The Quirks and Quarks Guide to Space: 42 Questions (And Answers) about Life, the Universe, and Everything


For everyone who’s curious about what’s new under (and over and around) the stars.

Douglas Adams famously pronounced in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that the answer to life, the universe, and everything was 42. Quirks & Quarks, whose approach to science owes almost as much to Adams as it does to Newton or Einstein or Hawking, have flipped that notion through a gap in the space-time continuum (or something like that) and come up with...

See more details below
Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (14) from $1.99   
  • New (6) from $10.50   
  • Used (8) from $1.99   
Quirks and Quarks Guide to Space: 42 Questions (And Answers) about Life, the Universe, and Everything

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$14.99 price


For everyone who’s curious about what’s new under (and over and around) the stars.

Douglas Adams famously pronounced in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy that the answer to life, the universe, and everything was 42. Quirks & Quarks, whose approach to science owes almost as much to Adams as it does to Newton or Einstein or Hawking, have flipped that notion through a gap in the space-time continuum (or something like that) and come up with answers to the 42 essential questions about space.

Much about the universe is very hard for most of us to grasp, and if anyone can explain these mind-bending aspects of the heavens above, it’s the Quirks & Quarks producers, who have been bringing Canadians understandable science, with trademark humour, for more than thirty years. In their Guide to Space, they answer such pressing questions as Where does space begin? Why is most of the universe missing? Is there intelligent life in the universe? And the real puzzler: What came before the Big Bang? They also answer questions we wish we’d thought to ask, such as Can you surf a gravity wave? and Why is the universe’s temperature on my TV? There are answers as well to far more practical questions, like What happens when you fall into a black hole? and How will the universe end? The answers, which have been vetted by a team of astronomers, are witty, authoritative, in-depth, accurate, up-to-date astronomically, and, of course, quirky.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
About The Quirks & Quarks Question Book
“The publisher’s marketing people should recognize this volume for what it is: a public service.”
Winnipeg Free Press
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780771050039
  • Publisher: McClelland & Stewart Ltd.
  • Publication date: 2/19/2008
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.25 (h) x 0.25 (d)

Meet the Author

Every week, Quirks & Quarks presents the people behind the latest scientific discoveries, and examines the political, social, environmental, and ethical implications of new developments in science and technology. Over its lifetime, the program has won more than forty national and international awards for science journalism. Jim Lebans is a multi-award-winning producer and space enthusiast at Q&Q.
Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

What was the Big Bang (and what came before it)?

… In the beginning (you know we had to start like this) the Universe seems to have been an infinitely hot, infinitely dense concentration of energy, not that we are entirely sure that the words beginning, hot, and dense have any meaning in this context, as we don’t have a working theory of physics to describe how anything behaves in these conditions. Once the Big Bang was underway, however we’re on slightly more familiar territory. Space started to exist, and the clock began to tick. Then something unusual and important happened: the Universe blew up.

It didn’t blow up in the sense of an explosion that blasts energy and matter outward, but in the sense of a balloon inflating. The Universe expanded exponentially, and it did so very quickly — faster than the speed of light. This idea is known as inflation, and it’s become the dominant theory to explain this time in the Universe because it neatly deals with several problems physicists have struggled with. One is how the Universe can be as big as it is (which it couldn’t be without this sudden early inflation) and another is how it later evolved, developing the concentrations of mass and energy that became galaxies and stars. These questions are complicated, to say the least, but the theory of inflation solves them, so physicists have become quite fond of it. In any case, the Universe experienced a brief burst of incredible growth in a very short time — far less than a billionth of a second.

Then it ends. The Universe was tiny at this point, only tens of centimetres across. For the next few billionths of a second it grew at a fantastic rate, more slowly than in the burst of inflation, but faster than the speed of light. This might seem a bit confusing: as nothing can travel faster than the speed of light, how could the Universe have expanded faster than the speed of light? The explanation is that expansion is not the same as travel. Aclumsy analogy is two airplanes flying in opposite directions at their maximum speed — say 500 kilometres an hour. They’re flying apart at 1,000 kilometres an hour, but neither is travelling faster than 500 kilometres an hour. The analogy isn’t exactly correct, as there were no objects in the Universe at this point, but space itself was getting larger. We did say this was confusing.

During all of this early expansion there was no ordinary matter in the Universe. It was simply too hot for anything like an atom to exist. Things cooled off, though, as space expanded as there was less pressure constraining the energy of the Big Bang, and less pressure means less heat. As the Universe cooled, the building blocks of ordinary matter began to form. First subatomic particles like quarks took shape and then as they cooled they combined into protons and neutrons. At this point, the Universe was only one second old, and things were still pretty hot — about a trillion degrees. It took about four more minutes for things to cool enough that atomic nuclei could form as protons and neutrons come together to form deuterium (heavy hydrogen) and helium. The Universe now is filled with plasma — a hot soup of atomic nuclei and electrons. It stayed like this for a very long time.

Around 400,000 years after the Big Bang, the plasma had cooled enough for electrons to settle into co-existence with protons. What existed was a fog of hydrogen, deuterium, and helium. This was the only normal matter in the Universe. It was plenty hot, at a temperature of about 3,000 degrees. Because these electrons were no longer free, they were not intercepting photons any more, and the Universe became transparent. Before this stage it was impossible for light to travel through the plasma — plasma is opaque. There was, however, not much to see. This was the Universe’s dark age. There were no stars to illuminate the Universe.

Eventually, the hot fog condensed into discrete clouds, and these clouds collapsed to form the first stars and galaxies, and when the stars lit up, the Universe was something like what we see in the skies today. These first stars burned fast and hot, and in only a few million years they exploded in massive supernovae. Their ashes formed the next generations of stars, which populated the Universe we live in.

This succinct explanation omits a wealth of detail about the Universe’s dark ages and how the first stars formed, one of the hottest areas of astronomy today.

That takes care of the time after the Big Bang. The natural question that comes next is where did the Big Bang come from. This is a different question from what was before the Big Bang. When you think about it, that question doesn’t make sense, as time as we understand it came into existence with the Big Bang. So where did the Big Bang come from?

Unfortunately that’s not a question for which science has a good answer. Observational astronomy, along with particle physics, theoretical physics, and mathematics, has developed the picture of what happened when the Big Bang banged and time started. We’re still reaching for understanding about the infinite energy and density that had to exist as a precondition for the Big Bang. At best, this is the realm of (educated) speculation. So little is known that this section of the book might as well be labelled like medieval maps of unknown territories with a large illustrated inscription: “Here be Dragons.”

Theoretical physicists aren’t scared of dragons, however. Physicists working on String Theory and Loop Quantum Gravity and Quantum Cosmology and the Grand Unified Theory are attempting to develop physical and mathematical models that would describe the conditions that created the Big Bang. These theories are very difficult for laypeople to understand as in essence they are mathematical, and the metaphors used to describe them — like strings — aren’t always helpful.

So for now, at least, the question of what caused the Big Bang is best answered with a shrug — or maybe a polite change of subject. After all, what fun would it be if we knew everything?

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Be the first to write a review
( 0 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star


4 Star


3 Star


2 Star


1 Star


Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation


  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 20, 2013

    A cat


    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)