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Powers of Ten™ (1977)

Powers of Ten takes us on an adventure in magnitude. Created by Big History Project.

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  • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Ari Mendelson
    At the end of the trip away from earth, how fast, (as a multiple of light speed) were we traveling?
    (22 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user Eric Waldstein
      Much, much faster than the speed of light. The video zooms out logarithmically, which means that the speed constantly increases as they keep going out, so I can't give a single answer to the question. But to take one example, if you traveled to the Andromeda Galaxy (nearest large spiral galaxy--so the end of the video has zoomed out much further than this) in 10 seconds, you would have gone over 2 million light-years (a distance it takes light 2 million years to cross) in 10 seconds...hence over 6 trillion times the speed of light.
      (43 votes)
  • leaf grey style avatar for user Michœl
    This video is a classic, but is a bit dated. Has anyone produced a more modern version of Powers of Ten?
    (23 votes)
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  • purple pi purple style avatar for user Kendra
    With our growing information of quantum mechanics and quarks, what would we see after 10^-15
    (11 votes)
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    • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Insert Name Here
      Okay, first off, twins is an awesome site with more than 1 scale of the universe. Now, going back to your question, you can't actually "see" anything on the quantum scale, because seeing would imply using something to see. You can use photons or electrons (as in electron microscopes), but how would you see something small than a quark? It would be impossible. Also, not only can individual quarks not be seen, quarks cannot separate from each other, unless it is at very high energies. The farther apart two quarks are, the more they are attracted to each other, unless they are bound to another quark, as in protons and neutrons. Finally, there would be no color to see it in. We are well beyond the range of visible light at this point. It would be a grayish supercolor, that would probably give you a headache.
      However, if somehow, we could see (preon microscope?) what would you see. Probably preons (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preon surprisingly readable), the theoretical point-like particles that quarks are composed of. There may be massless particles zooming around or through, like gauge bosons or you might seed some neutrinos, which are essentially massless. Zoom in even further and you start to see the fabric of space-time itself. Quantum black holes pop up out of nowhere and measurements start to make no sense. Beyond the Planck length, we cannot actually measure anything. At about the same size as this, strings and rolled up dimensions may exist, shadows of the theory of M-theory. Beyond floats the dark theories of black strings and branes. Zoom even closer and it may be impossible to even go on. Time suddenly becomes discrete and smaller ideals may be impossible to realize (protection conjectures). Many, many time smaller than this, the literal lattice of the universe may be visible.
      While that all of that may have sounded metaphorical, it actually wasn't.
      (14 votes)
  • leafers ultimate style avatar for user Jericho McCune
    Great video. Does anybody know who the narrator is?
    (6 votes)
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  • purple pi purple style avatar for user Residuum
    Does anyone know how exactly did they do the opening rising shot? This was before cg and all that. It's quite an impressive graphic.
    (5 votes)
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    • spunky sam blue style avatar for user Paul Kang
      This is just a guess, but I'm thinking that they filmed separate shots from different altitudes using different methods (a stepladder, helicopter, satellite, etc.) and stitched the film carefully together. The rest must be stock footage, but because every part of the video is around the same low quality (relative to modern video), it blends together as if it were CGI.
      (4 votes)
  • spunky sam blue style avatar for user Paul Kang
    Is there any specific reason we as humans use powers of ten to measure magnitude? I'm asking this because I heard from the YouTube channel Numberphile that base 12 is prevalent in many cultures and in computer coding, hexadecimal (base 16) is used as well. This isn't even mentioning the other miscellaneous ones such as binary (for computers) and base four (as seen in DNA).

    Also, is there any reason for stopping at 10^24 meters in the video at ? Was this limit of our astronomical understanding in 1977?
    (2 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user Alexa
      Powers of ten are used because the dominant number system in our (Western) society (and in scientific research) is base 10. The metric system formally encodes powers of ten into measurement. Why base 10? Good question. The most common guess is that it's because humans have ten fingers, which made a good starting point for counting. It's true that other bases are or have been used in other cultures (base 5, 12, 20, and 60 are most common), but those bases aren't encoded in our numeral system. It's also true that there are some big advantages to base 12 (primarily the fact that 12 is divisible by 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 12, making many calculations easier), but we're pretty well stuck with base 10 now.
      (5 votes)
  • old spice man green style avatar for user 时若斯/anonymous
    How can they see things smaller than 10^-9(thats the smallest thing a microscope can see)and how can they see earth from 100million light years away?
    (2 votes)
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    • aqualine ultimate style avatar for user Hafidh Rendyanto
      Well, first of all, there is another type of microscope that we can use to "see" an object smaller than that, and then second, because we do a lot experiment with quantum object like proton, electron, quark, etc. This experiment gave us a lot of data that we can use to "predict" the shape of an atom, or even an object smaller than that, but of course, with a smaller resolution as well.
      (3 votes)
  • orange juice squid orange style avatar for user kk
    What does he mean with "and our orbit belongs to Pluto". Is it just because now its orbit shows up in the picture or it has some greater meaning?
    (2 votes)
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  • blobby green style avatar for user kingdl2
    What is an angstrom?
    (1 vote)
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    • piceratops ultimate style avatar for user Hecretary Bird
      An angstrom is a very small unit of length sometimes used in the metric system. 10 billion angstroms make a meter. You'll most commonly see angstroms used usually when you're talking about the chemistry or physics of things that are smaller than atoms.
      (3 votes)
  • mr pink red style avatar for user Jen-jeongwon-Kim
    I didn't have any pre knowledge in powers of ten. Can anyone tell me what this video is trying to say?
    (1 vote)
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    • leaf red style avatar for user Bean Jaudrillard
      Powers of ten are used for representing extremely large and small numbers for eg:the distance of the sun from the centre of the Milky Way galaxy is (approx) 300,000,000,000,000,000,000 meters,using powers of ten we can represent this number as 3*10^20meters,using the same logic we can represent super small quantities using scientific notation too,you can also check out the khan academy scientific notation modules if you want to
      (1 vote)

Video transcript