Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Americans drove an astronomical amount of miles in 2015

The Federal Highway Administration has recently released data that reveals how many miles Americans drove in 2015. Beating the record set in 2007, 3.148 trillion miles were traveled. That number is astronomical. In fact, a FHWA press release pointed out that 3.148 trillion miles is about the same distance as 337 round trips from Earth to Pluto.

Taking a page from FHWA’s release, I thought it would be fun to play around with that number and come up with more scenarios. I don’t think most people can grasp exactly how much a trillion is. One million is a thousand hundred. One billion is a thousand million. Therefore, one trillion is a thousand billion or a million million. This video really visualizes the amount to scale:




What about time? There are more than 31 million seconds in a year. So how many years are there with 3.148 trillion seconds? Nearly 100,000 years. If we’re talking about 3.148 trillion minutes, that would equal nearly 6 million years. We cannot even discuss the magnitude of 3.148 trillion years, since that predates the universe! Estimated to be 13.82 billion years old, 3.148 trillion years equates to more than 227 lifecycles of the universe.

When it comes to distance, 3.148 trillion starts to make us feel rather insignificant. As was pointed out above, Americans alone traveled enough miles in one year to travel to Pluto and back 337 times. The speed of light is more than 670 million miles per hour, so it would take us nearly 7 hours to send a light signal to Pluto.

The fastest manned spacecraft was the Apollo 10 module, which traveled 24,790 mph at its peak. At that rate it would take us approximately 42 years to complete a round trip to Pluto. Meaning, 337 round trips would take us more than 14,000 years to complete with our current technology.

Ready to feel completely alone in the universe? The nearest star from Earth – other than the sun – is Proxima Centauri, which is 4.24 light years away. After crunching the numbers, that makes Proxima Centauri about 25 trillion miles away from Earth. So despite all those miles traveled, we’re only about an eighth of the way to the nearest star.

As you can see, the amount of miles Americans drove last year is out of this world. 

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