“Powers of Ten”, a 1968 short film by Charles and Ray Eames, is a quite impressive application of the logarithmic scale. The film is an adaptation of “Cosmic View”, a 1957 book by Kees Boeke. Both the book and the film deal with very short and very long distances and the relative size of things in the universe. Although Einstein wouldn’t agree with the trip, because very soon the camera travels faster than the speed of light, you should have a look at what it means to cross the universe on a logarithmic scale. Every ten seconds you will add a zero to your distance and stride away from earth by the factor ten: from meters, to 10 meters, 100 meters, 1000 meters and so on. Some minutes later and lightyears away you pass the nearest star. The way back is even faster and leads you through the skin and the DNA to the subatomic scale. Impressive! Enjoy the trip!
Humanity has gone a long way from the first scientific map of the universe created by Copernicus in 1543. Nowadays we have not only expanded our knowledge about ‘the starry sky above us’ but also improved our technologies to represent and visualize large amounts of data.
For the last 12 years, Carter Emmart, Director of Astrovisualization at American Museum of Natural History, has been coordinating efforts of scientists, artists and programmers to build a complete 3D visualization of the universe. In a recent TED talk he explained the latest results of his efforts and – at least a bit – the universe.
‘The Known Universe’ visualizes data from the Digital Universe Atlas, the most complete (and downloadable) 3D atlas of the universe. Ben R. Oppenheimer likens the atlas to Mercator’s invention of the globe: “It gave everyone a new perspective on where they live in relation to others, and we hope that the Digital Universe does the same on a grander, cosmic scale.” But do we really get beyond the horizon and understand our planet as a limited condition? There is still a long way to go, but better visualization may help.
Carter Emmart’s film was also part of a recent exhibition at the Rubin Museum of Art.