Sizing Up the Universe

Sizing Up the Universe

Launch Tool

This is an interactive resource from the Smithsonian Institution that uses Google maps to help you develop an understanding of scale by using an address you type in and an object that you selects as a reference point. Using the reference point, you can visualize the distances between objects in our solar system. Then, select a different scale as the program guides you beyond the solar system, beginning with the Milky Way and then on to other galaxies. Videos with more information are embedded into the interactive.

For Educators

Many of the discoveries of physical science can seem incomprehensible to students because they involve phenomena on scales far removed from their experiences. By using familiar objects such as golf balls and basketballs and placing them in familiar contexts, this resource helps to make more comprehensible the vast distances between objects in the universe. According to The Benchmarks for Science Literacy, "The drastically different scales of astronomical and atomic phenomena can be learned only over many years." This resource can be useful to help students develop that understanding. It also might be useful to have students run through the interactive twice, using a different sized object to represent the Earth. Discuss the differences in distance that can be seen on the Google maps when different objects are used.

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