Two years ago Cary and Michael Huang released their wonderful “The Scale of the Universe” flash video that took viewers on an interactive tour of the known world from the smallest things to the edge of the observable universe. Earlier this month they released an even better second version that features hundreds of different objects from quarks to quasars along with descriptions for each one. Zoom from big to small or small to big at your own pace, and if you’re curious to know more about a featured image, just give it a click. There’s also an option for listening to (or turning off) the background soundtrack of heavenly voices. A YouTube version is available, but as you might guess, it’s not interactive.
Joe, a former work colleague who made me aware of the new version, described it as “totally freaking awesome”. It’s that and more. Flicks of a finger take you from galaxy clusters measuring yottameters across (1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 meters) all the way down to tiniest things we know of – quantum foam and cosmic strings – at a scale of 0.000000001 yoctometers. In case you’ve forgotten, one yoctometer equals 0.000000000000000000000001 meters. Either way it’s a lotta meters and a visceral way to learn about cosmic scale. As you explore, consider that a human being stands midway in size between a red giant star and a hydrogen atom. Rather a cozy spot in a universe of extremes.
This week the International Space Station (ISS) returns to view in the evening sky. Look for a Jupiter-bright “star” moving steadily from west to east in the span of several minutes. The times below are for the Duluth, Minn. region. For times for your town, check out Spaceweather’s Satellite Flybys or Heavens Above. The latter site provides individual maps for each pass. And if you’re without a Valentine’s Day gift idea for your significant other, you can always step outside and give her or him a big romantic kiss as the ISS glides silently overhead. They’ll never forget your passionate gesture.
* Tonight Sun. Feb. 12 starting at 7:08 p.m. Low, brief pass in the southern sky.
* Monday Feb. 13 at 6:12 p.m. low across the south-southeast.
* Tuesday Feb. 14 at 6:50 p.m. A gorgeous and brilliant pass across the south. Cuts right through Orion’s Belt about 6:52 p.m.
* Wednesday Feb. 15 at 5:54 p.m. low in the south in bright twilight and again at 7:29 p.m. in the western sky.
* Thursday Feb. 16 at 6:32 p.m. Brilliant! Passes nearly overhead.
* Friday Feb. 17 at 7:12 p.m. across the northern sky. Another bright one!