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We can’t travel at the speed of light, but we know what it would look like

Image most of us think of for traveling through space at light speed. Credit: University of Leicester

Image most of us think of for traveling through space at light speed. Credit: University of Leicester

Attention Star Wars and Star Trek fans. This blog entry will make you question everything you know!!! Ok, that’s a bit of an overstatement but scientists much brighter than me have discovered something that may make you chuckle the next time you watch an episode when Captain Kirk, Picard, or Solo put the pedal to the metal.

Think back to any time the Enterprise, Millennium Falcon, or any Sci-fi spaceship travels at the speed of light (I think this includes Spaceball One traveling at ludicrous speed). The image from the window always resembles individual stars turning into streaks of as the ship accelerates past 670 million mph (caught doing this on I-94 and it’s at least 6 points off your license). In an article published at www.space.com, a group of physics Masters students at England’s University of Leicester found traveling at such speed would require a really good pair of Ray Ban sunglasses as the image would be a white glow, brightest in the direction the ship is traveling. The reason for this is the Doppler Effect (sound familiar?). Traveling at such high speeds actually changes the wavelengths of light. The same thing happens with the wavelengths of sound when an ambulance or fire truck passes close by. The sound is higher pitched as the vehicle approaches and a lower pitch as it moves further away. This happens because the speed of the vehicle is added or subtracted to the speed of sound. The faster the wavelengths arrive, the shorter they sound (shorter frequency) causing a higher pitch. The opposite happens as the sound wavelengths are stretched when the vehicle speeds away. So even though the siren’s pitch stays the same, it sounds completely different when moving.

A bright white glow would be the actual view while traveling at light speed. Credit: University of Leicester

A bright white glow would be the actual view while traveling at light speed. Credit: University of Leicester

So how does this work with light? Well remember light is part of the electromagnetic spectrum. X-rays and Gamma rays have very short wavelengths. Microwave radiation which is all over the universe has a very long wavelength. Traveling through space at warp drive or hyper drive (or hyper active in Spaceballs) would shift the wavelengths of visible light to the invisible X-ray spectrum. Microwave radiation would then shift to the visible spectrum allowing speedy travelers to see the normally invisible microwave radiation as visible light. And since microwave radiation is all over the place, it would light up everything the eye can see in front of it.

While the article does not touch on what would be seen out a rear window traveling at the speed of light, my semi-educated guess is you would be able to see X-rays as visible light when moving just slower than the speed of light. Any faster and you would see darkness as no electromagnetic radiation could catch up to you, since it too is traveling at the speed of light.

The full Space.com article can be found by CLICKING HERE.

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