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Fastest Things in the Universe

Updated on March 2, 2015


Anyone who has ever tried to drive a sports car knows that sometimes it is fun to zip and skidaddle (I'm not one of those people). So when you're recklessly speeding in a sports car, what are you faster than, and what puts you in your place? Each entry is faster than the previous one, so if you wanted to see the fastest thing ever, you can scroll straight to the bottom...but what's the fun in that?

Fastest recorded speed for a human

You guessed it, Usain Bolt. Perfect last name by the way. We've all heard about him, so I won't spend to much time on it. He clocked 28 mph. Here's a video, although I wish we had average people running next to him for comparison:

Here's an average guy vs. some athletes:

Also, scientists think we can run much faster. But what do they know?

All photos are from Wiki commons.
All photos are from Wiki commons.

Fastest Tank

Normally you don't think of tanks as speed demons, but speed is important: the Allies relied on speedy tanks such as the Sherman and the M-10 to help them through WWII (of course while sacrificing other important tank qualities). With that in mind, the British created the world's fastest tracked vehicle in 1973: the FV101 Scorpion. According to Wikipedia's answers page, it set the tracked vehicle speed record in 2002 at 51 mph. It has seven distinct variations that include everything from armored personnel carrier to anti-tank.

Cheetah cub
Cheetah cub

Fastest Land Animal

I think we all heard this pretty early on in our lives, but for some reason I doubted it. Anyway, the fastest land animal is the cheetah with a blinding top speed of 70-75 mph. They make Usain Bolt look like he's standing still. Or at least very human. Still, they can only run for about 60 seconds. Probably the most interesting tidbit: while a cheetah is running full speed, it spends more time in the air than on the ground. Should that disqualify it from the "land animal" category? I don't think so, but there is a comment section open for you guys.

Fastest Human Powered Device

How fast can you go under your own power? Well, let me rephrase that. How fast can an expert cyclist go with a bicycle purely built for speed? The answer is 82.33 mph. A man beat the fastest recorded speed by a fish (although I'm sure we don't record fish speeds all the time). This record was set by Sam Wittingham in 2008...he's held the record for awhile. That speed is of course faster than you (should) go on the freeway.

I guess he should feel proud to pedal faster than a military vehicle, albeit on different terrain.

Sam Whittingham, and his 1/10th-the-speed-of-sound-bicycle from the future
Sam Whittingham, and his 1/10th-the-speed-of-sound-bicycle from the future

Fastest Roller Coaster

The fastest roller coaster in the world right now is Formula Rossa, a roller coaster in Dubai. In fact, it goes so fast that the passengers are advised to wear safety goggles to protect against insects and dust particles. The top speed of this coaster is 150 mph, 22 mph faster than the second place coaster, Kingda Ka. That is of course less than twice the speed of our extreme bicyclist in the previous entry which is a testament to him.

On a side note, I think I would get more nervous on Kingda Ka because the drop is about 90 degrees.


Fastest Sports Ball

This category is a tight race between Golf and Jai Alai. The title of "fastest ball in sports" is highly disputed between both sports...probably because each game does not normally require a radar gun. At the time of this writing, golfer Jack Zuback still holds the record for fastest ball at an even 200 mph. This is a record that he actually set while on a TV show, "Sports Science."

Fastest Bird

A very mean looking bird, the Peregrine Falcon, can hunt dive at 242 mph. That is barely slower than our motor neurons (270 mph). The biological requirements of breathing and seeing at 200+ mph are breathtaking, and I really think the Wikipedia article on the Peregine is worth a bathroom read at least.

Peregrines are increasingly seen in cities, which at first startled me. But they should be more worried about humans than vice versa. Pesticides and building collisions haven't helped the 65-70% mortality rate of first year Peregrine Falcons.

Fastest Helicopter

I wasn't really expecting a specially outfitted French military helicopter to hold the world speed record for a helicopter...but then again I'm not sure exactly what I was expecting. Officially the current record is 249 mph set in 1986. To be honest guys, I think we can do better than that. Then again my opinion comes from the fact that I have no knowledge of helicopter design.

Fastest Street-Legal Production Car

The Bugatti Veyron Super Sport. This car is a beast. It boasts a world record 2.5 second 0-60 time and a top speed near 267 mph. Rumor has it that there will be a new version soon that is 550 lbs lighter, a 1.8s 0-60 time, and a top speed near 288 mph. If anyone feels like buying me one I would send you AT LEAST a thank you card.

