Carl Sagan told us that there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on all of the Earth’s beaches. At the same time, there are more H2O molecules in just 10 drops of water than there are stars.
The Planetary Resources Arkyd 3 Reflight (A3R) spacecraft deployed successfully from the International Space Station’s (ISS) Kibo airlock and has begun its 90-day mission! Asteroids hold so much more potential for human development – in the near futurre – than returning to the sterile desert of the Moon.
All right, it’s been the best year for exploratory space missions since 1972… (though let’s root for SpaceX to get smoothly across its current rough patch.) Teach this to your kids and neighbors! It’s a civilization that – if flawed – is reason for great pride. On the other hand, let’s not get carried away. We’re just getting started and the universe is pretty darn big.
== There’s a whole lot of space in space! ==
How to envision the immensity of the universe? Almost beyond our comprehension… here is a list of just a few interactive sites that let you zoom or scroll through the vastness of the cosmos, scaling in from galaxies to planets to buildings to atoms and quarks — or to explore the realm of Time… from the Big Bang through the evolution of life on Earth and the history of humanity. Many of these are wonderful resources for teachers… and for those who want to expand their horizons…
|Magnifying the Universe|
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 this supercool slide-able graphic that really brings it home. Dizzyingly fun: this interactive version of the universe (from Number Sleuth) takes you in scale from a hydrogen atom to a cell to a human to a star — then on to our galaxy, local superclusters and beyond. Explore!
|The Scale of the Universe|
2) The Scale of the Universe: This interactive site (from Cary Huang) expands in scale from the extremely small to the incredibly immense — starting with quantum foam (at the Planck length of 10 -35 m) to neutrinos, quarks, atoms, and cells all the way up to humans, buildings, planets, stars, galaxies and superclusters (on the gigaparsec level). You’ll encounter a wide range of lesser known units for measurement: yoctometer, heptameter, attometer, femtometer, picometer…
|The Known Universe|
5) The Known Universe: This gorgeous six minute film (from the American Museum of Natural History) zooms you from the Himalayan mountains, to the orb of planet Earth — through the outer reaches of our solar system to the spiral of the Milky Way galaxy to distant quasars in the depths of space… then reverses course to plunge back toward home.
Noteworthy. If you visit and use ALL of these sites, some of these scale notions might sink in better than with just one. Check in and let us know the psychological effects!
|The Interactive Universe|
7) The Interactive Universe: this site from the History Channel is less extensive than the others listed here, but it provides information as you click to zoom in on the sun, planets, asteroids, comets, nebulae, then on to the Andromeda Galaxy or black holes.
8) 100,000 Stars: an interactive 3D visualization (created for Google Chrome) of our stellar neighborhood, showing the location and identity of over 100,000 nearby stars. Zoom in to explore.
9) The original Powers of Ten clip: This 1977 film by Charles and 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 globe of the Earth, then on to the solar system, the galaxy, then out the Virgo Cluster of Galaxies… before diving back to our earthbound picnickers and closing in explore inside a single carbon atom. Narrated by the great Phil Morrison, of SETI fame.
And now on to Time…
|Here Is Today website|
|Evolution: What’s Next?|
12) Evolution: What’s Next? This site (from John Kyrk and Uzay Sezen)) offers a slider to move through time: it shows the formation of various elements after the Big Bang, then moves through the accretion of the sun and planets… and on to the formation of the earth’s atmosphere and evolution of life.
|Human Evolution Timeline|
13) Human Evolution Timeline: this interactive (from the Smithsonian Institution) traverses the milestones in the evolution of humans — through australopithecus, paranthropus, to homo erectus, charting climate fluctuations along the way.
|Historic Spacecraft website|
14) 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 wealth of information!
|Atomic Rockets website|
|Science Fictional Spaceships by Dirk Loechel|
16) Size comparison of Science fictional spaceships by Dirk Loechel — an epic-scale illustration that shows side-by-side images of spacecraft from Star Trek to Star Wars, Dr. Who to Stargate and Starship Troopers. Really fun to explore.
Though… ahem… you guys are missing some (* cough Streaker! *) classics that were included in a similar display at Seattle’s (alas defunct) Science Fiction Museum.
|Mars Trek website|
18) Mars Trek: Fly over the surface of Mars! Explore the planet in 3D with this NASA site: Click and zoom, pan in and out to view the detailed surface geology of the red planet. Almost like being there! You can also access and visualize scientific data sets by overlaying information from probes such as the Mars Rovers – Spirit, Opportunity, Sojourner, and Curiosity.
|Earth Wind Map|
19) Earth Wind Map shows up-to-date air and ocean currents across the globe — showing stunning atmospheric circulation patterns. Another site for visualizing wind forecasts isWindyty. Or see the wind map of the U.S. — with surface wind data and circulation patterns, updated hourly. See also this collection of beautiful weather maps — providing essential data on our planet.
20) Space Engine is a free space simulation program that enables you to explore the universe, pilot a starship — and land on any planet, moon or asteroid. Or try Explore Mars Now, which allows you to explore a simulated Mars base, and walk through the habitats, laboratories, rovers and greenhouses necessary for a manned mission to Mars.
21) And finally… XKCD’s take on illustrating scale: the observable universe from top to bottom, showing height above earth’s surface on a logarithmic scale.
Left out? The wonders of BIOLOGY! Feel free to chime in with your favorite anatomical, functional, species and other depictions of that fascinating world. We’ll give that run-down another time. (And of course you’ll see lots of political-social-economic maps, across the coming year!)
When the Cold Atom Laboratory launches to the International Space Station in 2016, it will become the coldest spot in the universe. Learn how scientists are going to get closer than ever to absolute zero — and why they want to. A great video from SciShow Space: