Tuesday, March 24, 2009

How Far We've Come...

On my birthday two weeks ago, I found myself wondering how far I've traveled in my 36 years. I don't mean in an earth-centric geographical sense. I mean from a solar perspective. My brain is funny that way.

A little searching on the interweb revealed that at a latitude of 39 degrees North, the earth's diameter is approximately 19,377 miles. That means in a single day, living at that latitude (a rough approximation of my average latitude), I travel 19,377 miles as the Earth spins. In a single year, that's 7,072,605 miles in rotational distance alone! Multiplied by 36 years and we get a distance of 254,613,780 miles, just from the Earth's rotation. Not bad!

Now on to some bigger numbers. One trip around the sun covers approximately 584,014,356 miles - it would take 82.5 years of spinning around on the earth to travel that far, and that's just a single revolution around the sun! Multiply THAT number by 36 and you get 21,024,516,816 miles.

So, by the age of 36, we earthlings have traveled a distance of more than 21 billion miles as we loop around the sun. Kinda makes the 254 million miles of rotational distance seem piddly.

Anyway, add those two numbers together and we get 21,279,130,596 miles. That's roughly how many miles I've traveled so far. Cool, eh?


Mark said...

Uh, Dan - sorry to break it to you, but the *Sun* goes around the Earth. Geez, look up in the sky. Clearly the sun rises and sets. Where do you get these crazy ideas?

Plus, if you had travelled that many miles, you surely would have fallen off the edge of the Earth some time ago.

Kimmer said...

wouldn't it be nice to get airmiles for that!!!!

Kimmer said...

That's me (Jos)

Pete said...

Dan, I don't think you have even scratched the surface with this. According to Wikipedia, the sun's orbital speed around the galatic center is 220 km/s which is about 137 miles/s which equals 4,311,023,620 miles per year! Which is just over 155 billion miles in 36 years! If we simply add this number to the other distance you calculated we get ~171 billion miles (although simply adding the numbers isn't the appropiate way to find the total distance traveled but will probably be fine for this approximation) Next we could try to find the speed of the galaxy but we would first have to define speed with relation to what? Some inertial frame of reference would need to be defined. Astronomers have defined such a reference frame that moves with what appears to be the expanding of the universe in what is called the "Hubble flow" and have determined the speed of the galaxy with respect to this reference frame is 630 km/s or almost 3 times the speed of the sun around the galactic center or 11.7 billion miles per year and 422 billion miles over 36 years. Adding this number to our previous total we get ~594 billion miles.

Now to put this in perspective, the closest star to our own is Alpha Centuri which is located 4.37 light years from us or 25.3 trillion miles. So if instead of doing all of these revolutions, the earth was traveling in a "straight" line towards Alpha Centuri for the last 36 years, our journey would only be 2.3% complete. It is amazing how such a big number like 594 billion can become so small when compared to the vastness of space.

Okay, I'm done now. This is what happens when I don't have a job and I have nothing to do... :-)

The Dan Ward said...

@Pete - Well done! I thought about looking at my travel distance from a galactic perspective, but as you noted, finding a frame of reference is tricky. I hadn't thought about Hubble Flow ('cause I'd never heard of it), so I went with a solar perspective.

Thankfully, your math skills and understanding of the galactic perspective rose to the task and I now know I have ACTUALLY traveled nearly 600 billion miles. You rock!

The funny thing is, if that was dollars, it still would be less than the trillion-dollar-figures being thrown around DC lately.

The Dan Ward said...

@Mark - Thanks for the correction - we have actually moved zero miles, and the universe is jiggling and wiggling all around us. My bad!

@Jos - Holy cow you'd get a lot of upgrades for that many miles!