Sci-Fi Science episode1: The Speed of Light


by Odis Chenault

episode 1:  The Speed of Light

Odis Chenault


The purpose of this spot is to help the novice or those new to Sci-fi  become familiar with the strange language we Sci-fi geeks easily speak amongst ourselves. We take for granted how left out someone who hasn’t seen what we’ve seen or read what we’ve read feels when we get started with another fan.

Before I get into the first topic, Sci-fi is short for science fiction. That is fiction that has some element of science weaved into the story.

Now let’s talk about a Sci-fi staple, the speed of light or C. The speed of light is just that. It refers to how fast light travels. It’s very, very fast. 186,000 miles PER SECOND! At that speed you could travel around the world over seven times in one second. A light year (6 trillion miles) refers to how far light travels in a year. The speed of light is referred to in math as the symbol C. You’ve probably seen Albert Einstein’s famous equation E=MC2. This reads; Energy equals Mass times the speed of light times the speed of light. We’ll talk about that in another post.

The speed of light comes up in science fiction a lot. For instance it’s the speed limit for the universe. The universe is big (future lesson), so big that even at the great speed of light, it would take years to get to another star. In some cases hundreds or millions of years. In Sci-fi, we like to go to other stars and receive visitors from other stars. We don’t have a thousand years to wait. But if the speed of light is the speed limit for our universe, what can we do?  Simple! We leave the universe, go where we want and then re-enter the universe. In Sci-fi, we do this in a number of ways. We can push past the light barrier with super powerful engines and enter an alternate universe called Hyperspace where there is no upper speed limit. This is how they do it in Star Wars.  If you go slower than the speed of light you drop out of Hyperspace. Hyperspace has a speed minimum. Don’t worry; some so-called Sci-fi experts just learned something.

Another way of getting around the universal speed limit is Warped Space. If your engines are powerful enough, you don’t even have to move to get to your destination. You can take point A and point B and fold them together. When they unfold, you are at point B. This is the way they do it on Star Trek. The engines required to do the work are huge and emit so much harmful radiation that they are extended away from the occupied part of the star ships. Warp 2 requires more energy and completes the above process faster than warp 1.

Then we have wormholes. These are naturally occurring anomalies that appear in various regions of space for various reasons. Wormholes are usually associated with black holes (my work is cut out for me) but can appear randomly as well. Normal laws of time and space do not apply inside a wormhole. To an observer you enter at one end and emerge instantaneously at the other end. Even if you are inside for hours and the ends are hundreds of light years apart. Read that a few times. Sorry, some things are just that way.

Done! You just learned more than you knew about science fiction. A few more lessons and you’ll find yourself standing in line for Thursday late night screenings of Sci fi block buster movies that open Friday so nobody sees it before you and spoils the ending.