Powers of Ten



Powers of Ten is a 1977 short documentary film written and directed by Charles Eames and his wife, Ray. The film depicts the relative scale of the Universe in factors of ten (see also logarithmic scale and order of magnitude). The idea for the film appears to have come from the 1957 book Cosmic View by Kees Boeke.

The film begins with an aerial image of a man reclining on a blanket; the view is that of one metre across. The viewpoint, accompanied by expository voiceover, then slowly zooms out to a view ten metres across ( or 101 m in standard form), revealing that the man is picnicking in a park with a female companion. The zoom-out continues, to a view of 100 metres (102 m), then 1 kilometre (103 m), and so on, increasing the perspective—the picnic is revealed to be taking place near Soldier Field on Chicago's waterfront—and continuing to zoom out to a field of view of 1024 metres, or the size of the observable universe. The camera then zooms back in to the picnic, and then to views of negative powers of ten—10-1 m (10 centimetres), and so forth, until we are viewing a carbon nucleus inside the man's hand at a range of 10-18 metre.

The film has been deemed "culturally significant" by the United States Library of Congress and was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry in 1998.

There are some errors that occur at various points in the film. For instance, what is shown as one square metre is actually somewhat more than that at times. When zooming out, the 107 m rectangle fits snugly around the Earth, but the Earth should really be somewhat bigger (when zooming back in, it is shown correctly.)

The film is also limited to what was known at the time of its production: Quarks are mentioned merely as a question, even though the concept had been accepted by much of the scientific community for approximately a decade at the time.

An interesting aspect mentioned by Robbert Dijkgraaf is that when one zooms out into the universe the scene viewed goes back in time (as a result of the visual delay of light travelling over great distances) and thus the farthest image of the whole universe, is really one of the universe at the "time" of the Big Bang, when it was infinitely small. In this sense, the two extremes of size come together.

There is also a 1982 book of the same title, by Philip Morrison and Phylis Morrison (Philip narrated the film). It contains a sequence of pictures starting with the universe and moving in powers of ten down to subatomic sizes.

There are similar films called:

* Cosmic Zoom (1968) which was based on an essay called Cosmic View.
* Simply Atomic (1972) based upon an outre comic fanzine.
* Cosmic Voyage (1996) an IMAX film.

The film has inspired a science exhibit at the California Academy of Sciences, which was shown from June 1, 2002 to January 5, 2003.

The opening of the film Contact is a Powers of Ten style montage that takes the viewer from Earth to the edge of the universe before ultimately resolving into the pupil of the main character's eye.

The opening scene was spoofed in the Simpsons episode, "The Ziff Who Came to Dinner" (going from 1026 to 10-18 to Homer's head).

For their Twisted Logic Tour in 2005 and 2006, the band Coldplay used Powers of Ten as the backdrop for their performance of The Scientist.

In May of 2006 at E3 and earlier at the 2005 GDCe, Will Wright mentioned that his most recent game title at that time, Spore, was partially inspired by Powers of Ten.

To illustrate the details of the fictional universe Tryslmaistan (setting for the webcomic Unicorn Jelly), author and artist Jennifer Diane Reitz used a variant on the concept.

At the ending of Men in Black, the camera pulls out showing that the universe is one of many marbles in an alien's bag, an intergalactic spoof of this.

Musician Shawn Lane has an album entitled "Powers of Ten".Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with no Front-Cover Texts, and with no Back-Cover Texts.
Virtual Magic is a human knowledge database blog. Text Based On Information From Wikipedia, Under The GNU Free Documentation License. Copyright (c) 2007 Virtual Magic. Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, no Front-Cover Texts and no Back-Cover Texts. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled "GNU Free Documentation License".

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