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The Known Universe
December 19, 2009 1:29 AM   Subscribe

The Known Universe takes viewers from the Himalayas through our atmosphere and the inky black of space to the afterglow of the Big Bang. Every star, planet, and quasar seen in the film is possible because of the world's most complete four-dimensional map of the universe, the Digital Universe Atlas that is maintained and updated by astrophysicists at the American Museum of Natural History. The new film, created by the Museum, is part of an exhibition, Visions of the Cosmos: From the Milky Ocean to an Evolving Universe, at the Rubin Museum of Art in Manhattan through May 2010.
posted by srboisvert (46 comments total) 67 users marked this as a favorite

 
That was beautiful.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:50 AM on December 19, 2009


mindblowing
posted by exlotuseater at 1:52 AM on December 19, 2009


That was awesome, in the original sense of the word. Now that I feel properly insignificant, time to go to bed.
posted by potch at 1:53 AM on December 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


I always love these depictions of the universe; it makes me feel like I belong to it.

The cosmos is also within us; we're made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself.
posted by bwg at 2:11 AM on December 19, 2009


I like the way this it Tibet-based, the same way Powers of Ten is Chicago-based.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:34 AM on December 19, 2009


Pretty great. I would have liked to have seen our sister planet along side us, though.

Hm. Does such a "fly-by" video exist that would be a romp through our nearest stellar companions?
posted by maxwelton at 2:56 AM on December 19, 2009


Also: Logarithmic Maps of the Universe
posted by Slithy_Tove at 3:00 AM on December 19, 2009


Humbling. Genuinely the best of the web.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 3:26 AM on December 19, 2009


The software used is UniView - the planetarium near me I sometimes help out at uses it and it's remarkable - this is the sort of thing you can not only have prescripted but do on-the-fly. It's a great bit of kit, and used by a lot of planetaria now.
posted by edd at 3:32 AM on December 19, 2009


This makes even Hugh Hefner's Twitter account seem insignificant.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 3:45 AM on December 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


Beautifully done, and particularly amazing to see it zoom back in, switching wonderment at the hugeness of it all with dizziness at how tiny our world is.

At one point as it was zooming back into the Milky Way, I felt a sudden pang of fear as I realised that our Sun was somewhere in that vast field of stars, and I couldn't find it.
posted by lucidium at 3:46 AM on December 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


I liked how this video took you out past the point of scale comprehension as so many of these things do, but then reversed and brought you right back to the starting point. That return journey was in a way reassuring. But goddamn we are small.
posted by nudar at 3:53 AM on December 19, 2009


I was surprised how short a distance radio signals had traveled. I always assumed many planets had received them and as such the lack of a return signal was an ominous indication of the lack of other life in the universe. Boy, that was dumb.
posted by digsrus at 4:07 AM on December 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


The Rubin Museum specializes in the art of the Himalayas; this is presumably why the movie starts in Tibet. It's one of the overlooked jewels of New York City and well worth a visit for NYC-area mefites (I used to go a lot on Friday evenings as it's free and open late). Here's their accompanying exhibit.
posted by tractorfeed at 4:37 AM on December 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


...just in case anyone happened to be feeling in any way significant!
posted by TigerMoth at 5:24 AM on December 19, 2009


Hey, is that a piece of fairy cake?
posted by anazgnos at 5:50 AM on December 19, 2009 [5 favorites]


Jesus.

That's the most mind-blowing thing I've seen in ages. I was sitting there watching it, and I realised that all of that stuff is out there, and I'm just this tiny little dot on a tiny little dot spinning around another tiny little dot with is part of a group of other tiny little dots. It's all going on right now. Watching the Milky Way appear back into focus gave me the shivers.

Two questions, though: why are there empty areas we have to map and what is a "cosmic horizon"?
posted by Solomon at 6:02 AM on December 19, 2009


The empty areas are ones we basically haven't looked at. We're working on mapping more, but it takes a lot of time on big telescopes. Spectroscopic surveys are especially time consuming and with those we also have to be a bit choosy about which objects to 'map'.
Also there's a 'zone of avoidance' -it's hard to look out along the plane of the galaxy due to dust so most extragalactic surveying goes up or down from the galactic plane (to see how thick dust can be in a galactic plane check out a Hubble image of the Sombrero Galaxy).
The cosmic horizon is how far light can come since the start of the universe. In practice we see a little less than that (to the CMB) as the universe is essentially opaque early on. The point where the universe becomes transparent is that outer surface in the video (the surface of last scattering where the CMB comes from).
posted by edd at 6:28 AM on December 19, 2009 [6 favorites]


Wait. Why didn't they map the epicycles?
posted by el_lupino at 7:44 AM on December 19, 2009


They'll NEVER see us coming!
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 8:18 AM on December 19, 2009


i have a question.

Why do we only see quasars really far away? I realize that they were all formed in the early universe, but if they did, then I'd expect to still also see them now. What happened to them ?
posted by empath at 8:18 AM on December 19, 2009


A big ball of wibbly wobbly timey wimey stuff! I knew it.
posted by greenland at 8:24 AM on December 19, 2009


The short answer is that quasars require both a big black hole and a large supply of cold gas to fuel them. In the very early universe, big black holes were rare and there were no quasars; while today we have the big black holes, but there is much less gas around, so they generally aren't very luminous.

There are a few relatively local quasars, but they don't put out nearly as much energy as the ones we see at the quasar peak 10-12 billion years ago.

