Visualizing the Speed of Light
With the flip of a switch, your room can be instantenously flooded with brightness.
In fact, there is no noticeable lag effect at all.
That’s because emitted photons travel at 186,000 miles (300,000 km) per second, meaning it takes only 1/500,000th of a second for light to reach even the furthest part of an ordinary room. And, if it could go through the wall, it would orbit the entire planet 7.5 times in just one second.
Light Speed is Fast…
In our every day experiences, we never see light as having to “take time” to do anything. It’s inconceivably fast, brightening up everything in its path in an instant — and with a few odd caveats, scientists believe light speed to be the fastest-known achievable pace in the universe.
But what if we get out of our bubble, and look at light from outside the confines of life on Earth?
Today’s animation, which comes from planetary scientist Dr. James O’Donoghue, helps visualize the speed of light in a broader context. It helps remind us of the mechanics of this incredible phenomenon, while also highlighting the vast distances between celestial bodies — even in our small and insignificant corner of the solar system.
Light Speed is Slow…
Once a photon is sent into the vast abyss, suddenly the fastest possible speed seems somewhat pedestrian.
- Moon: It takes about 1.255 seconds for light to get from Earth to the moon.
- Mars: Mars is about 150x further than the moon — about 40 million miles (54.6 million km) in the closest approach — so it takes 3 minutes to get there from Earth.
- Sun: The sun is 93 million miles (150 million km) away, meaning it takes 8 minutes to see its light.
Let that sink in for a moment: the sun could explode right now, and we wouldn’t even know about it for eight long minutes.
Going Further, Taking Longer
If it takes light a few minutes to get to the closest planets, how long does it take for light to travel further away from Earth?
- Jupiter: The largest planet is 629 million km away when it’s closest, taking light about 35 minutes.
- Saturn: The ringed planet is about as twice as far as Jupiter, taking light 71 minutes.
- Pluto: It takes about 5.5 hours for light to go from Earth to the dwarf planet.
- Alpha Centauri: The nearest star system is 4.3 light years away, or 25 trillion miles (40 trillion km).
- Visible stars: The average distance to the 300 brightest stars in the sky is about 347 light years.
If you really want to get the feeling of how “slow” light really is, watch the below video and journey from the sun to Jupiter. It’s done in real-time, so it takes about 43 minutes:
So while light obviously travels at a ludicrous speed, it really depends on your vantage point.
On Earth, light is instantaneous – but anywhere else in the universe, it’s pretty inadequate for getting anywhere far (especially in contrast to the average human lifespan).
Ranked: America’s Best Universities
Evaluated on 19 different metrics, here’s the list of America’s best universities, led by 14 private schools.
Ranked: America’s Best Universities
The latest ranking of America’s best universities is here, perfectly timed for the approaching admissions season.
“Best” is of course subjective, and U.S. News and World Report has compiled 19 metrics on which they evaluated more than 400 national universities. Some of them include:
- Graduation rates & performance: A four-year rolling average of the proportion of each entering class earning a bachelor’s degree in six years or less. Performance is measured against predictions made by the publishers, and when beaten, the university gains a higher scoring.
- Peer assessment: A two-year weighted average of ratings from top academics—presidents, provosts and deans of admissions—on academic quality of peer institutions with which they are familiar.
- Financial resources: The average per student spend on instruction, research, student services and related educational expenditures in the 2021 fiscal year.
- Debt: A school’s average accumulated federal loan debt among borrowers only.
- Pell graduation rates & performance: the same calculation as stated above, but focused only on Pell Grant students, adjusted to give more credit to schools with larger Pell student proportions.
The website’s methodology section details how they sourced their data, the weights assigned to each metric, and their changes over the years.
From the hundreds assessed come the nearly 50 best universities that offer a variety of undergraduate majors, post-graduate programs, emphasize research, or award professional practice doctorates.
Which are the Best Universities in America?
At the top of the list, Princeton University is the best university in the country, known for its physics, economics, and international relations departments. Notably, it’s a rare Ivy league university that does not have a law, medical, or business school.
Here’s the full ranking of America’s best universities, along with annual tuition requirements.
|1||Princeton University||New Jersey||$59,710|
|7||Duke University||North Carolina||$66,172|
|9||Brown University||Rhode Island||$68,230|
|12||Columbia University||New York||$65,524|
|12||Cornell University||New York||$66,014|
|12||University of Chicago||Illinois||$65,619|
|18||Dartmouth College||New Hampshire||$65,511|
|20||University of Notre Dame||Indiana||$62,693|
Michigan, Ann Arbor
|22||Georgetown University||Washington, DC||$65,082|
|22||University of North|
Carolina at Chapel Hill
|North Carolina||$39,338 (out-state)
|24||Carnegie Mellon University||Pennsylvania||$63,829|
|24||University of Virginia||Virginia||$58,950 (out-state)
University, St. Louis
California, San Diego
|28||University of Florida||Florida||$28,658 (out-state)
|35||New York University||New York||$60,438|
|35||University of Illinois|
|New Jersey||$36,001 (out-state)
|40||University of Washington||Washington||$41,997 (out-state)
|43||The Ohio State University||Ohio||$36,722 (out-state)
|47||Texas A&M University||Texas||$40,607 (out-state)
|47||University of Georgia||Georgia||$30,220 (out-state)
|47||University of Rochester||New York||$64,384|
|47||Virginia Tech||Virginia||$36,090 (out-state)
|47||Wake Forest University||North Carolina||$64,758|
|53||Florida State University||Florida||$21,683 (out-state)
|53||William & Mary||Virginia||$48,841 (out-state)
MIT places second, and Harvard and Stanford tie for third. Yale rounds out the top five.
Private universities, including seven Ivy League colleges, dominate the top of the rankings. Meanwhile, the highest-ranked public schools are tied at 15th, both state schools in California.
For affordability, since the higher ranks are populated by private universities, there tends to be a broad correlation of better universities being more expensive. That said, the most expensive school in the top 50 ranks is actually the University of Southern California, tied at 28th, for $68,237/year.
As it happens, also tied at 28th, the University of Florida is the most affordable public school for in-state students ($6,381/year) and Florida State University tied at 53rd, is the most affordable for out-of-staters at $21,683/year.
However these costs are tuition-only, and don’t account for other necessary expenses: accommodation, food, and textbooks.
Best University versus Best “Fit”
Finding the best university for prospective students is more than just perusing a long ranking list.
Aside from the numerous schools present within each university—which can often be the best for specific majors—factors like location, proximity to family, campus culture, the non-academic pursuits (sports, extracurriculars, internships) are also taken into consideration.
In fact, research has found that just attaining a university degree improves future earnings potential and employability.
Furthermore, individual engagement at college (irrespective of the rank of the school in question) plays a far bigger role in learning and general well-being than simply attending a highly-ranked school.
However, for low income and minority students, attending a top-ranked school does improve future earnings considerably. For women, it also often results in delaying marriage and kids, which results in more work-hours and as a result, more pay.
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