- Hardcover: 254 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (February 14, 2005)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0521836271
- ISBN-13: 978-0521836272
- Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.9 x 9.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,715,167 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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On the Shores of the Unknown: A Short History of the Universe 1st Edition
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"Silk is an expert in the field and describes both the triumphs and the controversies of modern astrophysical research with clarity and eloquence. Strongly recommended." Choice
"Cosmologist Joseph Silk sums up the evidence and shows how physicists are able to leap from the infinitesimal to the vast in A Short History of the Universe." Chicago Tribune
"...a worthy preface to the momentous discoveries undoubtedly coming in the next decade." Astronomy
"Of the many books currently available on cosmology, this is the one I would choose to hook the neophyte or delight the aficionado." Boston Book Review
"A useful introduction." Choice
In this fascinating book, astronomer Joseph Silk explores the Universe from its beginnings to its ultimate fate. He shows how cosmologists study cosmic fossils and relics from the distant part to construct theories of the birth, evolution and future of the Universe. Stars, galaxies, dark matter and dark energy are described, as successive chapters detail the evolution of the Universe from a fraction of a microsecond after the Big Bang. This highly readable account will appeal to all those with an interest in the story of the Universe.
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After an introduction, Silk plunges into astronomical nitty-gritty, describing more than ten methodologically similar techniques for determining cosmic distances. The distances of stars and galaxies coupled with their velocities implies an expanding universe of approximately known age. This approximation precariously dated the universe as younger than some solar system rocks. However, the universe aged with increasingly accurate measurements. The alternative theory of steady state cosmology was no longer needed and was finally debunked by the discovery of cosmic microwave radiation, the Big Bang theory's unmistakable fingerprint.
This microwave radiation, independent of direction and originating from deep space, is the relic of the exceedingly hot first few hundred thousand years following the big bang. The radiation has cooled to -270? C over the past 15 billion years but remains detectable. With the big bang theory firmly supported, the challenge of explaining the first moment of universe looms large as the theories of physics collapse during the first 10-43 s of the universe.
In his prologue, Silk sets out to make a modern description of the Big Bang theory truly accessible to the lay cosmologist, enabling an appreciation (but not a justification) of theological interpretations of cosmology. Not to disappoint, Silk finally throws a bone to the religiously inclined reader in the fourth chapter:
"The Big Bang was an act of creation. Was it a singular, unique event, or is creation of matter a natural occurrence? And what existed before this event? Was the universe created out of nothing? To better understand how to answer these questions, it is necessary to consider what is meant by, or more precisely a vacuum."
Heisenberg's uncertainty principle predicts continuously appearing and vanishing particles even in a perfect vacuum. The quantum appearance of paired matter in the strong electric field of the early universe created fluctuations in energy density and is thereby responsible for the macro structure of the universe and perhaps even the creation of the universe itself. The difficulty in describing the first moments of our universe lies in the failure of modern physics at extreme conditions. While electromagnetic, weak nuclear, and strong nuclear forces coalesce according to quantum theory at such small distances and high energy, our theory of gravity fails. To address this issue Silk moves quickly from mini-black holes to superstring theory to inflationary expansion finally arriving at the anthropic principle, a G-d send for the readers who are looking for Him. Even the best theories allow for so many possible scenarios that the only way to arrive at the universe we observe is to require the possibility of human existence. But by the next chapter we are back where we began:
"Creation is the essence of the Big Bang theory. We can delegate creation of space and time to the pundits of metaphysics, theology. And even quantum gravity. In this field it is difficult to separate fact from fiction, and faith from fantasy, since any conclusions are far removed from the domain of experimental, testable, or even fully self-consistent physics."
At present, cosmology is but a tease.
After further proofs of the Big Bang theory, the reader encounters technical and detailed explanations of dark matter, the still-mysterious dark energy, black holes and finally the formation of galaxies. However, the book fails to make cosmology "truly accessible." Although not even a lay cosmologist, I majored in chemistry, studied quantum mechanics, and dabbled in string theory. Yet only after rereading convoluted sentences and arduous paragraphs did I have a faint idea of what is flying in space. I gave up on sentences such as:
"More precisely, space is accelerating, albeit at a very slow rate that corresponds to a cosmological constant which is equivalent to a mass density for the vacuum energy that amounts to about two-thirds of the critical value for recollapsing the universe."
Perhaps precise, but not exactly bedtime reading. Cutesy poetics sprinkled haphazardly among tortuous sentences highlight the arduous style rather than aid comprehension.
Silk vacillates between assuming scientific knowledge like photons unifying electricity and magnetism into a single force and explaining well-known concepts like the Doppler effect at length. He introduces complex ideas with their obscure names, leaving me in a vacuum of understanding, only to describe them in a subsequent sentence, paragraph, or even chapter. Even the somewhat helpful diagrams are not fully explained. Certain usages may be awkward or unintelligible for non-British readers; who knew unity plus unity equals two?
The ambitious task of explaining modern cosmology in some detail for the layman fails despite its admirable ambition. In such a short book, focusing of the details of discovery leaves little room for fully describing the ramifications. Perhaps if I read slower and repeatedly some of the concepts would have sunk in, but I have the distinct impression that these ideas could have been expressed lucidly. Those already familiar with the concepts may benefit from a succinct and organized overview of modern cosmology, but the novice should look elsewhere.
not for a beginner but for someone who has some prior knowledge about astronomy (maybe outdated). What makes this book special is the amount of
puzzling facts it presents with various ideas to resolve the contradiction between theory and observations. I was pleasantly surprise to find that book covers in great detail black holes, dark matter and dark energy. For students willing to broaden their understanding and appreciation of cosmology. It is a serious book, though there is very little math in it, one needs concentration and patience to absorb the material. This book gives a good snapshot of what is known, from here one could move on to more specialized books.