Overview

Astronomers have determined that our universe is 13.7 billion years old. How exactly did they come to this precise conclusion? How Old Is the Universe? tells the incredible story of how astronomers solved one of the most compelling mysteries in science and, along the way, introduces readers to fundamental concepts and cutting-edge advances in modern astronomy.

The age of our universe poses a deceptively simple question, and its answer carries profound implications for science, ...

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How Old Is the Universe?

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Overview

Astronomers have determined that our universe is 13.7 billion years old. How exactly did they come to this precise conclusion? How Old Is the Universe? tells the incredible story of how astronomers solved one of the most compelling mysteries in science and, along the way, introduces readers to fundamental concepts and cutting-edge advances in modern astronomy.

The age of our universe poses a deceptively simple question, and its answer carries profound implications for science, religion, and philosophy. David Weintraub traces the centuries-old quest by astronomers to fathom the secrets of the nighttime sky. Describing the achievements of the visionaries whose discoveries collectively unveiled a fundamental mystery, he shows how many independent lines of inquiry and much painstakingly gathered evidence, when fitted together like pieces in a cosmic puzzle, led to the long-sought answer. Astronomers don't believe the universe is 13.7 billion years old--they know it. You will too after reading this book. By focusing on one of the most crucial questions about the universe and challenging readers to understand the answer, Weintraub familiarizes readers with the ideas and phenomena at the heart of modern astronomy, including red giants and white dwarfs, cepheid variable stars and supernovae, clusters of galaxies, gravitational lensing, dark matter, dark energy and the accelerating universe--and much more. Offering a unique historical approach to astronomy, How Old Is the Universe? sheds light on the inner workings of scientific inquiry and reveals how astronomers grapple with deep questions about the physical nature of our universe.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
It's all very well for astronomers to say that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, but you have to wonder just how they figured that out. Vanderbilt University astronomer Weintraub (Is Pluto a Planet?) explains it all for astronomy buffs in an enthusiastic way. He starts with how scientists first determined the age of the solar system--about 4.5 billion years --by isotope dating the oldest known rocks: lunar rocks brought back by astronauts, and meteorites that have collided with Earth. He then shows how stellar life cycles indicate an age of about 13 billion years. Astronomer Edwin Hubble's discoveries--that fuzzy spiral nebulae were really distinct and very distant galaxies, and that those galaxies are moving away from us--offered a new measure and new result: 13.5 billion years. Refining that number requires measuring things we can't even see: dark energy and dark matter, including exotics like wimps (weakly interacting massive particles) and machos (massive compact halo objects). Weintraub guides readers on a winding journey through history, explaining various dating approaches and illustrating the determination of astronomers to find the answer to one of the most basic questions about our universe. 46 b&w photos; 76 line illus. (Jan.)
The Crowded Universe: The Search for Living Planets
How old is the universe? Centuries of speculation and research have culminated in a precise answer to this fundamental question. Weintraub presents the story of this major triumph of astronomy in a masterful style, rich with authoritative details and everyday analogies, illustrating along the way the full panorama of the astronomical work that led to this amazing feat.
Planets: The Crowded Universe: The Search for Living
How old is the universe? Centuries of speculation and research have culminated in a precise answer to this fundamental question. Weintraub presents the story of this major triumph of astronomy in a masterful style, rich with authoritative details and everyday analogies, illustrating along the way the full panorama of the astronomical work that led to this amazing feat.
Choice
This detective story is magnificently presented. The professional astronomer-author writes in an interesting, organized, and very readable way, presenting this chronology of the quest to answer one of the most challenging questions in astronomy.
London Review of Books
Weintraub, an astronomer at Vanderbilt University, offers a patient tour of the new data-rich landscape.
— David Kaiser
Nature
Astronomer David Weintraub explains . . . how we know that the Universe is 13.7 billion years old, a finding that has had an impact on science, philosophy and religion. By looking at the various ways in which the age of the cosmos has been established over the centuries—from the lifecycles and pulsations of stars to galactic structures and cosmology—he reveals the process of scientific enquiry and shows how astronomers gather evidence to grapple with deep questions.
American Scientist
Weintraub has a gift for presenting complicated matters in a lucid and understandable way by employing clever analogies. . . . How Old Is the Universe? is a welcome contribution to the popular literature on astronomy. . . . It offers a scientifically competent and impressively informative account of how astronomers and physicists have unveiled the secrets of the universe.
— Helge Kragh
BBC Sky at Night Magazine
Telling the story of how one fundamental scientific question has developed over the last 2,000 years of human history is a daunting task. Yet it's one that David Weintraub has risen to admirably. . . . Weintraub's journey neatly introduces you to almost all of modern astronomical understanding. With a style that is rich with fascinating detail, but remaining perfectly accessible.
— Alastair Gunn
New York Journal of Books
David A. Weintraub presents a bracing, detailed, and surprisingly math-free look at how astronomers have managed to figure out that the universe is around 13.7 billion years old. . . . Weintraub's stimulating mix of history and pure science will be an excellent introduction to the topic for intrepid readers from any background.
— Charlene Brusso
New Scientist
You probably know the answer already. But do you know how we found it? This is no-nonsense science writing that will be enjoyed for years: David Weintraub is an expert guide, laying out the evidence with just the right amount of detail.
— Michael Brooks
Times Higher Education
A wonderfully comprehensive survey.
— Shobhit Mahajan
Physics World
If you really want to know the age of the universe, then you too have to start from scratch. How Old is the Universe? places the question in its proper historical context and explains what has gone into answering it. . . .What this book shows is how deduction, dedication, care and persistence in many fields have led to the figure we have today. It is the story of a scientific triumph.
— Kulvinder Singh Chadha
Coalition for Space Exploration
This is a very engaging and readable book that will help you wrap your mind around an agreed to astronomical actuality: The universe is 13.7 billion years old. . . . [The author] offers the reader a fact-filled roadmap that needed to unfold in order to answer a core question about our surrounding universe.
— Leonard David
Lunar and Planetary Information Bulletin

