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The Most Brilliant Science Graphic I Have Ever Seen January 5, 2012

Posted by mwidlake in biology, Perceptions.
Tags: ,

The below link takes you to an absolutely fantastic interactive demonstration of the relative size of everything. Everything. Stop reading this and go look at it, when it finishes loading, move the blue blob at the bottom of the screen left and right.

The Relative_scale_of_everything

The raw web link is:


The web page says scale_of_the_universe but it should be relative_scale_of_everything_in_the_universe. Did you go look at it? NO!?! If it’s because you have seen it before then fair enough – otherwise stop reading this stupid blog and Look At It! NOW! GO ON!!!

Yes, I do think it is good.

I have to thank Neil Chandler for his tweet about this web page which led me to look at it. Neil and I talked about relative sizes of things in the pub towards the end of last year, in one of the Oracle London Beers sessions. I think it was Neil himself who suggested we should convert MB, GB and TB into time to get a real feel for the size of data we are talking about, you know, when we chuck the phrases GB and TB around with abandon. Think of 1KB as a second. A small amount of time for what is now regarded as a small amount of data – This blog so far is around 1.2kb of letters. Given this scale:

1KB = 1 second. About the time it takes to blink 5, possibly 6 times, as fast as you can.
1MB = Just under 17 minutes. Time enough to cook fish fingers and chips from scratch.
1GB = 11 and a half days. 1KB->1GB is 1 second -> 1.5 weeks.
1TB = Just under 32 years. Yes, from birth to old enough to see your first returning computer fad.
1PB = pretty much all of known human history, cave paintings and Egyptian pyramids excepting, as the Phoenicians invented writing about 1150BC ago.

The wonderful thing about the web page this blog is about is that you can scan in and out and see the relative sizes of things, step by step, nice and slowly. Like how small our sun is compared to proper big ones and how the Earth is maybe not quite as small compared to Saturn as you thought. At the other end of the scale, how small a HIV virus is and how it compares to the pits in a CD and the tiniest of transistors on a silicon chip. I’m particularly struck by the size of DNA compared to a human red blood cell, as in how relatively large DNA is. Red blood cells are pretty big cells and yet all human cells (except, ahem, red blood cells) have 3.2 billion letters of DNA in each and every one of them. That’s some packaging, as cells have a lot of other stuff in there too.
{NB, do remember that the zooming in and out is logarithmic and not linear, so things that are close to each other in the graphic are more different than first appears, especially when the image becomes large and in effect covers a wide part of the screen}

Down at the sub-atomic scale there are a fair number of gaps, where one graphic is pretty much off the scale before the next one resolves from a dot to anything discernable, but that is what it’s like down that end of things. Besides. It’s so small it’s hard to “look around” as there is nothing small enough (like, lightwaves went by several orders of magnitude ago) to look around with.

My one criticism? It’s a shame Blue Whale did not make it into the show :-)

I actually had flashbacks looking at this web page. I remember, back in the mid-70′s I think, going to the cinema. Back then, you still had ‘B’ shows, a short film, cartoon or something before the main event. I no longer have a clue what the main event was, but the ‘B’ movie fascinated me. I think it started with a boy fishing next to a pond and it zoomed in to a mosquito on his arm, then into the skin and through the layers of tissue to blood vessels, to a blood cell… you get the idea, eventually to an atom. Some of the “zooming in” where it swapped between real footage was poor but it was 1970 or so and we knew no better. It then quickly zoomed back out to the boy, then to an aerial view of the field, out to birds-eye… satellite-like…the earth… solar system… I think it stopped at milky way. I wish I knew what that documentary was called or how to find it on the web…

{Update, see comments. Someone links to the film. I know I looked for this film a few years back and I did have a quick look again before I posted this message. I did not immediately find it but someone else did, in 10 seconds via Google. Shows how rubbish I am at using web searches…}

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1. Michael Cox - January 5, 2012

B-movies ? You sure you aren’t harking back to the fifties ? Saturday morning cinema on the other hand lasted well into the 70s, organised anarchy, a cinema full of unaccompanied kids, wouldn’t be allowed these days.

I’m sure a little time on google and you could dig out a youtube clip but downside is that you’ll spend hours watching cute cat videos instead !

This reminds me of the chap that did the Oaktable lunch slot about relative timings on various operations. Time for 1 physical read = n network packets = n memory reads = n cpu cycles etc, I dont suppose you remember who it was ?

mwidlake - January 5, 2012

As Neil says, I think it was Graham Wood.

