"Bet you feel small, it happens to us all"*

Posted by Katie L. Carroll on February 28, 2009 in Nature, Technology, Travel, Writing |

My post on the Higgs boson or God particle discussed things that are really small, so here’s some thoughts that take you to somewhere really big. These big thoughts made me feel really small and certainly gave me a totally new perspective.

A couple of years ago, I was in NYC for a writing conference. My husband came with me and we went down a day early to check out the city. We decided to visit the American Museum of Natural History. Neither of us had been there since we were kids. Actually, it was a lot more fun to go as adults. We could look at whatever we wanted (and skip anything we didn’t feel like looking at), we didn’t have to fill out any kind of worksheets or anything, and no chaperones.

There was one particular exhibit that really blew my mind, one I still think about today. The Scales of the Universe looks pretty flashy with the giant model planets that hang from the ceiling and the enormous Hayden Sphere, but the meat-and-bones of the exhibit is based on a simple power of ten scale.

The exhibits walkway starts by showing you the very small (yup, I’m talking about those good old microparticles), and each step takes you to something a little larger, and in comparison you get a little smaller, and smaller, and smaller, and smaller…And as you meander around the walkway, you learn how insignificant your life really is.

The coolest things is how the exhibit uses reference points that are easy to understand. That’s where the models and the Hayden Sphere (which in relative size to the model planets represents the sun) come into play. One step might show you a tiny speck and explain that if the Hayden Sphere were (I’m totally making up this comparison; the museum website shows you real ones) say your head, this speck might be how big a single skin cell is.

That’s how the exhibit does just what it says: it uses the large spheres and smaller models to scale the universe and its parts into a size that is comprehendible. Well, sort of. By the end of the walkway our own universe is so small in comparison to the object to which it’s being compared that you’re not even a speck within a speck within a speck…Whoa! Totally mind (well you know!).

I try to remember this scale when nine months after sending out my baby, my heart and soul on paper (a.k.a. my manuscript), I receive a brief note from an editor saying that she like my manuscript but it wasn’t right for her list. It’s all about keeping things in perspective…at least that’s what I keep telling myself!

*The Moody Blues

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