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Day 83: Eames’ “Powers of 10” January 5, 2007

Posted by Admin in Astronomy.


How big is the Universe? Admittedly, a tough question to wrap our heads around. How about starting smaller: how large is our solar system? How about our galaxy, the Milky Way? The scale of the universe is a tough concept envison. It’s simply too large for us to use any readily-identifiable scale as a reference. The objective for today’s class is to better undersand the scale of various objects in our universe – particularly the very large and very small – as they relate to objects of sizes that we can more readily conceptualize. The tool used to gain this understanding is the well-known short film titled Powers of 10 by Charles and Ray Eames. Click the “play” button below to view the entire film directly from this webpage.

Charles and Ray Eames’ Powers of Ten Video:

Summary of the film: The video takes the viewer on an amazing trip through the largest and smallest known aspects of the world around us. The film begins by showing us a man enjoying a casual picnic in a park along the lakeshore in Chicago. The film then expands outward (as though the camera is travelling vertically away from the man) by a factor of ten (known as one “order of magnitude) every second. From the man on the lakeshore, we pan out to view the entire park, the city of chicago, the geography of the central US, outward to viewing the entire earth and beyond. The film continues zooming out to reveal the scale of the solar system, nearby stars, and our Milky Way galaxy. The film comes to its maximum wide angle, revealing a view of our galaxy supercluster known as the “Virgo” supercluster.

After some commentary, the film then zooms back in at a quicker speed, reversing its prior wide angle. Upon return to the picnic in Chicago, the film then takes us inward to the smaller scales via the same technique as the first portion of the video. We are then shown the cells on the skin of the man’s hand, inward to the strands of DNA, individual atoms, all the way down to the nucleus of a single carbon atom.

Following the viewing of the video, students worked in small groups to discuss two interesting questions:

  1. What was the most interesting part of the video, and
  2. Did you find anything surprising about the video?

We then enjoyed a large-group discussion with each small group explaining their answers to the class. We will continue working to gain a better understanding of this topic next week with an activity in which students will actively rank several well-known objects – both large and small – into an order on a graduated “Scale of the Universe” handout.


Read up on the Eames’ work with these additional links:


Other interesting links pertainting to the Power of 10:

  • Power of Ten interactive java tutorial (warning: memory hog)
  • The Power of the Link: A fascinating article on how powerful linking is between webpages, bringing about exponential increases in traffic as links multiply by powers (of ten).


1. Lorelle VanFossen - February 2, 2007

Fascinating stuff. I’ve always been interested in the six degrees of separation, but the power of 10 is now something worth considering.

I don’t know if this covers the power of ten, but it does help you see the size of the Internet universe ;-) : Can You Visualize the Web?

2. steph - May 4, 2007

what is the 245345 star ffrom now? lol

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