Powers of Ten

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Powers of Ten is a 1968 American documentary short film written and directed by Ray Eames and her husband, Charles Eames, rereleased in 1977.[1] The film depicts the relative scale of the Universe in factors of ten (see also logarithmic scale and order of magnitude). The film is an adaptation of the 1957 book Cosmic View by Kees Boeke, and more recently is the basis of a new book version. Both adaptations, film and book, follow the form of the Boeke original, adding color and photography to the black and white drawings employed by Boeke in his seminal work.

In 1998, "Powers of Ten" was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant".


Narrative summary

The film begins with a view of a man and woman picnicking next to Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, in between Soldier Field and Burnham Harbor. The view settles on an one-meter-square overhead image of the man reclining on a blanket. The viewpoint, accompanied by expository voiceover by Philip Morrison, then slowly zooms out to a view ten meters across (or 101 m in scientific notation). The zoom-out continues (at a rate of one power of ten per 10 seconds), to a view of 100 meters (102 m), then 1 kilometer (103 m), and so on, increasing the perspective—the picnic is revealed to be taking place in Burnham Park, near Soldier Field on Chicago's lakefront—and continuing to zoom out to a field of view of 1024 meters, or the size of the observable universe. The camera then zooms back in at a rate of a power of ten per 2 seconds to the picnic, and then slows back down to its original rate into the man's hand, to views of negative powers of ten—10−1 m (10 centimeters), and so forth—until the camera comes to quarks in a proton of a carbon atom at 10−16 meter.

Errors, omissions, and commentary

There are some errors that occur at various points in the film. For instance, what is shown as one square meter is actually somewhat more than that at times. When zooming out, the 107 m rectangle fits snugly around the Earth, but in reality the planet is somewhat bigger (when zooming back in, Earth's size is shown with even greater inaccuracy).

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