- Hardcover: 432 pages
- Publisher: St. Martin's Press (November 14, 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1137280085
- ISBN-13: 978-1137280084
- Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.4 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #210,801 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Telescope in the Ice: Inventing a New Astronomy at the South Pole
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"Richly intimate, drawing on Mr. Bowen's long involvement with the IceCube project and its participants...Human emotions are palpable in the author's you-are-there framing. The drilling of ice holes, for example, becomes a nail-biting contest between brute force and finesse, the team (and the reader) ever alert to the mechanical shudder that precedes calamity." ―The Wall Street Journal
"Bowen, a physicist-turned-writer, sets his sights high in The Telescope in the Ice, the history of a detector buried in Antarctic ice since the 1990s...Bowen has been embedded in this project since 1998...Bowen does justice to its story." ―Nature
"Bowen's insider's history of this remarkable device will reward those drawn to cutting-edge astrophysics." ―Booklist
"Mesmerizing... Infusing groundbreaking inquiry with the spirit of those who carry it out, Bowen delivers a tale that’s part educational, part inspirational, and all adventure." ―Publisher's Weekly (starred review and PW Book of the Week for 11/13)
"The heroic days of exploration are definitely not over. These scientists haul thick hoses across the ice cap and sleep―when they do sleep―in thin huts with a tin cup for a toilet. Back home they fight off a self-serving Nobel laureate and petty agency head who maneuver to take their project away from them. If you want to know how science really works, this is your book. It ain’t always pretty, but when it works―wow. They have made one of the biggest advances in astronomy since Galileo." ―George Musser, contributing editor at Scientific American and Nautilus and author of Spooky Action at a Distance
"What a wonderful, ever-surprising book. This extraordinary story, about a swarm of smart and often strange people trying to catch some of the universe’s smallest particles by turning the South Pole into a giant lens ― has found the perfect writer. Whether describing the tiny, speedy, ubiquitous neutrino (billions of which just passed through your eyes), the astro-mechanics of a radiant star, the fathomless difficulties of deep-ice drilling, or the unbelieving wonder of the three researchers in the Stitch-and-Bitch knitting club when they see the first orange rim of daylight after six months of dark, Bowen is the ideal witness, guide, and tale-teller: ludicrously well-informed, always amiable, and with a born bard’s sense of story. This book is priceless." ―David Dobbs, Author of Reef Madness: Alexander Agassiz, Charles Darwin, and the Meaning of Coral (Pantheon, 2005) and contributor toThe Atlantic, National Geographic, Nature, and other publications
“This is a major work in many ways, I think, not only a compelling tale, a humane science history, but an inspiring picture of how great science gets done (or not). Bowen reports from the inside on the decades long struggle to record cosmic neutrinos, and not only do we see it finally realized, but with neutrinos once again not behaving as expected, pointing to new mysteries of the cosmos. Having been a losing player in this long science game, my hat is off to the tough team who have pulled off one of the great physics experiments of all time.” ―John G. Learned, Professor of Physics, University of Hawaii, Manoa
"The Telescope in the Ice is a masterpiece of storytelling, bringing to life in rich detail not only the world of science but also the men and women who inhabit that world." ―Alan Lightman, author of Einstein's Dreams
"A page-turning chronicle of the decades-long struggle by hundreds of physicists and engineers to create a frontier laboratory for the pursuit of the new discipline of neutrino astronomy. The IceCube Neutrino Observatory at the South Pole has already seen dozens of energetic neutrinos that are likely to have originated somewhere beyond the solar system." ―Sheldon Lee Glashow, University Professor, Boston University, and 1979 Nobel Laureate in Physics
"A page turner. I know of no other book that does such a wonderful job describing the fun, creativity, and resourcefulness required to do great experimental science." ―Katherine Freese, George E. Uhlenbeck Professor of Physics, University of Michigan and Guest Professor of Physics, Stockholm University
"Bowen’s account of the immense challenges of an unprecedented feat of engineering under extreme conditions is both compelling and inspiring…A fascinating and intimate journey through the history of the science and scientists behind one of the most revolutionary telescopes." ―James McClintock, Professor of Polar and Marine Biology, University of Alabama at Birmingham
About the Author
MARK BOWEN is a writer, physicist. He earned a bachelor’s degree and a doctorate in physics at MIT and worked for a decade in the medical industry. Bowen has written for Climbing, Natural History, Science, Technology Review, and AMC Outdoors. He has been embedded in AMANDA and IceCube since 1998. He lives in Vermont. The Telescope in the Ice is his third book.