By focusing on one of the most crucial questions about the universe and challenging readers to understand the answer, Weintraub familiarizes readers with the ideas and phenomena at the heart of modem astronomy. Offering a unique historical approach to astronomy, this book sheds light on the inner workings of scientific inquiry and reveals how astronomers grapple with deep questions about the physical nature of our universe.
Contemporary Physics
[T]his is a lovely book devoted to one of the most important questions in physical science. The presentation is lively and readable. General readers will enjoy it, and it could also be a text or supplementary text for general education astronomy courses.
— Robert D. Joseph
Montgomery News
The story of this discovery is exciting, ending with the Nobel Prize, told in detail by Professor Weintraub in the book. Every question the reader may have is answered in this book. The book is written at a level understandable by people who are curious about our world but don't have a scientific background. It should serve as a source of information for people with a background in astronomy.
— Milton Friedman
Businessworld
Recommended, if you are game for a simulated journey through the enigma that is our Universe, while picking strange berries along the way.
— Subhra Priyadarshini
Chapter 16
How Old is the Universe? walks general readers gently through each step of discovery, with Professor Weintraub—whose previous, equally inquisitive book was Is Pluto a Planet?—proving an able guide. . . . With simple, straightforward descriptions, Weintraub gives readers the equivalent of an enjoyable college astronomy course, as well as teaching the half-dozen or so ways by which we know, with great precision if not the exact time of day, the moment of the big bang.
— Michael Ray Taylor
Lunar & Planetary Information Bulletin
By focusing on one of the most crucial questions about the universe and challenging readers to understand the answer, Weintraub familiarizes readers with the ideas and phenomena at the heart of modem astronomy. Offering a unique historical approach to astronomy, this book sheds light on the inner workings of scientific inquiry and reveals how astronomers grapple with deep questions about the physical nature of our universe.
London Review of Books - David Kaiser
Weintraub, an astronomer at Vanderbilt University, offers a patient tour of the new data-rich landscape.
American Scientist - Helge Kragh
Weintraub has a gift for presenting complicated matters in a lucid and understandable way by employing clever analogies. . . . How Old Is the Universe? is a welcome contribution to the popular literature on astronomy. . . . It offers a scientifically competent and impressively informative account of how astronomers and physicists have unveiled the secrets of the universe.
BBC Sky at Night Magazine - Alastair Gunn
Telling the story of how one fundamental scientific question has developed over the last 2,000 years of human history is a daunting task. Yet it's one that David Weintraub has risen to admirably. . . . Weintraub's journey neatly introduces you to almost all of modern astronomical understanding. With a style that is rich with fascinating detail, but remaining perfectly accessible.
New York Journal of Books - Charlene Brusso
David A. Weintraub presents a bracing, detailed, and surprisingly math-free look at how astronomers have managed to figure out that the universe is around 13.7 billion years old. . . . Weintraub's stimulating mix of history and pure science will be an excellent introduction to the topic for intrepid readers from any background.
New Scientist - Michael Brooks
You probably know the answer already. But do you know how we found it? This is no-nonsense science writing that will be enjoyed for years: David Weintraub is an expert guide, laying out the evidence with just the right amount of detail.
Times Higher Education - Shobhit Mahajan
A wonderfully comprehensive survey.
Physics World - Kulvinder Singh Chadha
If you really want to know the age of the universe, then you too have to start from scratch. How Old is the Universe? places the question in its proper historical context and explains what has gone into answering it. . . .What this book shows is how deduction, dedication, care and persistence in many fields have led to the figure we have today. It is the story of a scientific triumph.
Coalition for Space Exploration - Leonard David
This is a very engaging and readable book that will help you wrap your mind around an agreed to astronomical actuality: The universe is 13.7 billion years old. . . . [The author] offers the reader a fact-filled roadmap that needed to unfold in order to answer a core question about our surrounding universe.
Contemporary Physics - Robert D. Joseph
[T]his is a lovely book devoted to one of the most important questions in physical science. The presentation is lively and readable. General readers will enjoy it, and it could also be a text or supplementary text for general education astronomy courses.
Businessworld - Subhra Priyadarshini
Recommended, if you are game for a simulated journey through the enigma that is our Universe, while picking strange berries along the way.
Montgomery News - Milton Friedman
The story of this discovery is exciting, ending with the Nobel Prize, told in detail by Professor Weintraub in the book. Every question the reader may have is answered in this book. The book is written at a level understandable by people who are curious about our world but don't have a scientific background. It should serve as a source of information for people with a background in astronomy.
Chapter 16 - Michael Ray Taylor
How Old is the Universe? walks general readers gently through each step of discovery, with Professor Weintraub—whose previous, equally inquisitive book was Is Pluto a Planet?—proving an able guide. . . . With simple, straightforward descriptions, Weintraub gives readers the equivalent of an enjoyable college astronomy course, as well as teaching the half-dozen or so ways by which we know, with great precision if not the exact time of day, the moment of the big bang.
From the Publisher
Honorable Mention for the 2011 PROSE Award in Cosmology & Astronomy, Association of American Publishers

