Cosmic zooms


Cosmic Zoom was a short animated film by made by Eva Szasz in 1968 for the National Film Board of Canada.

This film probes the infinite magnitude of space, and its reverse, the ultimate minuteness of matter. Animation art and animation camera achieve this journey to the farthest conceivable point of the universe and then into the tiniest particle of existence—an atom of a living human cell—with a freshness and clarity that would seem impossible with other means of exposition. Film without words.

The film zooms out from a boy rowing a boat across a lake, into the farthest reaches of space, then back down to earth again to focus on a mosquito on the boy’s arm, then further down into cells and atoms.

A similar film called Powers of Ten (from which the still above is borrowed) was made in 1977 by Charles and Ray Eames. The Eames’ film is a lot more detailed and with a running commentary full of scientific information. You can see it on YouTube here.

The ultimate Eamesian expression of systems and connections, Powers of Ten explores the relative size of things from the microscopic to the cosmic. The 1977 film travels from an aerial view of a man in a Chicago park to the outer limits of the universe directly above him and back down into the microscopic world contained in the man’s hand. Powers of Ten illustrates the universe as an arena of both continuity and change, of everyday picnics and cosmic mystery. The film also demonstrates the Eameses’ ability to make science both fascinating and accessible.

Just to show the persistence of a fascinating idea, there’s a nice java animation here.

View the Milky Way at 10 million light years from the Earth. Then move through space towards the Earth in successive orders of magnitude until you reach a tall oak tree just outside the buildings of the National High Magnetic Field Laboratory in Tallahassee, Florida. After that, begin to move from the actual size of a leaf into a microscopic world that reveals leaf cell walls, the cell nucleus, chromatin, DNA and finally, into the subatomic universe of electrons and protons.