We all know the sun is a long way away – 92.96 million miles, to be precise. It’s so far that the light it produces takes eight minutes to reach us, here on earth. So if you were to set off to the sun by car, how long would the journey take?
Well, first of all, let’s choose the right vehicle. Your typical family hatchback will happily cruise along at 120 mph, but we need something a bit nippier. The fastest production car in the world is the Koenigsegg Agera RS with an astonishing top speed of 277.9 mph (and a price tag of £1.5 million) – that’s faster than a Japanese Bullet Train. Now imagine you’re at one end of a long, straight road that stretches off into the distance with your ultimate destination a bright speck in the distance. You flip down the sun visor, fire up the RS’s 5.0-litre V8 turbo engine and floor it…
THE LONG ROAD AHEAD
After just 36 days driving you’ve already passed the moon, which sits right on our doorstep, just 238,900 miles away. After that, your next stop is Venus, the second planet from the sun. However, at a distance of 25.48 million miles, it takes another ten-and-a-half years to get there – and your trip’s not even half-way through yet.
NEXT STOP, MERCURY
The journey from Venus to Mercury takes a further 12.8 years, adding 31.2 million miles on the clock (honestly, the resale value isn’t looking good). But with Mercury in the rear-view mirror, you’re on the last leg – next stop, a near-perfect sphere of boiling plasma and almost certain oblivion.
This last stretch isn’t too bad: at its closest point, Mercury is a mere 29 million miles from the sun, which takes you a shade under 12 years. So after 38 years and three months – give or take – you’ve made it: you’ve driven from Earth to the sun.
FUEL FOR THOUGHT
However, there are few other factors we should take into account: the Koenigsegg Agera RS does around 18 miles to the gallon (and probably even less at 277 mph), which means you need to fill the 27-gallon fuel tank more than 191,000 times. Which adds £27 million to the journey and – even at a snappy two minutes per refill – another 38 weeks to your journey. And we’ve not even factored in eating, sleeping and toilet breaks.
SPACE IS BIG…
Clearly, a journey time of 38 years shows just how distant the sun is. To add some perspective, the fastest recorded speed for a manned spaceship was Apollo 10, which orbited the moon in 1969 and reached a maximum velocity just shy of 25,000 mph. Even it we matched that, the journey to the centre of our solar system would still take five-and-a-half months.
Hold on… The current plan for a trip to Mars is set to take between six and eight months – so how comes it takes so long compared to our journey to the sun? Well for one thing, our hypothetical trip is in a straight line with no worries about accelerating or decelerating. In the case of a mission to Mars we need to take into account the relative positions of the Earth and Mars in their orbits, which means the Mars mission takes a much more circular route. Then you have to factor in the time it takes to safely decelerate for a landing, and the same considerations for the reverse journey. With interplanetary travel, it really is rocket science!
Oh, and if you did want to try a trip to the sun in your family hatchback, you’re probably looking at a journey time of around 88 years, so you’d best pack a sandwich and cancel the milk.