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Dark Side of the Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Fate of the Cosmos [Hardcover]

Iain Nicolson
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)

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Book Description

March 19, 2007 0801885922 978-0801885921

Once we thought the universe was filled with shining stars, dust, planets, and galaxies. We now know that more than 98 percent of all matter in the universe is dark. It emits absolutely nothing yet bends space and time; keeps stars speeding around galaxies; and determines the fate of the universe.

But dark matter is only part of the story. Scientists have recently discovered that the expansion of the universe is speeding up, driven by a mysterious commodity called dark energy. Depending on what dark matter and energy happen to be, our seemingly quiet universe could end its days in a Big Rip, tearing itself apart, or a Big Crunch, collapsing down to a universe the size of nothing, ready to be reincarnated in a Big Bang once again.

For the general reader and armchair astronomer alike, Iain Nicolson’s fascinating account shows how our ideas about the nature and the content of the universe have developed. He highlights key discoveries, explains underlying concepts, and examines current thinking on dark matter and dark energy. He describes techniques that astronomers use to explore the remote recesses of the cosmos in their quest to understand its composition, evolution, and ultimate fate.

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Dark Side of the Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Fate of the Cosmos + The 4 Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality
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Editorial Reviews


A lucid essay on the cosmos—past, present and future—accompanied by clear diagrams, computer graphics and luminous telescopic photos... conveys the excitement of scientists tackling the largest problem yet uncovered.

(Wall Street Journal)

Full of lavish illustrations in beautiful colour—though not of course of dark matter and dark energy—it is a first-class overview for the non-specialist, with enough meaty detail for scientists too.

(New Scientist)

For the general reader and armchair astronomer alike, Nicolson's fascinating account shows how our ideas about the nature and the content of the universe have developed.

(Lunar and Planetary Information Bulletin)

Not just for college-level science collections strong in astronomy, but for the general-interest lending library catering to non-scientist readers.

(Midwest Book Review)

I particularly enjoyed how Nicolson explores topics that take a back seat in the mainstream media.

(Monica Bobra Sky and Telescope)

Beautifully illustrated... a valuable contribution to popular scientific literature.


For any reader interested in science, particularly cosmology and physics, Dark Side of the Universe is highly recommended.


About the Author

Iain Nicolson is a writer, lecturer, and occasional broadcaster on astronomy and space science. A Visiting Fellow of the University of Hertfordshire and a contributing consultant to Astronomy Now, he is a frequent contributor to BBC Television's The Sky at Night. His most recent books include Unfolding Our Universe and Stars and Supernovas.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press (March 19, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801885922
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801885921
  • Product Dimensions: 11.2 x 8.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #372,159 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
86 of 87 people found the following review helpful
This book is a detailed overview of the contemporary ideas in cosmology, the meandering history of their conception and development, and the experimental observations supporting and sometimes contradicting them including the most contemporary experiments and collaborations up to 2006 and the future experiments planned. The emphasis is on concepts and how astronomical observations support or refute theories, formulas are used very rarely, the narrative is illustrated with numerous beautiful diagrams, photographs and pictures from state of the art telescopes. Theoretical highly speculative ideas in cosmology are also given some discussion. Big part of the book would be accessible to anyone that had a general physics course, but it contains a wealth of detailed information tailored to people that actually would want to work in the area like physics students specializing in cosmology and astronomy students and they will be able to pick up much more from that book than laymen. I've read the book in 3 days but most of the material wasn't new to me, a beginner reader would probably need 1-2 weeks. At the end, the reader will gain a very clear conceptual understanding of the main picture in contemporary cosmology and which observations agree/disagree with it. I HIGHLY recommend this book before or during any course in cosmology, dark matter or dark energy. If you want to be more informed than your adviser, read that book :)

Chapter 1 introduces the reader to general astronomy - types and lives of stars, galaxies, clusters - and a basic understanding of light spectrum and redshift necessary to understand astronomical observations.

Chapter 2 is an introduction to general cosmology: the expanding Universe, Hubble time, redshift, microwave background.
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38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An enlightening book about some dark subjects May 4, 2007
We used to believe that the entire universe consisted of the kind of matter and energy that we were familiar with in our daily lives, but when astronomers actually tried to calculate the actual mass of the universe, they found that there was not enough observable mass to account for all the observed gravitational effects. How to account for this discrepancy? Dark matter! Dark matter? But what exactly is this stuff? Physicists have postulated several different forms of dark matter, with such whimsical acronyms as MACHOs (massive compact halo objects) and WIMPs (weakly interacting massive particles). Astronomers and physicists continue to debate the nature of dark matter, and Iain Nicolson brings us the debate and the science and people behind it in "Dark Side of the Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Fate of the Cosmos".

