How to envision the immensity of the cosmos? Almost beyond our comprehension…here are a few interactive sites that let you zoom or scroll through the immensity of the cosmos, zooming in from galaxies to planets to buildings to atoms — or to explore Time… from the Big Bang through the evolution of life and the history of humanity.
1) Magnifying the Universe: I’ve always been a big fan of “powers of ten” style zoom-in and zoom-out graphics and films that bring home the incredible ranges of scale that we must deal with, in our puny, brittle minds. Now see the latest, a supercool slide-able illustration that really brings it home. Dizzyingly fun: This interactive scale of the universe from Number Sleuth takes you from a hydrogen atom to a cell to a human to a star to our galaxy, local superclusters and beyond. Explore!
2) The Scale of the Universe: This interactive from Cary Huang from quantum foam (at the Planck length (10 -35 m)) to neutrinos to quarks, atoms, and cells all the way up to humans, buildings, planets, stars, galaxies and superclusters (on the gigaparsec level). You’ll learn some new units for measurement: yoctometer, heptameter, attometer, femtometer, picometer…
3) If the Moon Were One Pixel: This ginormously accurate scale model of our solar system (from Josh Worth) lets you scroll from the sun to Earth…and out to Pluto (if you have the extraordinary patience to scroll that far…this gives you perspective on the vastness and emptiness of space…and perhaps our insignificance in the grand scale of things.
4) The Scale of Our Solar System: This info graphic from Space.com lets you scroll out from the sun to the outer reaches of the solar system, past the Kuiper Belt to the Oort Cloud, marking off the astronomical units in terms of the distance travelled by light from the sun in 1 to 14 hours. It also shows the relative distances traveled by the New Horizons, Voyager 1 and Voyage 2 probes.
5) The Known Universe: This gorgeous six minute film from the American Museum of Natural History zooms you from the Himalayan mountains, to planet earth through the outer reaches of our solar system to Milky Way galaxy to distant quasars in the depths of space…then reverses course back toward home.
6) How Big is Space? This interactive site from the BBC allows you to pilot your rocket ship up through the layers of the atmosphere through the planets, then out to the edge of the solar system, passing the New Horizons and Voyager probes along the way.
7) The original Powers of Ten clip: This 1977 film by Charles & Ray Eames begins at a lakeside picnic near Chicago. Starting at a scale of one meter, the film moves outward by a factor of ten every ten seconds, zooming out to Lake Michigan to the Earth, the solar system, the galaxy, then out the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies…before diving back to our earthbound picnickers and closing in upon a single carbon atom.
8) The Interactive Universe: this site from the History Channel provides a wealth of information as you click to zoom in on planets, comets, nebulae, then on to galaxies or black holes.
9) Chronozoom: And now on to time…This visual timeline of the cosmos, from the Big Bang to the birth of the Milky Way Galaxy to the formation of the Earth, then on through the geological eras of the earth to the prehistory and history of humanity. This open source project also has links to teaching resources.
A few more amazing sites well worth your time…
10) Historic Spacecraft: a comprehensive exploration of space history, with photos, drawings, updates and background information accumulated by Richard Kruse — covering space probes, rockets, rovers, launch pads, space suits…plus timelines, size comparisons, cut-away views, history, quotes and more. Truly a comprehensive site!
11) Atomic Rockets is a detailed site devoted to rocket and spaceship design. The site from Winchell Chung offers details, designs and equations behind rocket drives, space stations, spacesuits, weapons and so much more. A resource for authors seeking scientific accuracy, an aid to getting the science right in science fiction.
12) Size comparison of Science Fictional spaceships by Dirk Loechel — an epic-scale illustration with craft from Star Trek to Star Wars, Dr. Who to Stargate and Starship Troopers. Really fun to explore.
13) A 360 degree view of the flight deck of the Discover space shuttle: dizzyingly detailed!
14) Mars Trek: Explore Mars in 3D: Click and zoom, pan in and out to view the detailed surface geology of Mars. Almost like being there. You can also access data sets and overlay information from probes such as the Mars Global Surveyor, Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
15) Wind map of the U.S. Surface wind data and circulation patterns nicely visualized, updated hourly.
16) Explore Mars Now: Use this site to explore a simulated Mars base, and walk through the habitats, laboratories, rovers and greenhouses necessary for a manned mission to Mars.