A few weeks ago the American Museum of Natural History posted a video showing a voyage from the surface of the Earth to the last-scattering surface (at the “edge” of the Universe). What makes the video unique is that it is based on real data, not an artist’s conception. The thin ellipses represent actual satellites orbiting the Earth; the dots represent the location of actual quasars billions of lightyears away. (No, the Universe is not composed of pie slices of galaxies, as in the movie. They used data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which is one of our most comprehensive views of the Universe, but which has only surveyed certain areas of the sky.) Perhaps most amazingly, the video has gone viral–with over 1.9 million views and thousands of comments to date.
I was lucky enough to see an (interactive) preview of this video while I was in New York attending the Amaldi meeting. It is a modern retelling of the Powers of Ten video by Charles and Ray Eames (who, as it happens, also designed fabulous furniture; I’ve been lusting after an Eames recliner for years [how many pieces of furniture have their own wikipedia entry?]). The videos help us develop a healthy perspective, which is a good way to start off the New Year. It is humbling, after all, to realize how insignificant we really are. Yes, we have the gall to change our planet, and threaten all living beings on its fragile surface. But, still, in the grand scheme of things, we’re a grain of sand in a vast and beautiful ocean. We’re totally irrelevant. I find this to be oddly reassuring and calming.