It would probably have been a Saturday when I saw the ‘B’ movie. They were never real movies, I think generally they were half an hour and just an excuse to sell you more pots of ice-cream after it finished…

2. Neil Chandler - January 5, 2012


Nice blog entry – I’m slightly peeved that I didn’t think to blog this too, but I’m not going to top your entry. It’s an amazing science educational tool.

@Michael – wasn’t it Graham Wood who gave that talk? I have an AIX performance pyramid from a tuning course many years ago with the same thing in clock cycles somewhere. I’ll dust it off, prove it and blog it one day. Maybe.


mwidlake - January 5, 2012

I think it can be said I stole horribly from you for this blog post Neil :-)

Pints are due you come Feb.

Michael Cox - January 5, 2012

@Neil yes thats the chap recognised the pic google came up with. I’ve done something similar at customer sites before now but just for a handful of key metrics on the fly and usually on a discarded post-it note. I may follow your lead and do some benchmarking to get some numbers out, will add to my list of blog articles for the blog I’ve never managed to start.

@Martin We used to get cartoons, old flash gordon etc and those childrens film foundation film so probably all relatively short. Sadly never ice cream, we were too poor back then !


3. Vidar Eidissen - January 5, 2012

Great blog!

The comments remind me: I’d really like to see a blogpost (or paper or …) about the relative timings of operations. I’m trying to get a message through to our developers about early filtering, using optimal datatypes and so on, and I need some mental images to get the message through. Feel free to blog or redirect me! :)

4. Peter Moore - January 5, 2012

I remember that too. It’s a 10 sec lookup on Google, if you plug in “mosquito”, “zoom” and “film”!
Cosmic Zoom, 1968, by Eva Szasz and produced by the National Film Board of Canada

mwidlake - January 6, 2012

Thanks for that peter – I looked for it a couple of years back and failed, but I think I was trying to guess it’s name

5. David Harper - January 6, 2012

The film is called “Powers of Ten”:


Like you, I saw it as a kid, and I still remember it vividly. I guess that’s the mark of a great film.

mwidlake - January 6, 2012

Ahh, that is a different one, better done David. Peter’s film is the one I saw – though I remember it being more “real” than drawn, but memory is an odd thing. It seems the original idea was in a book called “cosmic view”?.

David Harper - January 6, 2012

Now that you mention it, I suspect that “Cosmic Zoom” is the film I saw as a kid, and not “Powers of Ten”. It’s interesting that they were both made in 1968.

mwidlake - January 6, 2012

Many great things were made in 1968 (though, as a biologist, I know I was mostly made in 1967 and just grew in 1968 – pity it did not continue after I was born…) :-)

6. David Harper - January 6, 2012

On the subject of powers of ten, I came across an interesting paper a few months ago. It was published in 1997 in Reviews of Modern Physics and its title is “A dying universe: the long-term fate and evolution of astrophysical objects”.

When the authors say “long-term fate”, they aren’t messing about. The paper considers what will happen to the universe on timescales that even astronomers would consider large.

For instance, they note that by a hundred trillion years (that’s 10 to the power 14) after the Big Bang, all of the stars in the universe will have died, and there will be no raw material to form new stars. At this point, the universe will effectively be dark at optical wavelengths. You’ll need a torch to find your way around.

By 10 to the power 19 years, the galaxies themselves will have dissipated, as their constituent stars escape into inter-galactic space.

By 10 to the power 39 years, normal matter as we know it will cease to exist, because all of the protons in the universe will have decayed into electrons and pions.

By 10 to the power 131 years, all of the black holes in the universe will have evaporated.

I told you they weren’t kidding when they said “long-term fate”. To put it in perspective, the universe is currently 14 billion years old, so the party has only just started :-)

mwidlake - January 6, 2012

Things like that do make you think, don’t they…

I think Brian Cox, the “saviour of science on BBC”, spent his first hour in his series on the universe (“Wonders of the Universe”) telling us that as well. I got a bit bored as 90% of the program was spent watching him moodily stare at things or walk around things or pauses for us to go “get on with it!” or watching computer simulated graphics where we were never told what was real or not… :-)

7. jgarry - January 11, 2012
8. Tony Sleight - January 16, 2012

I think the film may have been called ‘powers of 10′. There is a website based on this film called http://www.powersof10.com which is based around the scale of distance as a power of 10. The website is not as dynamic as the one you blog about, nevertheless, I think it is pretty smart.

Tony Sleight - January 16, 2012

My apologies, hadn’t really taken much not of the above replies and someone else had mentioned powers of 10. My sad excuse is I’ve just got back from Falkland Islands and haven’t got my head together properly yet!

mwidlake - January 16, 2012

No problems Tony. I think we can let you off given the jet-lag :-)

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