Powers of 10: the next generation

If you teach astronomy, you probably know Powers of 10, an old film by Charles and Ray Eames to illustrate vast range of length scales in the Universe.  (To see it on the official web site, you seem to have to register, but youtube has it too.)  Well, the American Museum of Natural History has created a new video along the same lines.

Powers of 10 from AMNH

It’s got a few big advantages over the old Powers of 10: it goes out to 100 times larger scales than the Eameses’ film, and it’s based on real data even out to very large scales, which of course wasn’t possible when Powers of 10 was made.

The new film only goes up in scale from the Earth, unlike Powers of 10, which also went down to the subatomic realm.  Whether that’s an advantage or a disadvantage is up to you.

Powers of 10 explicitly showed the length scale at all times: on the right is a running counter showing how many meters we’re looking at, and on the left is the same thing in other units.  Also, every factor of 10 is indicated by an outlined box.  The new video indicates the occasional milestone in length scale, but it doesn’t do it consistently throughout.  I think that’s a pretty big pedagogical disadvantage of the new film.  It’d be nice if someone added a counter like that to the film.  But it’s still pretty cool.

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Ted Bunn

I am chair of the physics department at the University of Richmond. In addition to teaching a variety of undergraduate physics courses, I work on a variety of research projects in cosmology, the study of the origin, structure, and evolution of the Universe. University of Richmond undergraduates are involved in all aspects of this research. If you want to know more about my research, ask me!