If the cosmos is vast, says astrophysicist Trinh Xuan Thuan, it is by no means silent. Nature, he writes, "delights in continuously sending us her notes of music." Like some far-off orchestra, it tantalizes us with fragments of a symphony, but the melody linking the bits and snatches of song is missing. The task of science is to unravel the secrets of that hidden melody, so that we can listen to the composition in all its glory.
In The Secret Melody, Trinh Xuan Thuan examines our many attempts to capture the music of nature and hear the cosmic fugue. First, as prelude, he describes the many other cosmologies that preceded the modern Big Bang theory of creationthe magical universe of cavemen, the ancient Chinese idea of the universe (which Thuan compares to a gigantic bureaucracy), the mathematical universe introduced by Pythagoras, and the heliocentric universe of Copernicusand he explores the work of Galileo, Tycho Brahe, and other early scientists. He then describes in a clear, vivid, and poetic language our current understanding of the cosmos, painting a sharp picture of how modern astronomers study the universe, the equipment they use, the most prominent scientists, and the major discoveries. A mind-boggling portrait of the cosmos emerges in these pages. We read, for instance, of the incredible size of our own galaxy, the Milky Way, which is some 90,000 light-years in diameter, with several hundred billion stars orbiting its center. More amazing, we discover we live in a universe where stars, like human beings, are born, live, and die, leaving behind such strange and exotic objects as neutron stars and black holes; where time may expand and space may contract; and where billions of galaxies have sprung from a tiny primordial speck that was infinitely smaller than a hydrogen atom in a gigantic explosion, the Big Bang. And, of course, any examination of the origin and nature of the universe inevitably raises philosophical and religious questions, and Thuan examines these issues as well, presenting a provocative case for the anthropic principle (which argues that the universe has been fine-tuned to an extreme precision to produce living creatures with consciousness and intelligence) and illuminating the place of God in a Big Bang cosmology.
Here then is an intriguing look at modern cosmology, blending up-to-the-minute descriptions of the forefront of astronomy with thoughtful reflections on science's possible impact on philosophical and religious belief. With many beautiful and informative illustrations, The Secret Melody is an enthralling look at our endless efforts to understand the cosmos and to hear the music of the stars.