Iron Viz entry: The Cosmic Calendar

3/22/2015 Matt Chambers 2 Comments

Tableau Public recently announced the opening of the Iron Viz competition, and the first round allows contestants to use any data found on Wikipedia.  Jewel Loree posted an article on finding Wikipedia data and mentioned the use of lists.  I started looking at the lists and somehow ended up on an article about the Cosmic Calendar.  The Cosmic Calendar is a way to visualize the entire history of the universe by condensing it into a single year.  The visualization in the article caught my eye:

After seeing this, I started thinking about how I could build a cleaner, interactive version in Tableau.  The first thing I needed to be able to do was build a calendar.  I found a tutorial from Andy Kriebel on building calendars in Tableau and went to work.  After creating the date file per Andy's instructions, I needed to create a way to link the events to the date and timestamps.

Once I had all of the events from the Wikipedia article created and linked up to dates and timestamps, I started to pull them into Tableau. Per Andy's tutorial, I added the Month and Weekday to the column shelf and added Week to the rows.  Then I added Day to the label to build the calendar view.  Finally, I pulled the events in for the shape and added images I stored as custom shapes.

Then, I just removed the Weekday from the colums and Week from the row to get the Month view.  I filtered it to only show the first event of each month.

To build the timeline for December 31st, I needed to drill down to the second since the events are at that level of granularity. Once again, I mapped the events to custom shapes pulled from Wikipedia.

Now that I had everything linked together and working, I started to add some interactive elements. I created dashboard actions to filter the month calendar when clicking the months at the top. Then, I made sure to only show the timeline when December is selected.

I definitely learned a lot on this project, and I found creating calendars in Tableau to be a pretty neat hack. I think the Cosmic Calendar is one of the best ways to visualize the history of the universe, and I hope this project expands upon that with a clean implementation and useful interactivity.