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In everyday use and in kinematics, the speed of an object is the magnitude of its velocity ; it is thus a scalar quantity. The average speed of an object in an interval of time is the distance travelled by the object divided by the duration of the interval; the instantaneous speed is the limit of the average speed as the duration of the time interval approaches zero.

Speed has the dimensions of distance divided by time. The SI unit of speed is the metre per second, but the most common unit of speed in everyday usage is the kilometre per hour or, in the US and the UK, miles per hour. For air and marine travel the knot is commonly used.

The fastest possible speed at which energy or information can travel, according to special relativity, is the speed of light in a vacuum c = 7008299792458000000♠ 299792 458 metres per second. Matter cannot quite reach the speed of light, as this would require an infinite amount of energy. In relativity physics, the concept of rapidity replaces the classical idea of speed.

Italian physicist Galileo Galilei is usually credited with being the first to measure speed by considering the distance covered and the time it takes. Galileo defined speed as the distance covered per unit of time. In equation form, that is

where v {\displaystyle v} is speed, d {\displaystyle d} is distance, and t {\displaystyle t} is time. A cyclist who covers 30 metres in a time of 2 seconds, for example, has a speed of 15 metres per second. Objects in motion often have variations in speed.

Speed at some instant, or assumed constant during a very short period of time, is called instantaneous speed. By looking at a speedometer, one can read the instantaneous speed of a car at any instant. A car travelling at 50 km/h generally goes for less than one hour at a constant speed, but if it did go at that speed for a full hour, it would travel 50 km. If the vehicle continued at that speed for half an hour, it would cover half that distance. If it continued for only one minute, it would cover about 833 m.

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