From Publishers Weekly
As has happened many times in the history of science, just when we finally are able to cozy up to an idea like the big bang that initially was hard to like, let alone understand, another even more mind-bending one comes along. Steinhardt and Turok, cosmologists at Princeton and Cambridge, respectively, present their case that string theory gives a more complete account of our origins; in this account, the big bang came about through the collision of two membrane-thick strings called "branes." Our universe sits on one brane, which floats parallel to the other, unseen one. Every few trillion years, the two branes approach each other; when they collide, a flash of radiation annihilates everything in both, kick-starting the creation process all over again. According to the authors, this solves certain problems with the standard big bang theory, such as inflation, dark matter and dark energy. General readers will be able to follow the authors' clearly laid out, equation-free arguments. Their new theory has little chance of being confirmed experimentally in the foreseeable future, but many who eventually embraced the big bang will doubtless find the notion of cyclic universes and parallel worlds attractive. Illus. (June 5)
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*Starred Review* In the big bang, most physicists hear the violent beginning of everything. For theoretical physicists Steinhardt and Turok, however, that bang is but an echo, resounding within a bold new cyclical theory of the cosmos. To be sure, this revolutionary theory (dubbed ekpyrosis) shares much with the standard inflationary version of the big bang. The authors themselves have done much to ratify that generally accepted account of the universe's origins. But their new ekpyrotic paradigm tells a radically unorthodox story about what caused the bang, what happened in the first second after it occurred, and what consequences it will yet produce in the far-distant future. Invoking a sophisticated version of string theory, the authors argue that our universe began not in quantum nothingness but rather in the collision of "braneworlds" sliding together as remnants of an exhausted earlier universe. Moreover, while the regnant theory of the big bang predicts the eventual extinction of the universe, the dynamics of ekpyrosis promise a new beginning, a new cosmos--a trillion years from now. Professional discussion of the authors' daring proposal has scarcely begun. But thanks to this wonderfully lucid book, armchair physicists will understand much of the exciting debate now taking shape at the very frontiers of science. Bryce Christensen
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