The Big Bang – An Eyewitness Account

What did the Big Bang actually look like? Join astrophysicist Peter Laursen and his travel companion ‘Alice’ as they explore the beginnings of the Universe right up to the present day.

Gif: Catherine Jex

Date Completed: 2018

The Brief: Distill a large table of data describing various parameters of the Universe since the Big Bang into an understandable format for a non-expert audience.

Key Features: Affinity Designer . Tumult Hype . GitHub

Client: ScienceNordic . Forskerzonen

Media Type: Online news . Magazine

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This interactive graphic accompanied an article for the online media outlets, Forskerzonen and ScienceNordic. Here is the version that appeared on Forskerzonen:

 

Concept

In the article, readers follow Alice, an imaginary time traveller who witnesses the entire history of the Universe. Alice starts her journey from the initial dense nano seconds immediately after the Big Bang, when the entirety of today’s observable Universe was smaller than an atomic nucleus, and travels right up to the present day.

Throughout the article, Peter describes the sights and sensations Alice would have experienced as the Universe careered towards the present day.

A key part of the story was a complex table of data, viewable here and below:

 

The table contains various parameters that describe what Alice witnesses during her travels, such as changes in temperature, density, radius of today’s observable universe, and even the ‘colour’ of the universe. The Universe ‘colour’ describes the spectrum of light emitted by the Universe at various times during its history, from the sapphire-blue of the hot quark-gluon plasma soup when the Universe was just 1/100 of a millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second old, right up to the present day. And it was a key feature of the table that the author wanted to convey to the audience, somehow.

My challenge was to use as much of the information from the table as possible and present it to the readers in a simple, but interesting and useable way.

The result:

The final graphic is designed in the style of a space ship. Alice’s space ship to be precise, which the reader controls. I produced two versions: one for Forskerzonen (above), and this one (below) for ScienceNordic:

Interactive: Click to explore the colour of the Universe from the Big Bang to today. If viewing on a phone you may wish to rotate your screen and enlarge to view. Alternatively click to view in a new browser tab, and rotate your phone to view in full screen. (Graphic: Catherine Jex / ScienceNordic and ForskerZonen)

 

The spaceship comes complete with a moving starscape, visible through the portal window, and a control panel that allows the user to start exploring the graphic.

On clicking ‘engage’ the user is presented with a series of slides containing key bits of information about the Universe at key timeframes throughout its history. While the portal view displays the ‘colour’ of the universe at each of these timeframes.

The graphic is responsive, but displays best on screens larger than an iPhone 5. The user navigates through the history of the Universe by swiping left to right on a touch screen device, or by clicking on the coloured navigation bar at the bottom using either the arrows at either end of the navigation bar, or clicking directly on the colour bars. Both the coloured thumbnails and the arrows on either side of the navigation bar will switch between slides. Image slides were designed in Affinity Designer, and the interactivity was added using Tumult Hype Pro. The graphic is self-hosted on GitHub, and so embeddable within any article online by inserting a simple iframe html code.

So what colour is the Universe today? Apparently, it is a cool “cosmic latte!” Try finding that in the DIY store!

 

*For Red Dwarf fans: No red or blue bulbs were changed in the production of this graphic.

 

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