Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Getting a Sense of Scale

One of the hardest things in studying either the cosmos or the fundamental structure of matter is wrapping your head around the sizes of things. Atoms and particles are so unfathomably small, and galaxies and galaxy clusters are just so unfathomably large.

Of course, the classic video "Powers of Ten" still does a great job of conveying these vastly different scales. I still love this - it is elegant and thought-provoking:

Also, it's worth checking out the interactive web version, based on the film.

An updated take on a similar story is this video from the American Museum of Natural History, which incorporates modern astronomical data into the illustration of the cosmos so that they more accurately represent what we know about what's out there.

Finally, a couple of students have sent me links to versions of this cool interactive graphic that shows the size scales of a whole bunch of things with a slider bar to move around. It's not made by scientists and has a couple of not-100%-accurate bits, but it more than makes up for that by having random weird and cool facts throughout. Definitely worth your time to play with for a while:
The Scale of the Universe version 2 by HTwins

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Earth from the Space Station

My current pick for "best thing ever" is below... a compilation of NASA videos of the earth from the International Space Station, edited by Michael Konig.

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael K├Ânig on Vimeo.

This is just mind-blowing, isn't it? The timing of the compilation has been redone so it doesn't quite match the speed at which the space station travels. However, the original NASA videos do approximately represent the "real time" experience. View those at:

Imagining the Big Bang

There is a lovely story by Italo Calvino called "All at One Point" that I often assign in the beginning of my classes on cosmology. In it, a narrator discusses the Big Bang and the expansion of the universe as if he and many other characters had been present since the beginning. Describing the events of cosmic history in human terms highlights the absurdity of trying to picture the Big Bang at all. It's just impossible - what would it even mean to picture everything truly being at one point?

One of my students sent me the following link to a video art piece by Taras Hrabowsky:

THINGPIT_HD from taras hrabowsky on Vimeo.

First of all, this is just cool. But also, to me, this brings up some similar themes as the Calvino story (maybe because I just reread it again). Everything around us is part of a constantly changing and evolving cosmos. As we run the "movie" of cosmic history backwards and forwards in our heads, how can we not attempt to literally picture it?