Chinese CRH380A
Chinese CRH380A | Source

Fastest Production Train

Choo Choo! The fastest commercial train in the world is the Chinese electric train CRH380A which set the record of 302 mph during a trial run. Germany's Transrapid TR-09 is second and Japan's Shinkansen train is a close third. Interestingly the United States does not have a train that goes fast enough to come close to any of these.

The record for purely fastest train title is actually held by the Japanese JR-Maglev 1 which set the record at 362 mph.

Fastest Watercraft

This is a record you probably don't want to try to break. If something goes wrong, it's likely you will die. In fact, 85% of the people who have attempted the record since the 1930s have died. This is one of the reasons that the record set by Ken Warby in 1978 still stands. The speed of 317 mph was set by a rocket powered, publicly funded vessel known as the Spirit of Australia. The 317 mph mark can be misleading because of rules set by an international committee that somehow has the authority to make these rules. It is an average, not a top speed. The top speed that Warby achieved was near 350 mph.

For Warby's sake I'm glad the water is calm
For Warby's sake I'm glad the water is calm | Source

Land Speed Record

Did you guys know that there's a guy who broke the SOUND BARRIER in a turbofan car?? I didn't. This 763 mph feat occurred in the Black Rock Desert in 1997. The driver, Andy Green, was an RAF pilot, and the car was called Thrust SSC. If you think 1997 was a long time ago, don't worry. A new vehicle known as the Bloodhound SSC is aiming for over 1,000 mph in the coming years. Like the Thrust SSC, the Bloodhound is British.

Fastest Un-powered Man

It takes a lot of "stuff" to hitch a rid in a balloon up to 125,000 ft in the air. It takes even more stuff to jump from your vehicle at that height.

That's exactly what Felix Baumgartner did on October 14th, 2012 while the whole world was watching. Setting a record no one will probably touch for awhile, he clocked 843.6 mph on his fall. The freefall only took 4 min and 19 sec (which actually isn't the longest freefall on record). For the video purposes, he is going the fastest about 49-51 seconds into the fall.

Fastest Jet

Okay, we're starting to get into the sci-fi spaceship stuff.

There are a few ways to avoid enemy anti-aircraft fire. You can choose to fly higher, like the U-2 spy plane, or stealthier, like the F-117 Nighthawk. Both of those planes were actually shot down by enemy fire at one point, but not the SR-71 Blackbird.

Is someone shooting at you? Accelerate. Incoming missile? Accelerate. The SR-71 was able to speed past anything at a top speed near 2,200 mph.

Possibly the sleekest thing ever.  Pilots wore more or less space suits.
Possibly the sleekest thing ever. Pilots wore more or less space suits.

Fastest Commercial Bullet

The fastest commercial bullet is the .223 Winchester Super Short Magnum, introduced in 2003. Although mostly a misconception, it hasn't sold exceptionally well because people think it is too hard on gun barrels.

The WSSM is intended for small game at large ranges, although it can pass straight through just about anything with an astonishing muzzle velocity of 4,600 ft/s (3,140 mph).

Fastest Manned Aircraft

A lot was going on in the 50's and 60's, and one of those things was the United States X-plane experimental aircraft programs. The rocketed X-15 was notable because it could travel at a swift 4,520 mph.

The X-15 was intended to be dropped from a B-52 "mothership", furthering its sci-fi allure. I struggled to find its intended purpose...I think the Air Force just decided they needed to make sure they could go that fast. It seemingly would still be good for reconnaissance since it approached double the speed of the SR-71, but what do I know.

Fastest Projectile

The U.S. navy recently launched a 7 lb projectile at 8,000 ft/s, or 5,400 mph via railgun. This is fast enough to cause the friction required to ignite the surrounding air (or at least some molecular parts of it).

The railgun idea has been around for awhile because it uses pretty straightforward physics. Unfortunately for Navy generals, the barrel of the railgun has to be made of a material that is conductive. These conductive materials don't hold up well to incredible amounts of energy, and so most railguns can only be shot 2-3 times before you have to replace the barrel. On the positive side, however, the ammo used only costs the U.S. navy a mere $25,000, whereas a similarly capable rocket system might be $500,000 or more.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
Computational Fluid Dynamics image
Computational Fluid Dynamics image
Computational Fluid Dynamics image

Fastest Unmanned Aircraft

Unlike some of the other aircraft entries on this list, fastest unmanned aircraft is a record that probably won't stand for very long. NASA is experimenting with scramjets, and they're achieving velocities that are surreal.

