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What does a light-year measure?
Lots of people get confused by the term light-year, because they see the word “year” and think time. In fact, a light-year measures distance, the distance light travels in a year.
Let’s get a better understanding of how far that is. Light travels at about 300,000,000 meters per second. How many kilometers per second is that? (Remember, there are 1000 meters in 1 kilometer.)
Whoa! That’s pretty fast! If that’s how far light travels in a second, can you imagine how far it travels in an hour!?!?! Let’s figure it out! You already have the answer for the distance (km) light travels in a second. Now calculate the distance (in km) light travels in one hour.
Put your answer in the form below with A rounded to 1 decimal place and B a whole number.
\( {A}\times {{10}^{{B}}}km/hr\)
A=
B=
Alright, let’s figure out the distance (in km) light travels in a full year. For this problem, let’s say there are 365.25 days in a year.
Put your answer in the form below with A rounded to 1 decimal place and B a whole number.
\( {A}\times {{10}^{{B}}}km\)
A=
B=
Well, that certainly seems like a long way. Let’s try and put that into some context. The Bugatti Chiron is the fastest street-legal production car on Earth, with a top speed of 490 km/hr. At its top speed, how long would it take a Bugatti to drive a light-year? (Ignore things like running out of gas)
Remember, \( r\times t=d\), where r is the rate (speed), t is time, and d is distance.
Alright Math Commanders let’s talk about light-years, and about the vast distance between objects in space. As we know, a light-year is the distance light travels in 1 year. So, if you go outside and wave up toward space, could someone on a planet 5 light-years away from you look at Earth and see you waving at them at the exact same moment? If not, how long would they have to wait to see you walk outside and wave? (Assume they have an incredible telescope)
If a person on that planet 5 light-years away did look at Earth at the exact same moment you waved up at the sky, what year would they see on Earth?