10 Fastest Things in the Universe

By: Melanie Radzicki McManus & Kate Kershner  | 

Tom Cruise, 'Top Gun: Maverick'
Tom Cruise stars in "Top Gun: Maverick." Paramount

Much like Tom Cruise or that other dude in "Top Gun," we occasionally find ourselves feeling the need for speed. Sometimes that means piloting an F-14A Tomcat aircraft with abandon in the skies, and sometimes, as we'll see later, that means playing a video game as fast as you can. Whatever gets you revved up.

Since you already know that light is the fastest thing around, we'll look at what other speedy items our universe, and maybe even a fictional universe or two, has to offer — from animals to superheroes and planets to toilets. Because, yes, it stands to reason that if toilets can move, then there must be one that moves fastest. And don't tell me you're not curious to know which one holds that honor.

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So leash your cheetah, tell Usain Bolt to take a knee and buckle your seat belt as we power through our list of fastest things.

10: Hit the Ground (or Water or Air) Running

Cheetah Running
You didn't think you'd make it through this list without seeing a picture of a cheetah, did you? Photos.com/Thinkstock

Let's not slowly build suspense. Every fast list should start with the cheetah. These guys can reach speeds of 59 mph (95 kph) in seconds [source: Yong]. A somewhat surprising second-place contender for fastest? The pronghorn antelope, which can rival cheetahs with a speed of 53 mph (85 kph) [source: National Geographic]. So there you go: the speediest animals on the planet.

Not so fast.

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If we're counting water-based animals, the sailfish is our clear winner, reaching 68 mph (110 kph) — and that's just what they've been clocked at when bursting out of the water [sources: National Geographic, Sagong et al.].

Now look up. The peregrine falcon cackles at the cheetah and sailfish eating its dust. When it's hunting for smaller birds, the falcon can dive — at 199 mph (320 kph) — to strike its target [sources: National Geographic, Ponitz et al.]. The peregrine wins the title of fastest animal by a long shot.

9: It's Usain to Run That Fast

Usain Bolt
Jamaica's Usain Bolt, one of the speediest men this universe has ever seen, crosses the line to win the men's 100-meter final in a world record time of 9.58 seconds during the 2009 world track championships in Berlin. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

We can't possibly have a list of fast things and not include Usain Bolt, the world's record holder for human speed. And how fast is the world's fastest person? His record is a 9.58 second 100-meter dash attained at the 2009 track world championships. That's a max speed of 27.4 mph (44 kph) and an average speed of 23.4 mph (37.7 kph). In other words, if Bolt and I were in a race, then by the time you read this entire sentence you'd find that Bolt was starting a victory lap before I even had time to finish the candy bar I was probably eating.

Interestingly, scientists have discovered that Bolt isn't simply the peak of aerodynamic perfection. They found that less than 8 percent of the energy produced by his muscles is used for motion, and that the rest is absorbed by drag. Factoring in the weather conditions and altitude at the time, they figured out that Bolt was actually less aerodynamic than the average person [source: Gorski].

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Which, as the researchers point out, makes his feats that much more insane. His body is powerful enough to overcome worse-than-average drag to be the fastest person on the planet. Bolt also holds the 200 meter record at 19.19 seconds. Even though he has retired from competition, his world records have not been broken as of 2022.

8: Spin Me Right Round

Kepler-78b
Artist's conception of Kepler-78b orbiting its star, a feat that it easily completes every 8.5 hours. Image courtesy David A. Aguilar (CfA)/ Jet Propulsion Laboratory

OK, world's fastest animal, world's fastest person — these are all fine and good, but with a serious Earth-centric bent. Indeed, there are many things in our universe that make Earth seem like a poky planet. Considering that a year in our world consists of 365 interminable days, it might be nice to have Mercury's speedy 88-day year when you're looking forward to summer vacation. But we're probably better off than any friends we might have on Neptune, who have to wait more than 60,000 days (or 165 Earth years) between birthdays [source: Russell].

But what about a year that comes around every 8.5 hours? Astronomers have found what they think is the shortest orbital period (or year) on Kepler-78b, a small Earth-size planet that's so close to its star that scientists call it a "lava planet" [source: Howell]. But Kepler-78b might have a run for its money: KOI-1843.03 — a planet candidate — has an unconfirmed orbit of 4.25 hours, which could make it the fastest orbiting planet in the universe, if Kepler's laws of planetary motion hold true [source: Price and Rogers].

