Our Smallness and the Cosmic Scale: How Big the Universe Is Relative To Us, Animated

A humbling celestial reflection on what enlarges the minuteness of human life with meaning against the vast backdrop of the universe.


At the end of the nineteenth century, well before women could vote, a team of female astronomers at the Harvard College Observatory known as the Harvard Computers made calculations and discoveries that became the basis for Edwin Hubble’s eponymous law demonstrating that the universe is expanding — one of the most revolutionary scientific breakthroughs in human history.

But this begot the inevitable questions of what the universe is expanding into, how big it really is, and whether it is infinite or finite.

More than half a century after Hubble formulated his law, NASA named an enormous, ambitious telescope after him and launched it into space to probe these mysteries of the cosmos. What the Hubble Space Telescope found, and how it illuminates the size of the universe relative to us, is what Alex Hofeldt explores in this wonderful animation from TED-Ed and animator Tom Matuszewski:

Complement with these five visualizations to grasp the scale of the cosmos, Nobel laureate Steven Weinberg on the unity of the universe, and physicist Sean Carroll on what gives our lives meaning against our seeming smallness, then revisit other terrific TED-Ed animated inquiries into how you know you exist, what makes you you, how melancholy enhances creativity, why some people are left-handed, what depression actually feels like, and why playing music benefits your brain more than any other activity.


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