Thursday, February 3, 2011

All things great and small

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.
- Cecil Frances Alexander
Recently the Astronomy Picture of the Day website featured a classic science film from the 1960's that is now available on YouTube. http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap110201.html  The film is called Powers of 10 and zooms out at a steady pace to show the universe and then zooms in again down to the subatomic level. It's a wonderful thing to watch for a sense of scale.

When watching note the following.

1. It takes many powers of 10 beyond the solar system until the stars in the background begin to move. The empty space between stars is immense.

2. Once the stars do move, we quickly reach the level of galaxy and just another power of ten or so for nearby galaxies. The universe is dense with galaxies.

3. Since the 1960's science has expanded its view of the universe by quite a bit. Today the film could go on for a few more powers of 10 and show the amazing weblike filaments that galaxies form when viewed from far away.

4. On the small scale note the empty space from 10^-9 to 10^-13, from the electron shell to the inner nucleus. The nucleus is like our solar system, busy locally, then a LOT of nothing until we reach the next atom/solar system, at which point things appear crowded again.

Bottom Line

The film notes at the end that it traveled 40 orders of magnitude from quarks to the known universe. How curious that we fall in the middle with approximately 20 powers of 10 below us and above us.

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