That said, plenty (up to 25-50%) of big black holes in the local Universe are the centers of luminous regions (look up 'active galactic nuclei') - basically very low-luminosity versions of quasars - retired quasars, pretty much. Even the relatively wimpy black hole at our galaxy's center does shine a bit and was first discovered by its radio-wave emission.
posted by janewman at 8:37 AM on December 19, 2009 [3 favorites]


Awesome. I've been looking for something almost exactly like this to show to my students on the first day of introductory philosophy classes. You know, perspective and all that.
posted by joe lisboa at 9:26 AM on December 19, 2009


janewman: Even the relatively wimpy black hole at our galaxy's center does shine a bit

Great, just when I've gotten used to living on a third rate planet orbiting a fifth rate star in a rural backwater of the galaxy, I'm reminded that said galaxy possesses a wimpy black hole.

And what's worse, it makes up for this shortcoming by eating other galaxies. No doubt that's why Andromeda is on its way to kick the Milky Way's ass.
posted by localroger at 10:01 AM on December 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Awesome. I wouldn't have minded seeing it end with the camera shot slowly pulling out of the pupil of the eye of a monk in the Himalayas meditating. To get that full circle macro/micro thang.
posted by Liquidwolf at 10:30 AM on December 19, 2009 [2 favorites]


my mind <== re-blown
posted by porpoise at 10:52 AM on December 19, 2009


Thanks for posting this.
posted by OrangeSoda at 10:57 AM on December 19, 2009


My favorite is where they show how far out our first Radio signals have travelled. So cool.
posted by OrangeSoda at 11:03 AM on December 19, 2009


We have these god-like views of the earth and the universe without god-like powers to affect them. Or god-like powers to understand them.
posted by Faze at 11:14 AM on December 19, 2009


That was totally 'shopped. I can tell by the pixels.

Seriously though that was really cool. Can someone explain why the sections of galaxies that are unmapped are unmapped. What blocks the view?

For some reason this just made me realize that in all likelihood my current love of synthesizer space music, IDM, glitch, and trip hop stems from a childhood spent in museums and planetariums. I do so love science exhibit music.
posted by Babblesort at 11:36 AM on December 19, 2009


Babblesort: Dust from the plane of the Milky Way galaxy blocks the view.
posted by Lobster Garden at 12:35 PM on December 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Or, what edd said.
posted by Lobster Garden at 1:05 PM on December 19, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ahh. Missed edd's contribution until you pointed it out. Thanks to both of you for the insight.
posted by Babblesort at 1:11 PM on December 19, 2009


I found it odd that they left out the moon from a clip designed to show scale. The moon is only about twenty times further from earth than Australia is from the USA. Think about that.

Does anyone know if the music in the clip is by Constance Demby?
posted by autodidact at 2:18 PM on December 19, 2009


I got what Iain M. Banks refers to as "Swim" in The Algebraist:

“Swim” said Fassin. “You know; when your head kind of seems to swim because you suddenly think: “Hey, I’m a human being, but I’m twenty thousand light years from home and we’re all living in the midst of mad aliens and super weapons and the whole bizarre insane swirl of galactic history and politics! That; isn’t that weird?”
posted by signal at 2:23 PM on December 19, 2009


that

was

AWESOME
posted by moorooka at 3:41 PM on December 19, 2009


I prefer Powers of Ten. It may not be as current as this, but at least it isn't nauseatingly spinny for no good reason.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:33 PM on December 19, 2009


I found it odd that they left out the moon from a clip designed to show scale.

They didn't leave out the moon. Its path was shown briefly just before the paths of the planets. It was also shown on the return but not labeled.
posted by odinsdream at 6:16 PM on December 19, 2009


Yeah I saw that but they should have swept the camera past it.
posted by autodidact at 7:01 PM on December 19, 2009


I'm hosting a sleepover for 12 year old boys this weekend, and I think showing them that was they only time they collectively drew breath.
Of course now I'm having to explain metafilter.

Awesome post, SB
posted by Wilder at 1:21 AM on December 20, 2009


Great technically - but for the story for me it whips out to billions of LY too fast, not conveying the space much except in subtitles.
posted by uni verse at 11:07 AM on December 20, 2009


I prefer Powers of Ten. It may not be as current as this, but at least it isn't nauseatingly spinny for no good reason.

It is for a good reason. Powers of Ten was about optical technology; how much can we vizualize? This is about theoretical physics; how much can we imagine?

Spinny stuff represents the element of time.
posted by ovvl at 4:20 PM on December 20, 2009


And we are annoyed that our sister galaxy Andromeda didn't get a shout-out.

Some factions are annoyed that the satellites weren't mentioned on the trip back home.
posted by ovvl at 4:21 PM on December 20, 2009


Great link!

And to spread the goodness, a cool video on the relative size of planets and stars.
posted by storybored at 8:06 PM on December 20, 2009


I found it odd that they left out the moon from a clip designed to show scale.
Previously here: The earth and the moon the scale, Deep Impact images the moon transiting the earth, some doofus ruminates on the (un)likelihood of this alignment. They were right not artificially include any other planets in the foreground.

Tonight there was a young crescent moon at dusk. I pointed it out to my son, who's nearly two, and he looked at it for a long time. (Then he started talking about cows, since cows more or less say "moon.") When we came out a few minutes later the dusk was deeper and there was a new light next to the moon: Jupiter. "What's that?" I asked him. "Was that there before?" "No," he murmured. He stared until we came inside.

How much does he understand? He is very small. I am not much bigger.
posted by fantabulous timewaster at 8:57 PM on December 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


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