This Video Puts Time in Perspective by Comparing Time Scales

Anybody who’s read a Brian Greene book or watched a brain-breaking episode of Futurama knows time and space are intertwined. Using this physical fact, animator and YouTuber MetaBallStudios (or MBS) created a comparison of different time measurements. A physical block that takes up a certain amount of space represents each measurement of time. Or, in the case of the age of the universe at its own demise, literally all of it.

MBS recently posted the comparison of time measurements to his YouTube channel. The Spanish animator says in the video’s description that “Time can be difficult to understand,” and that this comparison is an attempt to develop a sense of its scale.

To morph time scales into boxes, MBS translates seconds into cubes that are a millimeter long on each side. Although at the very tiny end of the time scales, even those small cubes are far too large. For example, MBS shows that the time it takes for a neuron to fire is only one millisecond, and therefore its cube is only one one-thousandth the size of the one-second cube.

Blocks illustrating different measurements of time for comparison


After showing a bunch of sub-second time scales—where bacteria, and eventually even subatomic particles, live and die—MBS then goes the other direction. And for a while, the time scales’ cubes are of reasonable sizes; sizes that are easy to grasp. The entire age of the universe only requires a time cube roughly a third of a mile across on each side. And even the estimated lifespan of a red dwarf star is comprehensible as a cube with 200 mile long sides.

Longer time scales, however, quickly enter into the realm of incomprehensibility. Roughly midway through the video, MBS shows a cube that represents the time it’ll take for a black hole with 66 solar masses to dissipate completely. And it’s far larger than the observable universe. The final cube, however, dwarfs that one by a (billion? trillion? zillion?) miles. It represents the amount of time it would take for quantum tunneling events to result in new Big Bangs. And we’d love to tell you how huge that cube is, but there’s simply not enough time in space.

Top Stories
More by Matthew Hart
Trending Topics