The News Today
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12.6.20
Off We Go

Video Shows NASA’s Bizarre Guide to Near-Light-Speed Travel

__Dan Robitzski__Filed Under: Hard Science
NASA

Instruction Manual

Last week, NASA put out an adorably bizarre cartoon that explains some of the trials and tribulations of near-light-speed travel.

The video, which looks like the sort of safety presentation that teaches you how to use the seatbelt on a ride at Disney World, is surprisingly informative. It’s basically a brief, digestible primer on advanced concepts like special relativity and the incomprehensible scale of the universe.

Brushing Up

The video doesn’t get too far into the weeds of the actual science behind the concepts it introduces, but it would be silly to expect calculus from a kid-friendly educational video featuring a smiling alien planning their cosmic vacation.

But even without getting into the why, a kid will walk away from the video knowing some pretty bizarre facts. For instance, the video explains how the funkiness of time dilation means that during a near-light-speed journey, less time will pass for the traveler than will for an observer who stayed back home.

Long Wait

The video also dispels the sci-fi notion of reaching light speed and instantly reaching your destination. As the video mentions, it would more than a day of travel at 90 percent the speed of light just to reach the boundaries of our own solar system.

In all, it’s a goofy, fun little short — and it’s commendable how it introduces ideas that would-be scientists might not otherwise hear about until college.

Editor’s note 8/21/2020: This story originally misstated the time it takes for light to travel to the boundaries of our solar system. It has been corrected.

More on special relativity: This Star Is Moving So Fast It Visibly Warps Spacetime