We live in a universe which is so vast, it is difficult to imagine the relative size of the objects which it contains. A new model of the universe, created by UK author Wyken Seagrave, aims to help everyone put these things into perspective.
How can the average person grasp the relative size of the largest structures in the universe such as galaxies, clusters of galaxies and voids? This is the problem which Wyken Seagrave has addressed with his new model of the universe.
In the “Penny System” (website http://pennysystem.co.uk), the whole Solar System is scaled down to the size of a penny (or any other coin 2 centimetres across). With this interactive system, anyone who uses the website www.pennysystem.co.uk can position models of universal objects at any place on the map of the Earth. These objects include an average galaxy, the Milky Way, a cluster of galaxies and a void (space between clusters of galaxies).
The website also allows visitors to see relatively small objects, such as a light-year or the distance to the nearest star. In addition, it shows the size of objects which would be larger than Earth on this scale, such as large voids and the size of the observable universe. For example, it contains a diagram showing that the distance to the furthest things we can ever observe in the universe would be about 1.5 times as far away as the Moon from the Earth in the Penny System.
This site is the latest addition to an arsenal of tools which Wyken Seagrave has produced during the past 20 years to help people understand where we come from, what are the major problems facing the world today, and what the lessons of history teach us about the future.
Why has Wyken Seagrave devoted so much time and effort to writing about the history of the universe?
“There are two main reasons: spiritual and practical.
“I think it is spiritually uplifting to know something about the incredibly beautiful secrets which science has revealed about where we came from and how the world works. I agree with Richard Feynman that to understand how a flower works does not reduce the flower to the level of a boring machine, but on the contrary, it makes the flower appear even more beautiful. But more than that, I think that to understand how the flower or a butterfly or a stone got here, how we are similar to it, and in what ways we are different from it, gives us a new perspective not just on the flower but on ourselves.
“And I also think that, to cope with modern life and make decisions about the future, it is important for the average person to have a little familiarity with a wide range of basic science, from climate change to chemistry, from genetics to geology. The history of the universe delivers this understanding, showing us the links between the branches of science, and giving them structure and meaning.
“I want to provide different ways into this incredible story, both for those already interested in science and for those who have no interest at all. So I have created both factual and fictional versions of the story, and added interactive tools to let people explore for themselves.”
The tools which Wyken has created include
- The “History of the Universe” website and ebook
- An interactive model of the Solar System
- Soccearth, a model of the smallest objects in the universe
- Time Crystal, a fictional version of the history of the universe
- Enuma Elish, a video telling the story
- Citizen of the Universe, where people can earn free badges
More information on these is given by following the links on the right.
And Wyken is not alone in believing that a broad overview of history is important. There is a world-wide movement called “Big History”, supported by the Gates foundation, which is developing and promoting school courses based on this idea.
“I am very happy to see that others are beginning to promote the study of this subject,” Wyken says. “My version of the history of the universe is more based in science than Big History, which tends to give more emphasis to human history, but our aims are similar and I have great hopes that eventually more people will see the benefit of becoming more familiar with this incredible story.”