal.

    Kinda like when the Europeans started their invasion of TheNewWorld™?

  30. Nepos says

    Funny, after all the controversies Pharyngula has had over the years, it’s this anti-astronomy kick that PZ’s been on that makes me drop the site from my regular reading list.

    I don’t know WTF has gotten into PZ, but crapping all over an entire discipline of science (and worse, dismissing the sense of wonder that some people draw from that discipline) is pathetic.

  31. says

    Because a sense of wonder requires that planets be close together or that the speed of light be much faster than it really is?

    Because SETI is a synonym for astronomy?

  32. Dark Jaguar says

    Accurately scaled, but not what I’d call “accurately rendered”. I’d love to see a similar video but with all the optical and relativistic effects one would see travelling at light speed.

    For a playable example, try a little game called “A slower speed of light”.

  33. caseloweraz says

    Edmond: The alignment makes the video more interesting, but it doesn’t change the time scale. It’s still 3 minutes to the orbit of Mars, and 45 minutes to the orbit of Jupiter, even if you don’t pass anything along the way.

    You meant Mercury, not Mars. But your main point is well taken.

  34. caseloweraz says

    @Dark Jaguar (#42):

    That reminds me of one of those ultra-short stories that Analog publishes. Someone has discovered warp drive — and it’s slower than travel in normal space.

  35. Rob Grigjanis says

    Dark Jaguar @42:

    all the optical and relativistic effects one would see travelling at light speed.

    You wouldn’t see anything. Your clock would stop for the entire speed-of-light journey. Of course you couldn’t actually reach that speed, having mass and all…

    If you could get to .9999998c, you’d just see a small bright disc of light in front of you (blue-shifted CMB), but you’d also probably get fried by what are now ultrarelativistic little bits of space junk. If you could avoid getting toasted, you’d measure the time to Pluto’s orbit as a few thousandths of a second.

    Presented numbers not 100% guaranteed!

  36. Nepos says

    PZ @41, Ah, nevermind, PZ, I just had a moment of naivete, that’s all. Cosmos, the original, was my first real exposure to science, and it’s sweeping vistas and speculation about alien life had a profound impact on me.

    But you’re absolutely right, SETI is a waste of time, and videos showing what the solar system looks like at the speed of light are kinda pointless, since we’ll never travel even close to the speed of light. And we’ll never terraform Mars, or discover life on distant worlds.

    We’re trapped on this single ball of dirt, and we’ll never get to explore strange new worlds, never seek out new life and new civilizations. Our species will live and die on Earth. I know that, of course, but for one brief moment this video brought me back to when I was a kid, watching Cosmos, and thinking of how vast and cool the universe was.

    But that’s magical thinking, childish thinking, and you’re right to dismiss it.

  37. Gregory Greenwood says

    I have one spark of hope for you Nepos – never is a really, really long time. It seems certain that we aren’t going to go haring off into the cosmos in my lifetime or yours baring some utterly unforeseeable and spectacularly unlikely event, but that handful of decades is but an eye blink in the timescale of human civilisation. If we are considering truly significant time frames (and assuming we don’t simply stupidly kill ourselves through climate degradation, WMD warfare, or some other human-idiocy-fueled apocalypse first), we simply aren’t in a position to say what exactly humanity, or humanity’s descendants in whatever form, will look like a mere five hundred years from now. Still less a thousand years in the future. Or ten thousand. Or a million.

    The idea that we will explore the universe in the next few centuries is pretty much a non-starter, and it is equally unlikely that those scions of humanity who maybe will one day stand upon the surface of a world that orbits another star will look anything like William Shatner, but that is not the same thing as declaring that no aspect of our culture, that no intelligence that comes into existence on our own little ball of dirt, will ever achieve that. The big hurdle to interstellar travel is deep time – on human timescales as they are currently reckoned, such obstacles are effectively insurmountable, but take away that human limitation, perhaps through the development of a genuine machine intelligence at some point in the future, should such a thing prove to be possible (and if a couple of pounds of spongy grey and white matter can support sapience, I see no reason why sufficiently advanced technology should be incapable of sustaining some form of consciousness, though perhaps very unlike our own), then that would definitely be something of a game changer.

    There is also the fact that our understanding of physics is still incomplete. Interstellar tarvel may seem like an impossible pipe dream now, but once upon a time the same was true of traveling faster than a horse could gallop (you would inevitable suffocate, or so it was believed) flight (if god had meant for humans to fly he would have given them wings dontchaknow), breaking the sound barrier (no airframe could ever survive the stress!) and later escaping the Earth’s gravity well.

    We did all those ‘impossible’ things, and along the way usually learned that what we thought we knew about physics, we actually didn’t know. As our scientific knowledge advances down the centuries and millennia (again assuming we don’t kill ourselves – I really do seem to be typing that a lot…), we may well discover that the ‘insurmountable’ obstacles of interstellar travel actually hide a useful little shortcut, and that what we thought we knew absolutely in 2015 wasn’t actually the whole story afterall. All conclusions in any scientific endeavour are provisional and contingent upon any new data and observations that may be forthcoming, so I wouldn’t start throwing around the biggest of all words – impossible, never – just yet.

    Then of course there is the matter of motivation. Spending centuries trying to reach another star sounds like a really bad deal while Earth is habitable and the only threat to it staying that way is our own stupidity (that I hope we will ultimately be able to get a handle on), but what if something truly unstoppable was going to ruin our planet’s day permanently, like a neuron stellar core fragment, but we had a few decades of advanced warning? A generation ship might seem like such a silly idea then…

  38. Gregory Greenwood says

    A generation ship might not seem like such a silly idea then…

    No matter where we may one day travel in the cosmos, I doubt we will ever be outside the domain of the great and mighty Typyos…