Guided Exploration: Scales of the Universe

Part of Hall of the Universe.


Scales Tour Map

Overview: The Scales walkway compares the relative sizes of objects, from galaxies to atoms using the central sphere as reference. As you walk along the Scales, you’ll be zooming in on ever-smaller objects in our universe, and grappling with the vast range of distances and sizes by comparing models to the giant Hayden sphere.

Introduction to Scales

1. Size Scale Measures Panel

Examine the graphic. To measure your height, what units would you use? How about the distance to another city? Distance between planets? Between stars and galaxies?

Galactic Scale

2. 1020 Panel & Models

Explore four galaxies: the Milky Way, Messier 87, Messier 101, and NGC 1365. What units do scientists use to mea­sure their size? How does the size and shape of our Milky Way Galaxy compare with the others?

3. 1018, 1016, 1013, and 1010 Panels & Models

At each stop, use the Sphere as a reference to explore the rela­tive sizes and scales of certain cosmic objects. Each stop zooms in on smaller objects: the Milky Way (100,000 ly across), globular star cluster Messier 80 (200 ly), Oort Cloud (100,000 AU or 1.6 ly), Kuiper Belt (200 AU), star Rigel (70 million km or 0.5 AU).

Stellar Scale

4. 109 Panel & Models

Stars come in different sizes. Look at the Hayden Sphere, which represents the star Rigel, and the four models above, which (clockwise from top left) represent the stars Alpha Centauri, Sirius, Vega, the Sun. Compare and contrast their sizes. How does the size of our Sun compare?

Planetary Scale

5. 107 Panel & Models

Here, the Sphere represents the Sun. Look at the planet models immediately above the panel (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars) and to those higher up (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune). Compare the diameters. Then explore the “Where’s Pluto?” panel and find out why Pluto is now designated a dwarf planet.

Biological & Atomic Scales

6. 101, 10-1, 10-3, 10-6, 10-10, and 10-15 Panels & Models

At each stop, use the Hayden Sphere as a reference to explore the relative sizes and scales of different objects: the Hayden Sphere, the human brain, raindrop, red blood cell, rhinovirus, hydrogen atom, and proton.