A Perspective on Time and Speed: Guest Post from Tom Stat

Tom is a great friend, colleague and former partner at IDEO in Chicago and an horologist in his own right. A few end-of-the-year thoughts from Tom: ---------

As the Earth completes its orbit around the Sun, marking what we call one full year, and we somewhat arbitrarily celebrate the beginning of a new year (there’s no start or finish line in our orbit around the sun), I thought I'd try to put all this in perspective.

First, we make up this thing we call "time." Someone once said we did so this so that everything doesn't happen all at once. There is no now, no past and no future. Time exists only as our sensory experience of mass and space. And mass and space depend on distance - where things are, so to speak, in relationship to other objects, how fast you may be moving relatively, etc.

In the vast expanses of the Universe, we are tiny little beings gravitationally stuck to the surface of a tiny little planet, orbiting an average star 93 million miles away. And our star is one of over 200 billion stars in a relatively average galaxy of stars (we call our galaxy the Milky Way because on a very clear night a swath of "milkiness" seems to span the sky - this is us looking at the billions of other stars that make up our galactic disk "edge on"). There are over 100 billion other galaxies in our known Universe. There may be other universes (I suspect they are made up mostly of lost socks, keys, wallets and mittens)

Screen Shot 2014-09-17 at 3.01.59 PM

Despite our isolation, we're moving pretty fast.

The Earth's rotation on its axis (one day) means that you're moving at 1000 mph.
The Earth's rotation around the sun (one year) is at a velocity of 66,000 mph. 
In our galaxy's local neighborhood of stars, our solar system is moving at a out 43,000 mph.
 And our whole galaxy is spinning (one galactic year) and based on our location, we’re moving at about 483,000 mph.

Add all that up and at some point, with respect to some other Galaxy, we're all moving at close to 600,000 miles per hour through space!

Sounds fast, but our galaxy (the Milky Way) is about 100,000 light years in diameter (that’s 587 quadrillion (after a trillion) miles across). So even at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second!) it would take 100,000 years to get to the other side. At a mere 600,000 mph, better pack a lunch.

So, if time seems to sometimes fly by and sometimes stand still, perhaps this is why.