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Unfortunately, my usually trustworthy Kindle lost all my notes, so I’m working solely from memory here and won’t be quoting any passages. The book opens with an introduction into basic particle physics with an appropriate focus on the neutrino. That’s a focus Bowen keeps to throughout, though he of course needs to delve at least briefly (and sometimes more than that) into other areas in the field: the standard model, the difference between the neutrino and the neutralino, solar physics, wave-particle duality, etc. Bowen moves concisely and clearly through the early days of particle/quantum physics, spending a good amount of time on Pauli in particular (for good reason). He eventually hits the theories regarding muon decay, neutrino “flavors,” and oscillation. All explained quite lucidly with a few simple-but-helpful illustrations. Once the existence of all this is theorized, he dips into the problems with trying to detect the particle. This first section, roughly 15% of the book, is probably the longest bit of sustained science, so if one gets through here (and Bowen makes that quite easy), it should be smooth sailing the rest of the way.
From there it’s onward and Southward to the various early attempts at constructing a neutrino “telescope,” including AMANDA, the direct precursor to IceCube, one in Russia, and a long-running but eventually futile attempt to build one underwater (as any film director could have told them, the ocean is a horrible place to do just about anything requiring a budget and smooth operation).
While Bowen had given us nice sketches of several of the scientists involved in early discoveries, such as Pauli and Fermi, it’s with AMANDA and its contemporaries that he really hones in on the often outsized personalities involved, some for good and some less so (for instance, George Smoot, certainly one of the names most likely to be recognized by lay readers, does not come off so great here). There’s still some science here, but along with focusing more on the personalities involved, we also get some wonderfully vivid details of what it’s like to live and work at the South Pole (though some details remain hidden in a long-standing tradition of what happens on the ice stays on the ice). And while the science is obviously difficult, it’s the engineering that often takes center stage. How does one drill a hole into the ice 1000 meters (and then even deeper when a 1000 turns out to not be deep enough)? How does one build a hose that is able to heat its way down the hole but not get frozen in it as it continues to descend or on its way up? How does one keep the workers from freezing? How does one save the data and then get it to the people who need it? How does one do all of this in the very short transportation window available to ferry equipment and people to the site? And with regard to “human engineering,” how does one navigate all the egos involved, not to mention various institutions, so that they work together rather than at odds with one another?
These are not easy problems, which is why they didn’t always succeed the first (or second) time around and why it took decades of work before first AMANDA and then IceCube were built. Once there were completed, their usefulness became evident almost immediately. The scientific discoveries (pinpointing a nova for instance) are covered almost as an epilogue, though as with the earlier science, Bowen is consistently lucid in explaining both the underlying science and the importance of the discoveries, such as what they might mean for the theory of supersymmetry or the search for dark matter. He is particular good about noting how the absence of a result can be just as useful as a result, and does a nice job of explaining the benefits of being able to “limit” theories. He ends with some discussion of the next iteration of IceCube, termed IceCube-GEN2, a brief review of the recent LIGO discovery of gravitational waves, and an excited look into the future of “multi-messenger” astrophysics.
I wouldn’t have minded a bit more science, but Bowen’s focus and concision are hardly faults. Informative even if more human-centered than most popular science books, The Telescope in the Ice is an inspiring and enjoyable account of our continued attempt to understand the universe around us.
Boring dozens of 2450-meter-deep, ramrod-straight holes into the ice. Filling them with strings of ultra-sensitive optical detectors. Inventing and implementing digital processors for that data. Providing each with exquisitely precise timing. Adding fiberoptic links, sending the data across hundreds of meters of ice to a collection and processing center, in a little shack... In Antarctica!
— no big deal, right?
— And, of course, WHY would you want to do such a thing?
The author shows the entire spectrum of the effort — from the earliest theoretical efforts to the most recent implementation and experimental result.
— And the astonishing personalities involved, from then to now! — Top of my list being the consummate genius, and quirky character, of Wolfgang Pauli, among his many behaviors of note being spending analysis time with Carl Jung, and perhaps being a central inspiration for the latter’s theory of the collective unconscious! (This tidbit gave me shivers. Seen in combination with his manifest genius, and patent dissatisfaction with the limits of the human form... intimations of infinite MIND showing itself in an individual!)
— And then, as the story continues, one act of genius after another:
The story is chock-full of true teamwork, and some amazing feats of brilliance from many, many people — from theorists to technicians to programmers to
an expert in drilling holes in ice. (Who would have thought that there would be such people? — OK, such A person...)
Much like laws and sausages, Science in the Human World can get a bit ugly, and this too is presented in its context, bringing to our awareness the venal and the emotionally childish, as well as the critical place, and under-appreciated skills, of the Project Manager.
It turns out that, far from the common experience of such people either simply wasting space, or even actively PREVENTING things from getting done, a person talented in this area can actually make the incompatible compatible, and the impossible possible. This will be a revelation for some! It was for me :)
Thank you, Mark Bowen, for a rich and thoroughly enjoyable read. I envy you your journey!