We are going to start off by giving you the answer: It is impossible, with our current technology, to apply the concept of light speed to larger objects, such as our rockets, aeroplanes, or cars. Not only are they heavy, but we are not yet capable of generating and storing the energy required to achieve that speed.
Light travels at approximately 1,079,252,848.8km/hour in a vacuum, aka space. The fastest object that man has made till today is NASA’s solar probe, which has a recorded speed of 700,000km/hour, a far cry from the speed of light.
However, the thing is that we have particle accelerators that are able to make subatomic particles, such as electrons and protons, travel near the speed of light. Why, then, are we not able to apply that in our rockets? We are here to find out the reasons.
What happens when you keep increasing an object’s speed?
We are all familiar with Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence equation, where E = mc2, where E = Energy, M = Mass, and C = The constant speed of light.
In other words, the equation states that mass and energy can be transformed into each other. So, when the speed of an object increases, the mass will increase proportionately, resulting in the need for a huge power source.
With that being said, how is it possible for subatomic particles to travel at such a significant speed?
How do particle accelerators speed up subatomic particles?
Particle accelerators, as the name suggests, speed up tiny, charged particles to nearly the speed of light. According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, there are over 30,000 particle accelerators globally.
They come in various sizes and shapes. The smallest one was created by Stanford scientists and is approximately the width of a human hair, while the largest one is the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), which is recorded to be 27km in circumference and crosses the France-Switzerland border.
The LHC utilises magnetic and electric fields to speed up protons until they achieve nearly the speed of light. However, you must remember that protons are extremely light, weighing only 1.67262192 x 10-27kg. It is so light that one strand of human hair can hold more than a quintillion protons, which is nearly unimaginable. Hence the possibility of accelerating them to nearly the speed of light.
Challenges of accelerating rockets to light speed
Just the concept of accelerating rockets to light speed is unimaginable and hypothetical, at least with our current technology. There are a couple of real challenges to accelerating an object as large as a rockets to light speed.
1. Rockets are incredibly heavy
Even the smallest orbital rocket that man has made, the JAXA SS-520-5 made by Japan, still weighs a significant weight of 2,600kg, a far cry from how light protons weigh. It will take an unimaginable amount of energy just to accelerate it to even a tiny fraction of light speed.
2. Rockets become heavier as speed increases
If we apply Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence equation, the closer rockets get to light speed, the more mass they will gain. This means that an already heavy rocket will become even heavier at light speed, which makes it even more impossible to achieve.
3. Air resistance
The thing about particle accelerators is that the protons are sped up in a vacuum environment. Hence, they are not exposed to factors such as air resistance. With rockets, they fly through the air, creating a significant amount of air resistance. In order to counter it, more energy is necessary.
To conclude, it is just not possible, especially with our current limited technology, to accelerate heavy objects, such as cars and rockets, to light speed. The common issue is the amount of generated energy they require to achieve that speed. We do not have the capability to generate and store such an amount consistently and safely.
Hopefully, as technology advances, it might be possible to achieve light-speed travel, just like how we see in the movies. However, that is probably something in the distant future. Nevertheless, if you are interested in researching such a matter, you will need a strong foundation in physics.
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