The Known Universe
The best CGI animation of cosmic scales I have ever seen, produced by the American Museum of Natural History. It actually uses a patchwork of real observational data (the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, Quasar observations and WMAP’s CMB) to construct a continuous ‘zoom-out’ from earth to the cosmic horizon. Amazing. Click HD before watching for full clarity of details.
It strikes you when you can visually ‘see’ how little space a 100 light years or so actually cover (our radio transmissions) and the consequent cosmic isolation we find ourselves into. We can see lots, yes, but we cannot say much, a sort of collective locked-in syndrome, on a cosmic scale.
As I suggested before, I think that this is one of the most significant cultural impacts that the last 20 years of astronomy had on the general public, contributing to our contemporary Zeitgeist: an unprecedented peek into the unfathomable scales of the universe, and the consequent revaluation (often for the worse) of our own earth-dwelling existence.
[And I mean both spatial and temporal scales. One thing that always amazes me is the incredible difference in temporal scales of phenomena in the universe: least massive stars can be around for 10+ billion years, and yet in the more massive ones the process of core-collapse that makes a supernova out of them happens in a matter of fractions of seconds. You could actually be there, hovering in your spacecraft, and witness the sudden destruction of an object that has been there for millions of years.]
Is the long string of ‘astronomically catastrophic’ movies (from Armageddon to Deep Impact, from Knowing to 2012) in the last 10 years a coincidence? I don’t think so. And, on a different level, I do believe that this had an impact on philosophy as well, and in fact I think that this Zeitgeist was one of the main (but surely not the only one) conditions of possibility for the emergence of something like speculative realism.
EDIT – I just discovered that Phil Plait (the bad astronomer) blogged about this video some days ago, and today he added some details on it, including a link to the webpage of the AMNH that created it and an atlas of the universe to be downloaded from their website. (I am doing it now, it sounds like a cool program).In the AMNH we read:
“I liken the Digital Universe to the invention of the globe,” says Curator Ben R. Oppenheimer, an astrophysicist at the Museum. “When Mercator invented the globe, everyone wanted one. He had back orders for years. It gave everyone a new perspective on where they live in relation to others, and we hope that the Digital Universe does the same on a grander, cosmic scale.”
Funnily enough, I myself learnt about this video this morning from Ray Kurtzweil’s tweets. The Internet is a small place sometimes.