The Earth is hurling through the solar system at 1.3 million mph, and a former NASA scientist made an animation to show what it looked like
Did you know that we're going incredibly fast through the universe?
Earth is relatively slow compared to, say, asteroids and comets and whatnot, but against the background of cosmic radiation we're absolutely rocketing through space. That makes it sound like we should all feel like we should be hanging on to the planet for dear life, but we don't feel it because our speed is constant. As Earth rotates on its axis, it orbits the sun, which orbits the center of the Milky Way, which itself is barreling through space.
The entire galaxy is like a gigantic surfboard that has been speeding through the galaxy on the cosmic wind of radiation released through the Big Bang.
A former NASA scientist James O'Donoghue made an animated video that shows how fast all those objects are moving.
"People often talk about how we are standing on a ball (Earth) which rotates at great speed, and that this ball orbits another at an even greater speed. Sometimes this is extended to how fast we orbit the center of our Milky Way," O'Donoghue, who used to work at NASA and is now employed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA, told Business Insider in an email.
He added: "In all the confusion of big numbers and directions, I simply wanted to put all this information into context in a single frame so people could understand where they're headed — and how fast."
The video shows relative speeds between each celestial body, with numbers indicate the speeds of Earth's rotation, its orbit around the sun, the solar system's orbit around the Milky Way's center, and the galaxy hurtling through space. The dots moving across the right side of the animation show how quickly each object travels 150 kilometers. As you can see from the animation, Earth's rotation is pretty slow, whereas the Milky Way moves incredibly quickly through space, traveling 600 kilometers (373 miles) every second.
When people teach astronomy, scientists portray the Milky Way's speed by showing how quickly it's approaching the Andromeda Galaxy, O'Donoghue said But that isn't necessarily the best point of comparison.
"There are so many galaxies moving at different velocities relative to our own, so I figured I'd skip that step and go straight to the biggest apparently moving thing I could think of — the CMB," O'Donoghue said, referring to the cosmic microwave background, the leftover radiation from the Big Bang that fills all of space.
So although Earth orbits the sun at 66,600 mph, and the sun orbits the Milky Way at 514,500 mph, our solar system's speed relative to the CMB is about 827,000 mph. Zoom out further, and our entire galaxy is zipping through the CMB at about 1.3 million mph.
Relative Cosmic Velocities— Universal-Sci (@universal_sci) September 12, 2019
Credit: Dr James O'Donoghue pic.twitter.com/z2GeOMjeQk
So why don't we feel that acceleration in our day to day life? It's all about relative speed. When you're driving in a car at a consistent speed of 55 mph, you only feel the speed when you accelerate or decelerate. You can look outside the car window and see things zoom by but you can't feel the same speed affecting you.