One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2011

"This detective story is magnificently presented. The professional astronomer-author writes in an interesting, organized, and very readable way, presenting this chronology of the quest to answer one of the most challenging questions in astronomy."—Choice

"Weintraub, an astronomer at Vanderbilt University, offers a patient tour of the new data-rich landscape."—David Kaiser, London Review of Books

"It's all very well for astronomers to say that the universe is 13.7 billion years old, but you have to wonder just how they figured that out. Vanderbilt University astronomer Weintraub (Is Pluto a Planet?) explains it all for astronomy buffs in an enthusiastic way. . . . Weintraub guides readers on a winding journey through history, explaining various dating approaches and illustrating the determination of astronomers to find the answer to one of the most basic questions about our universe."—Publishers Weekly

"Astronomer David Weintraub explains . . . how we know that the Universe is 13.7 billion years old, a finding that has had an impact on science, philosophy and religion. By looking at the various ways in which the age of the cosmos has been established over the centuries—from the lifecycles and pulsations of stars to galactic structures and cosmology—he reveals the process of scientific enquiry and shows how astronomers gather evidence to grapple with deep questions."—Nature

"Weintraub has a gift for presenting complicated matters in a lucid and understandable way by employing clever analogies. . . . How Old Is the Universe? is a welcome contribution to the popular literature on astronomy. . . . It offers a scientifically competent and impressively informative account of how astronomers and physicists have unveiled the secrets of the universe."—Helge Kragh, American Scientist

"Telling the story of how one fundamental scientific question has developed over the last 2,000 years of human history is a daunting task. Yet it's one that David Weintraub has risen to admirably. . . . Weintraub's journey neatly introduces you to almost all of modern astronomical understanding. With a style that is rich with fascinating detail, but remaining perfectly accessible."—Alastair Gunn, BBC Sky at Night Magazine

"David A. Weintraub presents a bracing, detailed, and surprisingly math-free look at how astronomers have managed to figure out that the universe is around 13.7 billion years old. . . . Weintraub's stimulating mix of history and pure science will be an excellent introduction to the topic for intrepid readers from any background."—Charlene Brusso, New York Journal of Books

"Weintraub outlines the rigorous process astronomers have followed from Earth itself out to the edge of the observable universe and makes it accessible to the science-minded lay reader. Highly recommended."—Library Journal

"You probably know the answer already. But do you know how we found it? This is no-nonsense science writing that will be enjoyed for years: David Weintraub is an expert guide, laying out the evidence with just the right amount of detail."—Michael Brooks, New Scientist
"A wonderfully comprehensive survey."—Shobhit Mahajan, Times Higher Education

"If you really want to know the age of the universe, then you too have to start from scratch. How Old is the Universe? places the question in its proper historical context and explains what has gone into answering it. . . .What this book shows is how deduction, dedication, care and persistence in many fields have led to the figure we have today. It is the story of a scientific triumph."—Kulvinder Singh Chadha, Physics World

