Animation: Using Planets to Visualize the Speed of Light
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Animation: Using Planets to Visualize the Speed of Light

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The Speed of Light Visualized Using Planets

We often come across the term “light-year” in the context of space travel. But what does it actually mean?

A light-year is the distance light travels in one year. At a speed of 186,000 miles/sec (300,000km/sec), light travels 5.88 trillion miles (9.46 trillion km) in a year—a distance well beyond immediate comprehension.

Scientists created the term light-year to measure astronomical distances beyond the confines of the Earth. And in the vastness of space, light photons, which can go around the Earth 7.5 times in just one second, seem slow.

The above animation from planetary scientist Dr.James O’Donoghue helps put the speed of light into a broader perspective while highlighting the vast distances between celestial bodies.

Light Speed: Fast, but Slow

The Moon is the nearest celestial body to Earth at 239,000 miles (384,400 km) away. A light photon emitted from Earth would get to the Moon in a mere 1.25 seconds.

But how does this compare to other celestial bodies in our solar system?

Celestial BodyDistance at Closest ApproachLight Travel Time from Earth
Moon0.38 million km1.25 sec
Mars54.6 million km3 min
Sun150 million km8 min
Jupiter588 million km33 min
Saturn1.2 billion km67 min
Pluto4.3 billion km4 hrs

If you watched the entire length of the above video, you probably saw how “slow” light is. The same photon of light that reached the Moon in a little over a second took three long minutes to reach Mars, the next planet beyond Earth in our solar system.

It takes light just over eight minutes to get from the Sun to Earth. This means that when we look at the Sun, we see it as it was eight minutes ago, and if it were to disappear suddenly, we wouldn’t realize it for eight whole minutes.

Therefore, how “fast” or “slow” light is depends on your perspective. To us Earth-dwelling humans, it feels instantaneous. But the vastness of the universe makes even light seem slow—and it travels at a speed that our spacecraft aren’t even close to matching.

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This article was published as a part of Visual Capitalist's Creator Program, which features data-driven visuals from some of our favorite Creators around the world.

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Misc

Visualizing the Odds of Dying from Various Accidents

This infographic shows you the odds of dying from a variety of accidents, including car crashes, bee stings, and more.

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Infographic: The Odds of Dying from Various Accidents

Fatal accidents account for a significant number of deaths in the U.S. every year. For example, nearly 43,000 Americans died in traffic accidents in 2021.

Without the right context, however, it can be difficult to properly interpret these figures.

To help you understand your chances, we’ve compiled data from the National Safety Council, and visualized the lifetime odds of dying from various accidents.

Data and Methodology

The lifetime odds presented in this graphic were estimated by dividing the one-year odds of dying by the life expectancy of a person born in 2020 (77 years).

Additionally, these numbers are based on data from the U.S., and likely differ in other countries.

Type of AccidentLifetime odds of dying (1 in #)
Motor vehicle accident101
Complications of medical and surgical care798
Alcohol poisoning1,606
Accidental building fire1,825
Choking on food2,745
Drowning in swimming pool5,782
Sunstroke6,368
Accidental firearm discharge7,998
Drowning10,386
Airplane accident11,756
Bee or wasp sting57,825
Dog attack69,016
Lightning strike138,849

For comparison’s sake, the odds of winning the Powerball jackpot are 1 in 292,000,000. In other words, you are 4000x more likely to die by a lightning strike over your lifetime than to win the Powerball lottery.

Continue reading below for further context on some of these accidents.

Motor Vehicle Accidents

Motor vehicle accidents are a leading cause of accidental deaths in the U.S., with a 1 in 101 chance of dying. This is quite a common way of dying, especially when compared to something like bee stings (1 in 57,825).

Unfortunately, a major cause of vehicle deaths is impaired driving. The CDC reports that 32 Americans are killed every day in crashes involving alcohol, which equates to one death every 45 minutes.

For further context, consider this: 30% of all traffic-related deaths in 2020 involved alcohol-impaired drivers.

Drowning

The odds of drowning in a swimming pool (1 in 5,782) are significantly higher than those of drowning in general (1 in 10,386). According to the CDC, there are 4,000 fatal drownings every year, which works out to 11 deaths per day.

Drowning also happens to be a leading cause of death for children. It is the leading cause for kids aged 1-4, and second highest cause for kids aged 5-14.

A rather surprising fact about drowning is that 80% of fatalities are male. This has been attributed to higher rates of alcohol use and risk-taking behaviors.

Accidental Firearm Discharge

Lastly, let’s look at accidental firearm deaths, which have lifetime odds of 1 in 7,998. That’s higher than the odds of drowning (general), as well as dying in an airplane accident.

This shouldn’t come as a major surprise, since the U.S. has the highest rates of gun ownership in the world. More importantly, these odds highlight the importance of properly securing one’s firearms, as well as learning safe handling practices.

As a percentage of total gun-related deaths (45,222 in 2020), accidental shootings represent a tiny 1%. The two leading causes are suicide (54%) and homicide (43%).

Interested in learning more about death? Revisit one of our most popular posts of all time: Visualizing the History of Pandemics.

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