Tim Benjamin

composer, writer, storyteller



From the tinest possible leap to the farthest reach,
from the Planck length to the edge of the universe;
somewhere in the middle,
there is the world inhabited by humans.

This album is conceived as a journey from the smallest to largest possible scale or distance, from the Planck length to the edge of the observable universe.

1. Planck

The Planck length is the length at which classical ideas about space-time and gravity cease to be valid. Quantum effects dominate. The quantum length is the smallest measurement of length with any meaning.

This distance is in the order of 10-35m.

2. Neutron

Massively greater in scale compared to the Planck length, (by 20 orders of magnitude), the femtometre or fermi describes the atomic scale, the radius of a proton or neutron.

This distance is in the order of 10-15m.

3. Violet

We start to approach the visible but we are still in the nano-realm of the microscopic. The wavelength of ultraviolet light is shorter than that of visible light, but U-V can cause substances to glow, and it has several biological effects. The track features the voice of my daughter, Violet.

This distance is in the order of 10-7m.

4. Human

Another leap of many orders of magnitude brings us into the scale of the human, and our familiar world. Lying in the centre of our number system, of the order of one metre - or two; a doubling is insignificant in the context of the leaps in magnitude between the distances described.

This distance is in the order of 100m, i.e. 1m.

5. Chang'e

The Chinese goddess of the Moon, and in modern times, the namesake of the Chinese lunar exploration program. A constant companion to the humans of Earth since the earliest days, our Moon is at a distance that is as great a leap up in magnitude away from the human scale as the leap down to the ultraviolet, or between the ultraviolet and the fermi or atomic scale.

This distance is in the order of 108m.

6. Proxima

The nearest star to Earth (other than the Sun) is Proxima Centauri, a red dwarf, tiny compared to our Sun and invisible to the human eye, but still a roiling mass of super-hot plasma, and with an estimated lifespan far greater than that of our own Sun. When we, our Earth, and our Sun are long gone, Proxima Centauri will continue to spill weak light into the universe for billions of years. As the distance to the Moon is to human scale, and the human scale is to the ultraviolet, so is the distance to Proxima centauri. The leap up in distance magnitude to Proxima Centauri from human scale is similar in order to the leap down from human to atomic scale.

The distance to Proxima Centauri is in the order of 1016m.

7. GN-z11

At the very upper limit of what it is possible to observe, where to peer into the distance is to stare into the distant past, there is a galaxy at the edge of the universe, GN-z11. We see it from Earth as it existed 13.4 billion years ago, just 400 million years after the Big Bang; by comparison our Earth formed a mere 4.5 billion years ago, with the first land animals - our ancestors - appearing around 400 million years ago. The distance to GN-z11 is, however, far more than 13.4 billion light years - one must take into account the redshift; GN-z11 is therefore effectively at the edge of the observable universe, and much further than the age of the universe might otherwise suggest. GN-z11, a vast mass of stars, millions upon millions of worlds, may today no longer exist: we observe it only in its distant past.

This distance is in the order of 1026m.

The leap in magnitude from the human scale to the distance of GN-z11 is still far short of the leap in magnitude from the Planck length to human scale, by 9 orders of magnitude - a billion times. Yet still we humans are able to conceive of the unconceivable, to imagine the unimaginable, these Distances.


Planck distance: c.0.0000000000000000000000000000000000161619997m

GN-z11 distance: c.321,664,800,000,000,000,000,000,000m (i.e., to the edge of the observable universe)

The size of the Planck length can be visualized as follows: if a particle or dot about 0.1 mm in size (which is approximately the smallest the unaided human eye can see) were magnified in size to be as large as the observable universe, then inside that universe-sized "dot", the Planck length would be roughly the size of an actual 0.1mm dot. In other words, a 0.1mm dot is halfway between the Planck length and the size of the observable universe on a logarithmic scale.

(from Wikipedia: Planck length)