A short while back, astrophysicist and Cosmos star Neil deGrasse Tyson was pulled over by a State Trooper while on his way to a speaking engagement. The Trooper obviously didn’t recognize the famous scientist.
We here at The Zoo obtained the audio from the Trooper’s dash camera shortly before it was taken off-line. Here, then, is the exchange between an astrophysicist and a State Trooper on the subject of speeding.
Trooper: Do you know how fast you were going?
NdGT: Relative to what?
Trooper: Relative to…..Einstein.
NdGT: Ah, well, yes. It’s fascinating you should day that. You see, Einstein was a mathematician, but his theories revolutionized the study of physics and astrophysics. Using his theories on relativity and time and motion we are finally able to answer that question.
Trooper: What question?
NdGT: How fast was I going. That is what you asked, right?
NdGT: Ok. Now, to give you some grasp of how fast I was going, you’ve got to imagine we’re on one of those Octopus rides in a carnival. You know, the ride where there are several arms extending outward from a central hub. The hub spins around, and the end of the arms go round and round the hub. But that’s not all. At the end of each arm there are seats that spin round and round, so at times you’re hurling through space heading right towards the hub, and a moment later you’re being flung out and away from the hub. And at the point where you’re nearest the hub, you feel like you’re not moving at all.
NdGT: Stay with me, here. Now, the hub is our Sun, and the Earth is at the end of one of those arms, moving around the Sun at 66,000 miles per hour. But that’s not all, because the Earth spins around on its axis, like the seats on the carnival ride. In this case, a person on the equator would be spinning through space at about 1,000 miles per hour. But we have two problems. First, we’re approaching noon. That means we’re heading closest to that center hub, or, in this case, the Sun. That also means that, relative to the sun, we appear to be slowing down. And we’re also not at the equator. You see, the farther north or south you go from the equator, the slower you’re moving through space as the Earth continues to spin on its axis. For example, did you know that if you were standing exactly on the North Pole, you wouldn’t be moving at all, as far as the spin on the earth’s axis?
Trooper: I wouldn’t?
NdGT: Exactly! You’d be standing still. Well, not totally still. Although you wouldn’t feel like you’re moving, you would be doing a slow 360 degree spin. It would take you 24 hours just to be facing the same direction you were when you started. But even that’s a misperception. Because you would always be facing South, relative to the Earth, but relative to the Sun, or an astronaut in space, you’d be spinning in place. Are you with me so far?
Trooper: So far. We’re at the North Pole, right?
NdGT: No, we’re in Alabama. But that’s not all.
Trooper: It isn’t.
NdGT: No! and that’s the beauty of it all! You see, while we’re spinning round and round on our axis at 1,000 miles per hour, and spinning round and round the Sun at 66,000 miles per hour, the sun is whirling through space as it goes around and around the center of the Milky Way Galaxy at 483,000 miles per hour!
Trooper: No way!
NdGT: Way! and that’s not all! Our galaxy is moving away from the center of the Universe, the site of the Big Bang, at an amazing 1.3 million miles per hour! So, to answer your question, all I have to do is add 1.3 million, plus 438,000, plus 66,000, plus 1,000, adjusted down for latitude to approximately 800, plus 55 and the answer is…1,849,805 miles per hour, give or take.
Trooper: You don’t say. I had you clocked at 55. Wait, where’d the 55 come from?
NdGT: Oh, that’s the speed I had set on my cruise control.
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