Scale is a simple concept. From a very early age, children know about big and small, heavy and light, more and less. Extreme scales, however, are another story. Try to imagine, for example, the size of the universe… or $1 trillion made up entirely of dollar bills. Exactly. Grasping the actual quantities involved in extreme scales can be difficult, which makes managing scale in visualizations an interesting problem. Below are 12 visualizations that try to show things at extreme scales. 1. The classic visualization describing change of scale is the Powers of Ten video by Charles and Ray Eames. 2. A newer version of a very similar visualization is The Scale of the Universe by Cary and Michael Huang. This version has an interactive slider and lets you scroll through the zoom levels yourself. 3. Scale by Brad Godspeed focuses on the scale of objects in our solar system. 4. The Known Universe expands even further out, showing real data for known objects in our universe. 5. Here on Earth, there are still massive distances to quantify. Tallest Mountain to Deepest Ocean Trench by Karl Tate shows the full range of elevations that humans can get to. To help emphasize the range, the height of the infographic is to scale, accurately portraying relative differences between each elevation. 6. Extremely tiny sizes are also hard to grasp. The beginning of Molecular Visualizations of DNA by Drew Berry does a great job of showing the minuteness of DNA wrapped up into chromosomes. 7. Physical size is not the only quantity that can be hard to conceptualize because of huge scales. Aside from the eye-watering color selection, History of the Earth does a good job of showing the geologic time periods that our planet has gone through from the Cambrian period onward. 8. For even more extreme time scales, Big Bang shows both the time scale and the temperature of the universe as it expanded. 9. Computers have also gone through extreme scale changes in terms of what they can process and store. Global Internet Traffic addresses some of these scale changes. Infographic originally published on Mashable.com. 10. xkcd’s creator, Randall Munroe seems to enjoy visualizations of scale. Gravity Wells shows the scale of gravity on different planets. 11. After the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, Munroe created the Radiation Dose Chart to show quantity of a completely intangible substance, radiation. 12. Prompted by all the recent economic turmoil, Munroe visualized some of the quantities involved in Money. Both of these charts use a cool technique where the units in each section are defined using the units in the previous section. This produces a logarithmic scale, and it gives a good frame of reference for how huge these values actually are. Humans all fit within a small range of sizes, weights, and lifespans, and the quantities we deal with typically fit in small ranges as well. But, as our understanding of the world around us grows, and our society becomes larger, we encounter increasingly extreme quantities. Thankfully, visualization will always be there to help us grasp these extremes! Drew Skau is a PhD Computer Science Visualization student at UNCC, with an undergraduate degree in Architecture.
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