Recently the 12 ft. long, 3,000 lb X-43A ignited its jet engine, and then used a scramjet to 7,500 mph. It's hard to know exactly what that sort of advantage that speed has over say, 6,000 mph, but NASA thinks it's worth it to keep pushing that top speed higher.

Fastest Manned Craft

Apollo 11 is the most famous Apollo mission because that's the one that landed us on the Moon. For this list, Apollo 11 isn't important. Apollo 10 is the real hero, because that crew was clocked travelling a blistering 24,846 mph. That's a big jump higher than even the scramjet.

Apollo 10 came within a few miles of the lunar surface. It was more or less a dress rehearsal for the Apollo 11 mission. To give you an idea of how fast 24,846 mph is, it's about 1/3 the speed that Earth orbits the sun.

Fastest Man-Made Object

If you really want to be speedy, it's a good idea to use the gravitational sling shot effect. And if you want to maximize that effect in our Solar System, it's a good idea to use the Sun.

The Helios 2 blew away the Apollo 10 mission in terms of speed. That spacecraft reached a speed of 157,078 mph. Although that's really fast, interestingly enough that's still less than the escape velocity of the Sun. However, as I note in my time travelling hub, it is fast enough that if you traveled that speed your whole life on a two-way trip you would be able to add a measurable amount of time to your life (on the order of a second).

Also, the same gravitational sling shot effect is being used to test for black holes (since they obviously are more massive than our Sun). There are stars near the middle of our galaxy travelling at least 11,000,000 mph (1.6% speed of light) because of this effect. Unreal.

55 mph is about the speed of an MLB eephus pitch, or a 12 year old's fastball
55 mph is about the speed of an MLB eephus pitch, or a 12 year old's fastball

Fastest Particle

The appropriately named "Oh-My-God" particle was a cosmic ray particle (probably proton) that was clocked going 99.9 999 999 999 999 999 999 9951 % of the speed of light. Remember current physics predicts nothing can exceed the speed of light. The closer you get, the more energy you need to go faster. Adding more copious amounts of energy will get you closer, but it will be tougher and tougher to go faster (also massive particles can be spontaneously produced). Also, at those energies, the particle would behave just like a wave (physics is weird).

This isn't an isolated event, similar events have happened about 20 times. In a race between a photon and this particle, it would take almost 7 million years for the particle to fall behind 12 inches. This particle that is smaller than an atom had more force than a 55 mph baseball. Whatever gave it that much energy must be quite a phenomenon (we looked in the direction it came from and didn't see a thing). In other words, OMG.

Cherenkov radiation is emitted when charged subatomic particles are moving faster than light within a material.
Cherenkov radiation is emitted when charged subatomic particles are moving faster than light within a material.

Fastest Thing

Massless particles, at 670,616, 629 mph*.

*In a vacuum. The most famous of course is light. There's also the catch that light can only travel one speed, assuming it's unimpeded. So would you rather be the fastest thing but only be able to travel that fast, or slower but able to change speed and direction? Dumb question, because you wouldn't be anything close to human and so you wouldn't be able to perceive anything. The point is that our world is pretty mind-blowing, and there are more shocking things than the magazine cover material in checkout lines. Wow. This developed into quite a tangent.

Fastest Theoretical Thing

Tachyons are proposed particles that move faster than light. They probably don't exist.

Some quantum actions are faster than light, in fact they are probably completely instantaneous. That doesn't mean you can transmit information faster than light. If you're new to physics, you'll probably say something like "But what if...", and I promise that question has been raised before (unless you spend like 10 years researching first).

I can't leave you without a real "Would you rather...?"

Would you rather...?

See results


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    • Linda Robinson60 profile image

      Linda Robinson 

      3 years ago from Cicero, New York

      Hello Blake what a fascinating informative hub. I really enjoyed it. All your details and descriptions are extremely interesting, so well written and holds your interest. So nice meeting you. I look forward to following you and reading all of your exciting hubs. Linda

    • adevwriting profile image

      Arun Dev 

      3 years ago from United Countries of the World

      So who has the fastest mind.................?

      Interesting hub! :)

    • nicomp profile image

      nicomp really 

      4 years ago from Ohio, USA

      100% voted to fly.

    • Kristen Howe profile image

      Kristen Howe 

      4 years ago from Northeast Ohio

      Great hub with interesting tidbits. Well done Blake. Voted up!

    • Buildreps profile image


      4 years ago from Europe

      Very interesting list of dazzling speedy things, cydro. I actually learned a few new things! Really nice info.


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