When dealing with distances in space, I’ve found that I don’t have a good conceptual framework for understanding these large distances. I’ve found reframing these distances in terms of “Car Years” (and “Car Days”) to be helpful.
What is a Car Year?
A car year (
cy) is the distance covered by traveling at
60 miles per hour (approximate highway speed) non-stop for one year (i.e. 525,960 miles). Along the same thinking, a car day is the distance covered by traveling at 60 miles per hour for one day (i.e. 1440 miles).
Distances in Car Years (or Days)
- 1.5 car days across the U.S. (NY to CA)
- 14 car days around the Earth
- 140 car days to the Moon
- 150 car years to the Sun
10 million car years = one light year
1 light second = 100 car days
Do We Really Need Another Unit of Distance
Yes, apparently I do.
Advantages of the Car Year
When dealing with large measurements, I’ve found my brain fails in two different ways.
- The number is too big.
- The units are unfamiliar.
Because part of our unit is a time (e.g.
day). We can easily convert between units to keep the number “manageable” for my brain.
Light years/minutes/seconds have this same advantage but fail in the second way (units).
As mentioned, light years/minutes/seconds has the same advantage of controlling number size based on converting between units of time (which I have a strong conceptual understanding and “feel” for). Unfortunately, I don’t have a good “feel” for the speed of light. With car years/minutes/seconds, I have a strong understanding and “feel” for a car’s highway speed.