‘Riding Light’, A Stunning Film That Follows a Single Photon of Light Across the Solar System in Real Time

Riding Light is a stunning film by designer and animator Alphonse Swinehart that follows a single photon of light across the solar system in real time. We think of the speed of light as incredibly fast, so to watch it take a full eight minutes to travel from the Sun to the Earth can help put both the speed of light and the vastness of our solar system into perspective.

In our terrestrial view of things, the speed of light seems incredibly fast. But as soon as you view it against the vast distances of the universe, it’s unfortunately very slow. This animation illustrates, in realtime, the journey of a photon of light emitted from the surface of the sun and traveling across a portion of the solar system, from a human perspective.

I’ve taken liberties with certain things like the alignment of planets and asteroids, as well as ignoring the laws of relativity concerning what a photon actually “sees” or how time is experienced at the speed of light, but overall I’ve kept the size and distances of all the objects as accurate as possible. I also decided to end the animation just past Jupiter as I wanted to keep the running length below an hour.

Glen Tickle
Glen Tickle

Amelia's dad. Steph's husband. Writer, comedian, gentleman. Good at juggling, bad at chess.