Learn How Scientists Measure the Universe from a Witty Video

Slate's Culture Blog
May 24 2012 12:22 PM

Did You See This? Measuring the Universe

A still from "Measuring the Universe"

The Royal Observatory in Greenwich—home of the International Prime Meridian—has an exhibit on right now called “Measuring the Universe,” celebrating the upcoming Transit of Venus, which will take place in June. (Venus will pass directly between the Earth and the Sun, “appearing as a tiny black dot against the bright solar disk,” and will not do so again for 105 years.)

If you’re not headed to London any time soon, you can at least watch the video below, which explains with wit and verve how scientists are able to measure the distances to things as far away as stars and other galaxies. (I particularly enjoyed the lightbulb that runs away from you on its little tiny legs—thus appearing to get dimmer, and revealing to those who have already calculated its luminosity just how far away it’s gone.)


The video makes an excellent companion to the great interactive educational tool created by the teenage brothers Michael and Cary Huang, “The Scale of the Universe.” If you haven’t checked that out yet, it, too, is highly recommended.

The Scale of the Universe
An image from "The Scale of the Universe"

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.



The World’s Politest Protesters

The Occupy Central demonstrators are courteous. That’s actually what makes them so dangerous.

The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:58 PM The Religious Right Is Not Happy With Republicans  

The Feds Have Declared War on Encryption—and the New Privacy Measures From Apple and Google

The One Fact About Ebola That Should Calm You

It spreads slowly.

These “Dark” Lego Masterpieces Are Delightful and Evocative


Operation Backbone

How White Boy Rick, a legendary Detroit cocaine dealer, helped the FBI uncover brazen police corruption.


Talking White

Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.

Activists Are Trying to Save an Iranian Woman Sentenced to Death for Killing Her Alleged Rapist

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

  News & Politics
Oct. 1 2014 7:26 PM Talking White Black people’s disdain for “proper English” and academic achievement is a myth.
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
Oct. 1 2014 6:02 PM Facebook Relaxes Its “Real Name” Policy; Drag Queens Celebrate
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 5:11 PM Celebrity Feminist Identification Has Reached Peak Meaninglessness
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 9:39 PM Tom Cruise Dies Over and Over Again in This Edge of Tomorrow Supercut
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 6:59 PM EU’s Next Digital Commissioner Thinks Keeping Nude Celeb Photos in the Cloud Is “Stupid”
  Health & Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
Sports Nut
Oct. 1 2014 5:19 PM Bunt-a-Palooza! How bad was the Kansas City Royals’ bunt-all-the-time strategy in the American League wild-card game?