Friday, April 13, 2012

Scale of the Universe

This is amazing. It's an interactive Flash animation called "Scale of the Universe 2" that lets you see the size of a bunch of different objects in our universe next to each other. You can use the scroll bar to zoom from the smallest to largest things in our universe. The smallest thing that appears in the animation is a string -- the string theory version, not that thing that keeps your teabag accessible in your mug -- which is 1 x 10-35 meters. If you scroll to the opposite end of the scale, the size of the measurable universe is 1 x 1027meters.

You can also click on each object to get a description and size. Clearly these folks have a sense of humor - click on Pluto and it says, "Pluto used to be a planet, but now it's not. Why do people feel sympathy for it? It has no feelings. And if it did, why would it care what the people way over on Earth thought about it?"

Relative sizes are pretty fascinating. A human egg appears to have the same diameter as the width of a human hair. A Japanese spider crab, if it were to hold its legs out as far as they'll go, appears to be as wide as a human is tall. How delicious.

As I was zooming out to objects in our solar system and beyond, I started to get that anxiety I get whenever I think too hard about things that are too big to comprehend -- death, infinity, time, chance. It reminds me of this Calvin and Hobbes strip, which always somehow manages to re-ground me, if only in the knowledge that for now, while I'm alive, I'm not alone.

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