Certain things, because they are beyond our day-to-day experience, can be difficult to imagine. Astronomical distances are like this, and so are time scales beyond a few aeons. A new tool called ChronoZoom wants to help you wrap your brain around billions of years.
Inspired by Roland Saekow’s fascination with “big history” and timelines, and put together by the University of California, Moscow State University, and Microsoft Research, ChronoZoom aims to do for time scales what Google Earth does for geography. By clicking various areas of the time scale, you can zip around history and dip in and out of various multimedia presentations. For example, there’s material on the Big Bang, a section on the planets and the stars, and the origins of the modern world. The tool shows the relative difference between the age of the cosmos, Earth, life on Earth, human prehistory, and humanity.
Be warned that you’ll need a thoroughly modern web browser to access the tool, and a decent bit of RAM in your computer. Navigating the interface is a bit tricky at first, especially if you’re trying to find the tiny slivers of time humanity has been around when still at the cosmological level. Once you get the hang of it though, you’ll have a lot of fun exploring.