10 of the fastest things ever and how they compare

By Sanj Atwal

Ever since the invention of the wheel, us humans have been looking for ways to travel from A to B as quickly as possible. 

Whether trying to build the world’s fastest car, or simply trying to run as fast as a car, we are continuously pushing the boundaries of how fast our species can move.

With the advent of space travel and our efforts to also reach X, Y and Z in addition to A and B, we’ve created many marvels of engineering in the process.

However, there are still certain speeds that are not possible for us to attain (yet) and other species that can, quite literally, run circles around us. 

From Bolt to light, here are 10 of the fastest things ever, in ascending order of speed.

Fastest human (running)

Despite being the fastest human in history, Usain Bolt (Jamaica) is the slowest record holder on this list.

On 16 August 2009, Bolt registered a time of 9.58 seconds in the 100 m final of the World Athletics Championships in Berlin, Germany.

Bolt broke his own record for the fastest run 100 metres, which he achieved exactly one year previously at the Beijing Olympics with a time of 9.69 seconds.

The eight-time Olympic gold medallist also holds records for the fastest run 150 metres (14.35 seconds) and the fastest run 200 metres (19.19 seconds).

a cheetah sprinting

Fastest land mammal

Able to run at over double Usain Bolt’s speed is the fastest mammal on land over short distances - the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus).

In 1965, Professor Craig Sharp of Brunel University, London, recorded accurate speeds of 64.3 mph (103.4 km/h) run by a 35-kg (77-lb) adult female over a distance of 201.2 m (660 ft).

The fastest animal on land over long distances is the North American pronghorn (Antilocapra americana). These antelope-like animals have been observed to run at 34.8 mph (56 km/h) for as far as 4.1 mi (6.6 km).

Fastest rollercoaster

As you’ll soon discover, the world’s fastest car isn’t a Ferrari. However, the world’s fastest rollercoaster is.

Located at Ferrari World in Abu Dhabi, UAE, Formula Rossa can accelerate up to 149.1 mph (240 km/h) and 52 m upwards in 4.9 seconds.

The shape of the rollercoaster was inspired by the iconic Monza Circuit in Italy.

Fastest car

The fastest car aka fastest land speed record is 763 mph (1,227.9 km/h), or Mach 1.020, achieved by Andy Green (UK) in the Thrust SSC, which became the first car to break the sound barrier.

The supersonic speed was measured over one mile driven in the Black Rock Desert, Nevada, USA, on 15 October 1997.

"It was so powerful that 10 miles off the end of the track, the local town of Gerlach was experiencing what they thought was earthquakes" – Andy Green OBE

Fastest human (freefall)

On 14 October 2012, Felix Baumgartner (Austria) jumped from the edge of space into the Guinness World Records Hall of Fame as he broke the record for the fastest speed in freefall.

He fell to Earth at a speed of 843.6 mph (1,357.6 km/h) during the death-defying Red Bull Stratos mission.

After initially spinning violently, Baumgartner regained control and successfully deployed his parachute, landing safely and breaking eight world records in the process.

In addition to breaking Col. Joseph Kittinger’s 52-year-old record for the highest freefall parachute jump – now held by Alan Eustace at 41,422 m (135,898 ft) – Baumgartner became the first human to break the sound barrier in freefall.

Fastest aircraft

The experimental X-15A-2 became the fastest rocket-powered aircraft after attaining a speed of 4,520 mph (7,274 km/h), or Mach 6.7, at an altitude of 31,120 m (102,100 ft).

Launched in mid-air from underneath a B-52 bomber plane, the X-15A-2 was flown by USAF pilot Major William "Pete" Knight over California, USA, on 3 October 1967.

Despite achieving almost double the official FAI air speed record of 2,193 mph (3,529 km/h) – and double the speed of a rifle bullet - the X-15A-2 is not eligible for the record of fastest speed for a crewed aircraft because it did not take off and land under its own power. This record is held by the Lockheed SR-71A 'Blackbird', flown by Captain Eldon W Joersz and Major George T Morgan Jr on 28 July 1976.

The Apollo 10 command module

Fastest humans

Ahead of Usain Bolt, Felix Baumgartner and Major Knight are the crew of Apollo 10, who hold the record for the fastest speed achieved by humans.

Col. Thomas Patten Stafford, Cdr Eugene Andrew Cernan and Cdr John Watts Young reached a speed of 24,790 mph (39,897 km/h) in the command module of Apollo 10 on its trans-Earth return flight on 26 May 1969.


Fastest planet

An actual world with a world record is Mercury, the fastest planet in the Solar System.

It orbits the Sun at an average velocity of 107,029 mph (172,248 km/h), completing a full orbit every 87 days 21 hours.

Mercury’s orbital velocity varies over the course of its year. When moving away from the Sun, it travels at 86,927 mph (139,896 km/h), however, when being pulled deeper into the Sun’s gravity well, Mercury reaches speeds of 131,934 mph (212,328 km/h), which is over 2,000 times faster than a cheetah.

Fastest star

A star named S4714 is the fastest star in the galaxy to have been observed. 

It orbits around the supermassive black hole Sagittarius A*, which is located at the centre of our galaxy, the Milky Way. 

At the closest point in S4714’s orbit around Sagittarius A*, it travels at 53,686,471 mph (86,400,000 km/h), which is over 8% of light speed and over 400 times faster than Mercury’s top speed.

Fastest speed possible

There aren’t many unbreakable Guinness World Records titles, but this is one of them.

The fastest speed possible is the speed of light in a vacuum, where its velocity is 670,616,629 mph (1,079,252,848 km/h), equivalent to 10,337,670 cheetahs, 5,082 of the planet Mercury, or 12.5 S4714 stars.

Light takes around 1.3 seconds to travel from the Moon to Earth, whilst it takes around 8.3 minutes to reach us from the Sun.

Light speed can vary as it travels through different materials, depending on the material’s refractive index. For example, in glass, its speed is reduced to 447,077,751 mph (719,501,896 km/h), or 6.8 million cheetahs.

Header image credit: Pixabay (left); Shutterstock (right)