The scale of the universe

Computers have made possible new ways of presenting information and the some of the best examples are animated graphics. I have already posted a link to NOAA’s animation of CO2 levels, for instance, and I have also recommended The Breathing Earth at various times.

The graphic I want to introduce here is not about climate-change education, though, but about acquiring a broader sense of the amazing universe we live in. I first saw a version of it a couple of years ago. It vanished after a while, as web sites do, but I’m happy to say that it’s back, better than ever.

Click here to visit The Scale of the Universe by Cary and Michael Huang on Youtube. Bookmark it, because I’m sure you will want to return.

It’s all about how big things are … not just everyday things like people and butterflies and buildings, but much much larger and smaller things like quarks and galaxies. The concept is simple – you can see relative sizes of things at any scale, and zoom in or out – but vector graphics mean you can zoom a very very very very long way in or out without losing continuity.

But it really doesn’t need any explanation. I’ll leave you to enjoy it.

Just for fun: Wordles

Wordle is a free online java applet for generating ‘word clouds’ from text that you provide. The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text, by making them larger, and the wordle is therefore a sort of visual summary of the text. I was introduced to it by an example on RealClimate, where someone had used it to summarise the IPCC Extreme Weather Event report I talked about here.

climate wordle

Wordle is fun and is an easy way for the artistically challenged to produce interesting graphics. You can tweak your clouds with different fonts, layouts, and colour schemes, and you can ‘rig’ the results by deleting words from it or by pre-loading the text with multiple repetitions of the words you want featured.

More text makes your wordle a more representative overview of the subject, while less will usually give you a more dramatic-looking result.

Update, December 2020: The original wordle creation site has succumbed to the tyranny of time but spawned imitators before it did so. Look them up…