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7: Toilet Time

British inventor Edd China
British inventor Edd China take a triumphant spin on the world's fastest "toilet" during a race at the annual Guinness World Records Day in London Nov. 17, 2011. Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

Let's set one thing straight: We're not talking about the fastest one can flush, clean or perform a function at the toilet. Although we'd love to doff our hats to record holders in each of those categories, there doesn't seem to be a lot of opposition to inspire any kind of heated, timed competition.

Unlike the rivalry for the fastest toilet-turned-motorized vehicle, which is shockingly fierce.

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The "Bog Standard" was the 2011 winner of the Guinness World Record for Fastest Toilet. It was actually a motorcycle with a sidecar tub, sink and laundry bin. (No actual toilet, which makes one fantasize about how fast and loose you can really play with Guinness titles.) Regardless, the toilet "set" traveled at 42 mph (68 kph) [source: Brady].

But one plumber from Lincolnshire, Great Britain wasn't about to let a measly 42 mph motorcycle sans toilet sit atop the throne of the record books. Attaching an entire working toilet (complete with flush function) on top of a motorized bike, Colin Furze managed to make his loo whiz by at 55 mph (89 kph) in 2013 [source: Brady]. And then some kids took on the challenge — and won — with their HAWC, or Highly Advanced Water Closet.

In 2018, four 18-year-olds in Rutland, U.K., placed a toilet and cistern on top of a go-kart frame, adding a toilet brush as a gear stick. The contraption, powered by a 250-cc Yamaha engine, hit an amazing 71 mph (114 kph). The driver flushed it when he was finished [source: Guinness World Records].

6: A Speeding Bullet? Please

Silver Surfer
Who gets your vote for fastest superhero: Silver Surfer or The Flash? © Rune Hellestad/Corbis

For most of our fastest things, we can confidently point to recorded times, broken records or even extraordinarily educated guesses. But in the case of the fastest superhero, we're left to throw the debate to the passionately opinionated masses. And the answer is tricky.

If you're like me — not so much a fluent comic obsessive, but conversational in the difference between Marvel and DC — you might assume that The Flash is the obvious winner. He's able to run at almost light speed, and some iterations say he can run at light speed or faster. Besides running, he can do pretty much everything else at hyperspeed, too [source: DC Comics]. The guy is known as the fastest man in the universe. Easy choice.

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But don't forget about Silver Surfer, a character who is so fast that he travels through hyperspace and exceeds light speed, traveling 500,000 light years per second [source: Austin]. There's also Quicksilver, some argue, and even good old Superman, who supposedly can fly at an unlimited speed. Guess it all comes down to your favorite character [sources: Grimaldi, Ukil].

5: Everyone Knows It's Windy

Mount Washington
A view of Mount Washington, standing at an elevation of 6,288 feet, looking out to the surrounding White Mountains, in New Hampshire. JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP via Getty Images

For a long time, a rather small mountain in New Hampshire (elevation roughly 6,288 feet or 1,917 meters) held the title of fastest recorded wind on Earth. Measured on Mount Washington in 1934, the wind reached a miserable 231 mph (372 kph), and the peak has cheerily proclaimed itself the "Home of the World's Worst Weather" for quite some time [source: Mount Washington Observatory].

In 1996, Australia's Barrow Island broke the wind record during tropical cyclone Olivia, with measured speeds of 253 mph (407 kph) [source: Mount Washington Observatory]. However, don't pity Mount Washington: The peak can probably keep the World's Worst Weather title since the subtropical climate of Barrow Island might cancel out the terrible wind.

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But those are just the records for our own little slice of heaven. The real achievements in wind speed are made out in the universe, where insane ultraviolet winds are blowing around a black hole at speeds of up to 125 million mph (200 million kph). That's an incredible 20 percent of the speed of light. Scientists believe there are even faster quasar winds out there [source: Crew].

4: Don't Throw Out the Baby With the Amniotic Fluid

Health care professional holding baby
See how that health care professional is holding the baby and everything looks just fine? That's nice. That's a little different from catching an impatient new babe in the toilet. Comstock/Stockbyte/Thinkstock

Naturally, we can't be sure what the fastest birth is, because we busy humans haven't been keeping records of these things since the beginning of time. But there are a few modern examples of births that were so speedy (not to say easy or fun) that would be difficult to beat.

The first case was from 2007, when a woman from Great Britain had her baby less than two minutes after her water broke [source: Daily Mail]. While that family was looking for Guinness World Records authentication for the feat, another woman from Great Britain might've beaten her by having her little one in less than half a minute.

