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Suppose aliens land on our planet and want to learn our current scientific knowledge. I would start with the 40-year-old documentary Powers of Ten. Granted, it’s a bit out of date, but this short film, written and directed by the famous designer couple Charles and Ray Eames, captures in less than 10 minutes a comprehensive view of the cosmos.

The script is simple and elegant. When the film begins, we see a couple picnicking in a Chicago park. Then the camera zooms out. Every 10 seconds the field of vision gains a power of 10 — from 10 meters across, to 100, to 1,000 and onward. Slowly the big picture reveals itself to us. We see the city, the continent, Earth, the solar system, neighboring stars, the Milky Way, all the way to the largest structures of the universe. Then in the second half of the film, the camera zooms in and delves into the smallest structures, uncovering more and more microscopic details. We travel into a human hand and discover cells, the double helix of the DNA molecule, atoms, nuclei and finally the elementary quarks vibrating inside a proton.

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Category: Science