Think about where you are right now. You’re probably sitting down in your room, maybe school, or a coffee shop. No matter what’s going on around you the last thing on your mind is that you and your computer and everything else is hurling around the sun at over 100,000 km/h. So the past 48 hours have taken you around 5,000,000 km through our solar system and that’s just on one orbit.
No matter what, everything, from electrons to entire galaxies, is in motion on an infinite number of planes. You are spinning around earth’s axis, while earth is orbiting the sun; the sun is rotating around a blackhole at the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way; the Milky Way is floating in the Local Group, made up of more than 35 galaxies; finally, the Local Group is part of the Virgo Supercluster, consisting of over 100 groups interacting with each other. But if that’s not enough locomotion for you, the observable universe (because there’s space beyond what we can see) is expanding at more than 250,000 km/h per megaparsec from earth.
Now all that celestial movement, which is on too large of a scale for the human mind to fully comprehend, makes up a single but intricate part of our lives: time. That’s right, time is a dependent variable, completely reliant on the interactions of the universe. A year is more a unit of distance than time, which is why the light-year serves as an astronomical ruler.
See, the vastness of space can do vary strange things to time, distorting and breaking it down to the fibers of existence. Speed and gravity are the predominant effectors of time; the more of each you have the more they alter time as we perceive it. At excessive speeds time decelerates around you, and Sergei Avdeyev has experienced this time warp first hand. Spending 748 days on the space station Mir, Avdeyev traveled more than 25,000 km/r faster than us which puts him 20 milliseconds ahead the rest of the word.
Imagine you find yourself loaded in a geostationary cannon orbiting over Earth (yes, this is all plausible) and will momentarily be blasted through our solar system close to the speed of light. On the other side of things, I am sitting inside the satellite preparing to fire you (sorry). When first launched things seem to be moving extremely fast to you but it will soon slow down, way down. While you are actually covering covering extreme distances time begins to appear slower than you’re used to. At even higher velocity bodies and stars around you may look stretched as you move past them. To me, though, you won’t look anything anything but fast because I’m still traveling at Earth speed.
The same basic principle applies between gravity and time, and it takes an immensely dense object to create a gravitational pull great enough to distort time. Blackholes, imploded giant stars, are the only known body with such power being strong enough to trap even light. Let’s do another scenario but this time you can have some revenge and throw me into a blackhole. Every blackhole has an event horizon, the point where nothing can escape, not time, not light, and I don’t even have a chance. Falling past the horizon is the point where time begins to feel slowed down, although I won’t notice crossing it. Moving closer to the blackhole makes time creep towards a halt it can’t reach, but by this point the intense gravity has destroyed me. The scene for you is not so morbid as I appear to be frozen in the position I was when I hit the event horizon.
Time completely depends on the conditions you are under but no matter what you do or where you go it will never come to a stop. So next time you find yourself looking at a clock remember we’re all travelers of both time and space.