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In 2021, a woman in the U.K. gave birth to a baby girl in just 27 seconds! Sophie Bugg was 38 weeks pregnant and got up in the night to use the toilet. "I literally did a push and had the feeling that I should feel between my legs because it didn't feel like a poo. I put my hand down and I just felt her head!" Bugg told the Daily Mail. Mother and baby are doing fine.

And an Ottawa mom holds the Guinness World Record for “shortest interval between birth of twins – single confinement.” In 2017, Amanda Dorris gave birth to twin girls in 22.976 seconds. At least Dorris was in hospital when she delivered [source: Laucius].

3: Super Fast

Mario, Luigi
Images of Mario (L) and Luigi from the Mario Bros. video game franchise appear on a video screen onstage during Nickelodeon's 2016 Kids' Choice Awards. Kevin Winter/Getty Images

Having a record for being fastest in our universe is all fine and good, but some folks have bigger fish to fry. Why not break records in an alternate universe? Anything is possible in a land where little Italian men grow with magical mushrooms, fighting off evil Bowser.

So let us acknowledge Niftski, who in 2018 managed to play a complete Super Mario Bros. game in 4:54:948 [source: Diaz]. Which might make some of us, who spent an entire summer trying to win the princess on our Game Boy, feel pretty bad.

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Niftski is part of a niche group of players called speed runners, or people who play a video game with the goal of having the fastest time.

2: Faster Than a Speeding Sedan

Bugatti Chiron Super Sport
People snap pictures of the world's fastest car, the Bugatti Chiron Super Sport 300+, in London. This one is owned by Qatari Prince Sheikh Khalifa Bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani. Martyn Lucy/Getty Images

Time to get back to the real world — the one where even the slowest among us can compensate for our plodding lives with the right machine. And while a lot of us have to settle for a used, mid-sized sedan, there are those who need something a little more powerful whenever they get the urge to tool along the highway and feel the wind in their hair.

For our purposes, the fastest car has to be production car. A production car, according to Guinness World Records, means an automaker has to make 30 of the same car to qualify (meaning no one-off design), and it has to have many of the same things your boring sedan has: headlights, an emissions pass, blinkers [source: George].

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In 2022, the fastest production car is the Bugatti Chiron Super Sport, which clocked an impressive 304.7 mph (490.37 kph), which is nearly one-half of Mach One [source: Gear Slap]. It costs $3.8 million and gets to 200 mph in 14.8 seconds."Your life does flash in front of you the first time you floor the Chiron's accelerator and unleash the W-16's gas-fired hell on the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic," reported Car and Driver.

1: A Nova Approach

M87 black hole
NASA's Hubble Space Telescope captures a 4,000 light-year long jet of plasma emanating from the bright nucleus of the giant elliptical galaxy M87. The direction of lines atop the total intensity mark the direction of the electromagnetic wave electric vector oscillations. Artem G/Wikipedia

One of the newest fastest things in our universe was accidentally discovered in 2014, when astronomers were studying the M87 galaxy in the Virgo Cluster nearly 54 million light-years from our Milky Way home.

A little background: You'll remember, thanks to Edwin Hubble, that light from distant objects moving away from our galaxy appears red to us. That's because the universe's expansion, also a pretty speedy phenomenon, causes the wavelengths to elongate toward the red end of the spectrum (a redshift).

As an object zips toward us, however, it has a blueshift. Now, to get to the fast part: Astronomers found a serious blueshift coming from M87, with the object moving toward us at a speed of 638 miles (1,026 kilometers) per second. This is the fastest-approaching object in the universe. A giant black hole may have hurled a star cluster toward us at record s [source: Crosswell].

Scientists believe it's a star cluster shot out from M87's enormous black hole, which is 1,000 times more massive than the Milky Way's. But never fear: It's very unlikely that its trajectory will bring it close to us, and it'll probably end up just hanging out in a group of galaxies outside the Virgo Cluster.

Originally Published: Mar 24, 2014

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Author's Note: 10 Fastest Things in the Universe

I've never gotten a speeding ticket, nor had any desire to push my body to extreme speeds. (Extreme for me being a sub-nine minute mile.) While it would be fun to hold on to a cheetah's back (or Usain Bolt's, for that matter) in a sprint, I think Andrew Gardikis has the right idea: attempt a speed record that can be accomplished in pajamas.

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