- Understand the concept of orders of magnitude
- Compare length scales of various orders, from the smallest to the largest scale
Game Magnitude Scales Distances Power size length
To understand the very diverse scales in Nature —from the smallest meaningful length (Plank’s length) to the size of the observable Universe, let’s familiarize ourselves with orders of magnitude or powers of 10! In this activity, students play a game of cards to achieve this goal and marvel at the range of lengths of objects in our universe!
Powers of 10 are a useful mathematical tool to comprehend the scale of our Universe.
The smallest measure of length with any meaning is the Plank’s length 0.00000000000000000000000000000000001 m.
Using powers of 10, we can also write this as 1 × 10 -35 m or simply 10 -35m. 10 is called the base number and 35 is called the ‘exponent’ On the larger end of the scale is the co-moving size of observable space itself, 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 m. We can write this as 1 × 10 26 m. We can represent any number using powers of 10 or orders of magnitude. Scientists prefer this scientific notation to write down values of numbers. For example 4500 m can be written as 4.5 × 10 3 m and 0.045 can be written as 45 x 10 -3.
This game is based on Wikipedia’s article on ‘Orders of magnitude (length)’.
This activity comes with a card game which need to be printed.
The card game is made of four sets corresponding to different levels that don’t need to be used all together or in sequence and can be used individually, being of different difficulty levels.
Tips for printing: You can find the cards to be printed in A5 format back to front (attached file AstroEDU_2203_Powersof10_CardsA5.pdf).
For educators without access to a printer that prints A5 back to front, use the file AstroEDU_2203_Powersof10_CardsA4.pdf to print on regular A4 paper and fold the paper back to front.
We also recommend laminating the cards.
You can also allow students to use the internet for research if available.
Depending on the class in which this activity is used (mathematics, physics, etc.), students submit 1 or 2 questions for a Kahoot quiz: https://getkahoot.com/ The quiz is then conducted with the whole class.
Some example questions:
Create a set of cards of progressing orders of magnitude of energy or time. Specify a range to simplify the task. (Understanding by Design task)
This activity can be used in multiple contexts. It can be used to improve understanding of exponentials in a math class or it can be used to reinforce the idea of the scales of Nature in a physics class.
The concept or progressing orders of magnitude can be extended to various physical quantities like energy, frequency of light, frequency of sound, temperature, power, etc.
Powers of Ten™ (1977) video by Ray and Eames. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0fKBhvDjuy0
Introduction to Powers of Ten by Khan Academy https://www.khanacademy.org/math/cc-fifth-grade-math/cc-5th-place-value-decimals-top/cc-5th-intro-powers-of-ten/v/powers-of-10
Scale of the universe app http://htwins.net/scale2/