Scale is Deceptive

When faced with a scene in real life, it seems obvious that this is a massive landscape, or a microscopic view under extreme magnification. But when you capture that view and place it out of context, the difference between a pebble and a boulder is quickly lost.

Epidote thin section under cross-polarized light. Image credit: Gunnar Ries (Amphibol)

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Each time I get a fresh batch of geoscience students, I run a test that has them destined to fail by flashing photographs and asking them a simple question: is this microscopic (micro), or macroscopic (macro)? If I'm feeling particularly evil, I'll also ask them to identify the subject matter as being either geoscience or biology. Don't laugh too hard until you play for yourself...

Microscope Image Or Alien Planet -- Can You Tell The Difference?

We're discovering amazing new worlds all the time. In space, we're finally getting clear images of the surfaces of other planets; and in the microscopic world around us, we're seeing startling visions of strange creatures and uncanny landscapes. But can you tell the difference between microscope photos and exoplanet surfaces?

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ANSWER KEY

1. Close-up of the Backside of the Moon, taken during the Apollo 11 mission, via NASA.

2. A micro-crack in steel, via imgur.

3. Io's colorful face, via NASA.

4. Ice placed in polarized light, under 80x magnification, via Sunshine for Pangaea.

5. The icy crust of Jupiter's moon Europa, via Penn State University.

6. The curious layering of volcanic activity and impact craters on the surface of Venus, photo taken by the Magellan spacecraft in 1991, via NASA.

7. The eye of photographer Robert D. Bruce.

8. Sand dunes on Mars, via NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona.

9. The Great Red Spot on Jupiter, via NASA/JPL.

10. Coffee granule under a microscope, via Danoah.

11. A fortune cookie, via Caren Alpert.

12. A celery leaf, via Caren Alpert.

13. Primary human fibroblasts, via sea turtle.

14. Within lava flows northwest of Pavonis Mons, one of the Tharsis volcanoes on Mars, via NASA/JPL/Arizona State University.

15. Europa's ice-covered surface, via NASA/Voyager Project/JPL.

16. An eye of a husky, via keithj5000.