Scale of the Universe

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Scale of the Universe

Post by neufer » Tue Feb 14, 2012 4:49 pm

Art Neuendorffer

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Re: Scale of the Universe

Post by bystander » Tue Feb 14, 2012 5:54 pm

Ahh, you beat me to it. I was preparing to post this. I was looking for a thread (started by makc, I think) with several examples of such, but I didn't find it. I did find several recent APODs that are relevant, at least one of which is a repeat.

APOD: The Known Universe (2010 Jan 20)

APOD: Powers of Ten (2011 Feb 01)

APOD: Star Size Comparisons (2011 Feb 22)

Another interactive way to scale the Universe
Discover Blogs | Bad Astronomy | 2012 Feb 12
I’m getting email and tweets about a Flash-based interactive tool where you can zoom in and out on the Universe, getting a scale of things from the tiniest fluctuations in the quantum foam of space to the size of the Universe itself. It’s done logarithmically, using factors of ten, and does a pretty good job. It’s called The Scale of the Universe 2. It takes a few minutes to load, so be patient!

What’s funny is, no one who has linked to it seems to have remembered that the two brothers who created it, Cary and Michael Huang, made a very similar tool a little over [two] years ago (which itself owes its existence to the Eames’ venerable "Powers of Ten"). The new one is better in many ways, of course (though I like the music in the old one better; everyone’s a critic). There are some nice improvements, like some animation, more objects, things that are relatable to kids (the size of the Minecraft world, for example), and more.

One of the things I like about tools like this are the surprising little bits that you learn if you’re really paying attention. For example, at a scale of a few billion kilometers, the only familiar object displayed is the orbit of Neptune. Everything else is a star, and all those stars are red. That’s because the only stars that can get that big are massive red supergiants, stars at the ends of their lives that are far heftier than the Sun. If someone notices that oddity and looks it up, hey, they found out something cool!

Which brings me to one minor thing I’d change about this: clickable links. It’s not hard to stop at someplace along the scale, see something you don’t know ("thou", and "twip"? I had to look those up) and then search for it, but having embedded links to the names would be cool.

I’d also love to see something like this tested in classrooms. I have a pretty decent grasp of scale, so this is fun for me, but I wonder if a kid would get the same feel for it? Right around the one meter mark, where you can see a human, a flower, and an elephant, the scale gets odd. That’s because the scale isn’t linear, it’s logarithmic, changing dramtically quickly with a small movement of the scrollbar. To me, that throws off my internal scaling sense. I wonder if this kind of thing might actually give people a false sense of scale, making very small and very large, distant things seem nearer in size to us? Most people already have a squashed sense of scale — even logarithmically, the Universe is vastly difficult to appreciate; most of it is empty even over large degrees of factors of ten. It’s hard to appreciate even how far away the Moon is, and it’s the closest thing in the sky!

Again, I’m just curious. But I do see this as a nice way to get people hooked on cool stuff, and to get them more curious about the Universe around them. And that’s fine by me.

The interactive scale of the Universe
Discover Blogs | Bad Astronomy | 2010 Jan 29
A while back I posted a link to a nifty interactive graphic that let’s you zoom down from human scales to that of the atom. In that post, I said I wish someone would make one that goes out to the size of the Universe, too.

My wish has been answered. NewGrounds is a Flash animation portal, and a user by the handle of Fotoshop has created a wondrous and lovely interactive tool to show you the relative sizes of things in the Universe, from the largest galaxies down to the quantum foam. I don’t know what else to say about it except This. Freaking. Rocks.

You can use the slider along the bottom to change the scale, and see where different objects fall. Unlike the famous "Powers of Ten" movie, you’re not touring the Universe or moving through space; this just shows how relatively big things are. It’s really very well done, and gives you a good sense of things. My favorite part is on the smallest end, when you have to go through several factors of ten with nothing happening to get to the Planck scale, the smallest scale in the Universe. It’s really quite a forbidding notion.

I even like the music (though I don’t recognize it; anyone know?). : )

Well done, Fotoshop!

[Update: I'm getting notes from people saying that the site linked below has some NSFW content on it. I didn't see that when I posted this; the link itself is rated G and quite safe, but be warned if you click anywhere else.]

Sliding down to the carbon atom
Discover Blogs | Bad Astronomy | 2009 Nov 29
The folks at the Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah have a nifty little interactive gizmo on their web page which shows the relative sizes of small objects from a coffee bean down to a carbon atom. A slider along the bottom (or just running your mouse left/right on the graphic itself) changes the scale, so zoom in and out on the objects. You fly past a mitochondrion, E. coli, all the way down to a carbon atom. The sizes are given too.

This is pretty slick, and helpful; people (me included) tend to have a miserable sense of scale. If I had two wishes for this, it would be that they included a human hair, since that’s something of a standard for comparison to small things (a hair is 50 – 100 microns in diameter), and that they make the opposite one to zoom out from a coffee bean to the observable Universe. That would be pretty cool!

Note: Yes, of course I’ve seen "Powers of Ten". I remember the original, with Philip Morrison narrating. I used to sit in the Smithsonian on field trips when I was a kid and watch it over and over. I was always doomed to dorkhood.
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alive to the gentle breeze of communication, and please stop being such a jerk.
— Garrison Keillor

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Re: Scale of the Universe

Post by mike_sharkey2010 » Mon May 07, 2012 9:10 pm

Wow! Thank you so much. This is a great tool for explaining at least *some* of the scales involved when looking at astronomical events. Since I teach Astronomy merit badge for Boy Scouts, this will be a handy visual aid. (I've been using the ''Earth as a Peppercorn'' model, and taking the guys on a hike outside - showing them a BB-pellet Earth and a basketball Sun 100 ft away, followed by a ping-pong ball Jupiter 100 yards away. Then trying to get them to believe that the *nearest* star is 500 miles away at this scale. And the largest stars known - can fill the *orbit* of Jupiter.)

Many thanks.