"This is a very engaging and readable book that will help you wrap your mind around an agreed to astronomical actuality: The universe is 13.7 billion years old. . . . [The author] offers the reader a fact-filled roadmap that needed to unfold in order to answer a core question about our surrounding universe."—Leonard David, Coalition for Space Exploration

"By focusing on one of the most crucial questions about the universe and challenging readers to understand the answer, Weintraub familiarizes readers with the ideas and phenomena at the heart of modem astronomy. Offering a unique historical approach to astronomy, this book sheds light on the inner workings of scientific inquiry and reveals how astronomers grapple with deep questions about the physical nature of our universe."—Lunar and Planetary Information Bulletin

"[T]his is a lovely book devoted to one of the most important questions in physical science. The presentation is lively and readable. General readers will enjoy it, and it could also be a text or supplementary text for general education astronomy courses."—Robert D. Joseph, Contemporary Physics

"Recommended, if you are game for a simulated journey through the enigma that is our Universe, while picking strange berries along the way."—Subhra Priyadarshini, Businessworld

"The story of this discovery is exciting, ending with the Nobel Prize, told in detail by Professor Weintraub in the book. Every question the reader may have is answered in this book. The book is written at a level understandable by people who are curious about our world but don't have a scientific background. It should serve as a source of information for people with a background in astronomy."—Milton Friedman, Montgomery News

"How Old is the Universe? walks general readers gently through each step of discovery, with Professor Weintraub—whose previous, equally inquisitive book was Is Pluto a Planet?—proving an able guide. . . . With simple, straightforward descriptions, Weintraub gives readers the equivalent of an enjoyable college astronomy course, as well as teaching the half-dozen or so ways by which we know, with great precision if not the exact time of day, the moment of the big bang."—Michael Ray Taylor, Chapter 16

Library Journal
Since astronomers already know the answer to this eponymous question to an accuracy of better than one percent (13.7 billion years), this book might perhaps be more aptly titled How Do We Know How Old the Universe Is? Throughout the text, Weintraub (astronomy, Vanderbilt Univ.; Is Pluto a Planet?: A Historical Journey Through the Solar System) takes the reader steadily outward, explaining step by step how astronomers have gleaned key information from clever observations and a grounding in testable principles of physics. Unfortunately, once he begins his discussion of dark matter (about two-thirds of the way through), the science behind the claims of what is well known goes largely unexplained. Since he has done such a wonderful job of it up to this point, readers may forgive the necessity, especially since a graduate course or two would be required to follow all the intricacies. VERDICT Weintraub outlines the rigorous process astronomers have followed from Earth itself out to the edge of the observable universe and makes it accessible to the science-minded lay reader. Highly recommended.—Marcia R. Franklin, St. Paul
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400836130
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 11/15/2010
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Edition description: Course Book
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 1,180,227
  • File size: 7 MB

Meet the Author

David A. Weintraub is professor of astronomy at Vanderbilt University. He is the author of "Is Pluto a Planet?: A Historical Journey through the Solar System" (Princeton).
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Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Introduction: 13.7 Billion Years 1

PART I. The Age of Objects in Our Solar System
Chapter 2 4004 bce 9
Chapter 3 Moon Rocks and Meteorites 16
Chapter 4 Defying Gravity 27

PART II. The Ages of the Oldest Stars
Chapter 5 Stepping Out 43
Chapter 6 Distances and Light 55
Chapter 7 All Stars Are Not the Same 61
Chapter 8 Giant and Dwarf Stars 78
Chapter 9 Reading a Hertzsprung-Russell (H-R) Diagram 94
Chapter 10 Mass 101
Chapter 11 Star Clusters 111
Chapter 12 Mass Matters 126
Chapter 13 White Dwarfs and the Age of the Universe 133
Chapter 14 Ages of Globular Clusters and the Age of the Universe 159

PART III. The Age of the Universe
Chapter 15 Cepheids 175
Chapter 16 An Irregular System of Globular Clusters 191
Chapter 17 The Milky Way Demoted 202
Chapter 18 The Trouble with Gravity 209
Chapter 19 The Expanding Universe 217
Chapter 20 The Hubble Age of the Universe 235
Chapter 21 The Accelerating Universe 245
Chapter 22 Dark Matter 261
Chapter 23 Exotic Dark Matter 282
Chapter 24 Hot Stuff 301
Chapter 25 Two Kinds of Trouble 319
Chapter 26 The WMAP Map of the CMB and the Age of the Universe 333
Chapter 27 A Consistent Answer 360
Index 365

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2013

    A must-read for any layman that wants to glean what we currently

    A must-read for any layman that wants to glean what we currently know about this grand universe.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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