At what speed does the light travels? It has been a nagging question for mankind in last few centuries. Now it is a well-known fact that nothing can travel faster than light. And the exact speed of light in vacuum is 299 792 458 m/s or approximately 3,00,000 km/s, or 1,86,000 mi/s. If you want to compare it with the speed of your car, well, then in miles per hour, speed of light is about 670,616,629 mph. In kilometers per hour light’s speed is 1,080,000,000 kmh.
In vacuum, the speed of light is fixed — it never changes. Thus, speed of light in vacuum is used as a constant in science and it is denoted with the c letter. This constant plays central role in the following most famous equation from Albert Einstein:
Here E is energy, m is mass and c is the speed of light. This equation is called the mass-energy equivalence. It states that anything that has a mass also has equivalent amount of energy and vice versa.
But this is not really true that light is the fastest thing in the universe. The truth is that, in vacuum, all massless particles and field disturbances also travel at the speed of light. For example, electromagnetic radiation and gravitational waves also travel at the speed of light.
This is also true that any particle with some mass can only attempt to reach the speed of light but it will never really achieve it. So essentially, to achieve the speed equal to that of light, a particle has to be massless (i.e. zero mass particle).
Light-year is a popular unit of measuring astronomical distances. A light-year is the distance that light travels within a year.
Is Speed of Light Fixed?
We know that light travels at a speed of 299 792 458 m/s in vacuum — but would it also travel at the same speed in other environments? The answer is no! Just like sound waves and water ripples, the speed of light gets affected if there is hindrance in the way. As a result the speed of light will not be exactly 299 792 458 m/s in a earth’s atmosphere full of various gases and dust particles.
Nevertheless, earth’s atmosphere does not significantly slow down the light. However, while passing through a diamond, light loses more than half of its speed. Next time when you see a sparkling diamond, remember that the light is passing through it at a speed of about 1,24,000 km/s — much less than its real speed.
Speed of light in different medium
- In vacuum speed of light is 3,00,000 km/s
- Light passes through air at a speed of 2,99,000 km/s
- Through water light travels at 2,25,000 km/s
- Passing through transparent glass — the speed of light is 1,97,000 km/s
- In diamond the speed of light is 124,000 km/s
History of the Measurement of the Speed of Light
|1667||Galileo Galilei||Covered Lanterns||333.5|
|1676||Ole Roemer||Jupiter’s Moons||220,000|
|1726||James Bradley||Stellar Aberration||301,000|
|1834||Charles Wheatstone||Rotating Mirror||402,336|
|1838||François Arago||Rotating Mirror|
|1849||Armand Fizeau||Rotating Wheel||315,000|
|1862||Leon Foucault||Rotating Mirror||298,000|
|1868||James Clerk Maxwell||Theoretical Calculations||284,000|
|1875||Marie-Alfred Cornu||Rotating Mirror||299,990|
|1879||Albert Michelson||Rotating Mirror||299,910|
|1888||Heinrich Rudolf Hertz||Electromagnetic Radiation||300,000|
|1889||Edward Bennett Rosa||Electrical Measurements||300,000|
|1907||Edward Bennett Rosa and Noah Dorsey||Electrical Measurements||299,788|
|1923||Andre Mercier||Electrical Measurements||299,795|
|1926||Albert Michelson||Rotating Mirror (Interferometer)||299,798|
|1928||August Karolus and Otto Mittelstaedt||Kerr Cell Shutter||299,778|
|1932 to 1935||Michelson and Pease||Rotating Mirror (Interferometer)||299,774|
|1947||Louis Essen||Cavity Resonator||299,792|
|1949||Carl I. Aslakson||Shoran Radar||299,792.4|
|1951||Keith Davy Froome||Radio Interferometer||299,792.75|
|1973||Kenneth M. Evenson||Laser||299,792.457|
|1978||Peter Woods and Colleagues||Laser||299,792.4588|
This was a brief explanation about how light travels and at what speed. If you know more interesting stuff related with this topic, please let us know in the comments section!