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21 April, 2004

The Universe Within

This is one of my favourite websites, to which I seem to return every few months even though I don't have it bookmarked.

Starting from a view of the Milky Way, this java applet begins to zoom in, each successive image being an order of magnitude smaller than the previous one. The first is a view 10 million light years from the Milky Way (1023 m across the width of the image), the next is 1 million light years away(1022 m across the image), then focusing on the western spiral arm of our galaxy (1021 m), and so on.
From one light year away (1016 m), the sun is barely visible; from 10 billion kilometres away (1013 m) the Solar System fills the image. At the 1 million km mark (109 m), the Earth and orbit of the moon almost fill the view.
From 10,000 km (107 m), the applet starts to zoom in on terrestrial features, centred on the USA (surprise, surprise), specifically North Florida (105 m), SW Tallahassee (104 m), the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory (103 m, or from an altitude of 1 km), and an oak tree in the grounds (101 m).

The next, (100 m) is the view of a branch from 1 metre away, then leaves (10-1 m) and a close-up of a single leaf (10-2 m is 1 cm away). Unsurprisingly, the applet continues into microscopic detail of cells on the surface (10-4 m), a cell nucleus (10-6 m), and individual strands of DNA (10-8 m).
At 10-10 m, the outer electron cloud of a carbon atom is seen from 100 picometres away; 10-14 m is the nucleus alone and 10-15 m shows a single proton from 1 femtometre away. Finally, quarks are seen from 100 attometers, a unit of which I'd never heard, but which equates to 10-16 m across the standardised width of the image.

To spell it out, the first image has a width of 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 m, whilst the last, forty orders of magnitude smaller, is 0.0000000000000001 m across.

A great way to popularise science, inspiring even those who just like pretty pictures!

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