Flee from the sun at the speed of light in this humbling video

"Riding Light" traces the movement of a photon traveling away from the sun in a film that translates the speed of light into a human perspective.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read

Riding Light still
You are now leaving the sun at the speed of light. Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

In casual conversation, when we say something is moving at the speed of light, we usually mean it's moving really fast. The speed of light feels instantaneous down here on our small contained planet.

Art director and animator Alphonse Swinehart has been "nerding out on some astronomy books and documentaries" and he got to thinking about how slow the speed of light is in relation to just how honking huge the overall universe is. It can be a hard concept for us humans to wrap our heads around. Swinehart's gorgeous animated video "Riding Light" brings the idea closer to home.

"Riding Light" takes 45 minutes to trace in real-time the travels of a photon of light, starting at the sun and journeying out just beyond Jupiter. Swinehart notes that he's taken creative license with the laws of relativity, specifically "concerning what a photon actually 'sees' or how time is experienced at the speed of light."

Swinehart has also taken some liberties with the alignment of planets and asteroids, but he's made an effort to accurately portray the size and distance of the space objects in our solar system.

The video keeps track of the distance from the sun, time elapsed and when the next celestial object is due to come into sight. Earth shoots by so fast, you barely have time to wave. You can fast-forward to get to the planets, but the true experience comes from taking your time and imagining yourself traveling out across the solar system at the slow speed of light.