While dark matter seemed to offer a stopgap solution to missing matter, it came up short in explaining the observed accelerating expansion of the universe. Such an acceleration requires a nearly flat universe with a mass+energy density equal to a certain critical density. Even with dark matter the density of the known universe is roughly one-quarter the critical density, implying the existence of an additional form or forms of as-yet-unknown energy, i.e. dark energy.

Iain Nicolson explores all these ideas and more in a compelling narrative that is accessible to the intelligent lay reader without omitting important details. More knowledgeable readers will find some familiar material, but Nicolson brings his considerable experience and insight to the subject so that the familiar becomes wondrously new again and even the most up-to-date reader finishes the book with a greater understanding and appreciation for both the people and the science exploring some of the biggest questions known to humankind.
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26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
This is a terrific astronomy/cosmology book with a focus on providing an overview and update on what is known and (& not known) about dark matter and dark energy. It's a beautiful, large format book that is well laid out and printed on high quality paper with lots of beautifully drawn, textbook quality figures (drawn by James Symonds), data, and pictures, all at a bargain price. The book is well organized and comprehensive, and Nicolson writes clearly and concisely for the literate general reader, often throwing in helpful analogies. I am an engineer and astronomically literate, and I learned a lot from this book.

Dark matter is invariably described as forming a 'halo' (ring) around a galaxy extending far beyond the visible stars. I knew from college physics that the motion of a particle inside a spherical shell of matter is completely unaffected by the gravity of the shell, because the gravitational pull from all the little pieces of mass in the shell cancel out everywhere inside. So prior to this book, I was always puzzled as to how a galactic dark matter 'halo', (supposedly) far outside the visible part of the galaxy, was able to flatten the rotation curve of visible stars in the galaxy?

Nicolson is not adverse to including a simple equation now and then, and he does this in his clear explanation of how dark matter speeds up star rotation speeds in the outer parts of a galaxy. The equation shows the average rotational speed of a star about the galaxy center depends on the ratio (mass 'inside orbit'/radius of orbit). Hence to flatten galaxy velocity rotation profiles, it is only necessary that mass inside star orbits increase linearly with radius.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Descriptive
This book is very descriptive -- no mathematical development -- the discussion is for the novice who is looking for an overview.
Published 2 months ago by Terry
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent for a basic understanding of the subject
It helped me understand a subject I am fasinated with and showed me how little I know about it. I would have liked to have had more direct sources or referrals to learn much more... Read more
Published 5 months ago by Robert W. McBride
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb summary of the cosmological evidence for our current view of...
Iain Nicolson did a truly fantastic job of authoring a pop cosmology book that presents the most relevant evidence for the standard model and our current thinking regarding dark... Read more
Published 13 months ago by Justin M
5.0 out of 5 stars Awesome book very understandable for the lay reader
How did our universe come into existence? What is this dark matter that appears to be so abundant in it? Why is the universe expanding? Read more
Published 18 months ago by Ralf M. Leonhardt
4.0 out of 5 stars Informative and Insightful
The origin and evolution of the universe has been the subject of many a publication since Stephen Hawking's "A Brief History of Time" became a bestseller. Read more
Published on July 21, 2011 by Ernest Dempsey
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Source for Clear Presentation of Theory Concepts
This book patiently explains many of the important scientific concepts in clear, plain English with excellent examples. It does so with perhaps a little too much certainty. Read more
Published on September 26, 2010 by Robert L. Bartz
4.0 out of 5 stars The Current Status of the Composition of the Universe
This is a very good book on presenting in a simplistic and graphic manner the current thinking,logic and history behind the theory of the composition of the universe. Read more
Published on August 23, 2010 by Andrew Ketner
5.0 out of 5 stars Dark Side of the Universe
I purchased this as a gift for Christmas and he was so surprised! He loved it and has been reading it every night since then. Read more
Published on January 17, 2010 by Jaimie Yerina
5.0 out of 5 stars I am over the moon with this book!
I have only just started reading this book; however, having flicked through it, I am very impressed. It is beautifully illustrated and well written. Read more
Published on August 30, 2009 by PhoebeCat
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!
I love this book! It's wonderful, and I had it on my wish list so my auntie bought it for me for my birthday last year. Read more
Published on July 14, 2009 by birdingal
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