Explore 13.7 Billion Years Of Cosmic History In Your Browser With ChronoZoom

Sometimes I feel like we of the tech community tend to get bogged down in the little stuff. Hardware specs, OS choices, rumor after endless rumor — it can be nice to just take a step back and stop sweating the small stuff.

For a bit of perspective, why not take a few minutes this fine Friday afternoon and explore the nearly 14 billion year history of the cosmos as we know it? There are plenty of ways to do it — randomly clicking through Wikipedia could get the job done — but why not do it with a little pizzazz?

With ChronoZoom, we can do just that.

ChronoZoom splays out the entirety of cosmic history in a web browser, where users can click into different epochs to learn about about the events that have culminated to bring us to where we are today — in my case, sitting in an office chair writing about space. Eager to learn about the Stelliferous epoch? Click away, my fellow explorer. Curious about the formation of the earth? Jump into the “Earth and Solar System” section to see historian David Christian talk about the birth of our homeworld.

What’s more, the entire project was constructed with the magic of Azure and HTML5, so it’s simple enough to veg out on a couch with iPad or Android device in hand and delve into the deep, dark, wondrous past.

The ChronoZoom project is the brainchild of Professor Walter Alvarez and a former student of his named Roland Saekow. Alvarez is perhaps best known for working with his father to put forth the theory that dinosaurs were eradicated 65 million years ago because of a massive asteroid strike, but his path crossed with Saekow’s while he was teaching a course called Big History at UC Berkeley.

When I think of history, and especially ancient history, I think of the Egyptians. The Romans. The Tigris and the Euphrates bounding Mesopotamia. Big History, as Alvarez puts it, extends far far beyond that — it seeks to explore the the events that have shaped not just the earth, but the universe. Hence, the tremendous scale displayed in ChronoZoom. What started as a novel idea for a learning tool to present the past ultimately gained significant support from Microsoft Research and a team from Moscow State University, and, well, here we are.

ChronoZoom is still in its beta stages, and while it’s definitely apparent at times (I imagine they’ll fill more information into the thing soon), the whole experience is both surprisingly fluid and terribly cool. If you thought the Sagan’s famous Pale Blue Dot was sobering, try watching all of recorded human history disappear in an instant as you switch to a larger scale view of universal antiquity. How’s that for making Android vs. iOS squabbles look petty?