User's Guide to the Universe: Surviving the Perils of Black Holes, Time Paradoxes, and Quantum Uncertainty

Overview

Answers to science's most enduring questions from "Can I break the light-speed barrier like on Star Trek?" and "Is there life on other planets?" to "What is empty space made of?"

This is an indispensable guide to physics that offers readers an overview of the most popular physics topics written in an accessible, irreverent, and engaging manner while still maintaining a tone of wry skepticism. Even the novice will be able to follow along, as the topics are addressed using plain ...

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Overview

Answers to science's most enduring questions from "Can I break the light-speed barrier like on Star Trek?" and "Is there life on other planets?" to "What is empty space made of?"

This is an indispensable guide to physics that offers readers an overview of the most popular physics topics written in an accessible, irreverent, and engaging manner while still maintaining a tone of wry skepticism. Even the novice will be able to follow along, as the topics are addressed using plain English and (almost) no equations. Veterans of popular physics will also find their nagging questions addressed, like whether the universe can expand faster than light, and for that matter, what the universe is expanding into anyway.

  • Gives a one-stop tour of all the big questions that capture the public imagination including string theory, quantum mechanics, parallel universes, and the beginning of time
  • Explains serious science in an entertaining, conversational, and easy-to-understand way
  • Includes dozens of delightfully groan-worthy cartoons that explain everything from special relativity to Dark Matter

 Filled with fascinating information and insights, this book will both deepen and transform your understanding of the universe.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Library Journal
With a large measure of humor and a minimum of math (one equation), physics professor Goldberg and engineer Blomquist delve into the fascinating physics topics that rarely make it into introductory classes, including time travel, extraterrestrials, and "quantum weirdness" to prove that physics' "reputation for being hard, impractical, and boring" is wrong by at least two-thirds: "Hard? Perhaps. Impractical? Definitely not... But boring? That's where we really take issue." Breaking up each topic into common sense questions ("How many habitable planets are there?" "What is Dark Matter?" "If the universe is expanding, what's it expanding into?"), the duo provides explanations in everyday language with helpful examples, analogies, and Blomquist's charmingly unpolished cartoons. Among other lessons, readers will learn about randomness through gambling; how a Star Trek-style transporter might function in the real world; and what may have existed before the Big Bang. Despite the absence of math, this nearly-painless guide is still involved and scientific, aimed at science hobbyists rather than science-phobes; it should also prove an ideal reference companion for more technical classroom texts. 100 b&w photos.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From the Publisher
From Publishers Weekly
With a large measure of humor and a minimum of math (one equation), physics professor Goldberg and engineer Blomquist delve into the fascinating physics topics that rarely make it into introductory classes, including time travel, extraterrestrials, and "quantum weirdness" to prove that physics' "reputation for being hard, impractical, and boring" is wrong by at least two-thirds: "Hard? Perhaps. Impractical? Definitely not... But boring? That's where we really take issue." Breaking up each topic into common sense questions ("How many habitable planets are there?" "What is Dark Matter?" "If the universe is expanding, what's it expanding into-and"), the duo provides explanations in everyday language with helpful examples, analogies, and Blomquist's charmingly unpolished cartoons. Among other lessons, readers will learn about randomness through gambling; how a Star Trek-style transporter might function in the real world; and what may have existed before the Big Bang. Despite the absence of math, this nearly-painless guide is still involved and scientific, aimed at science hobbyists rather than science-phobes; it should also prove an ideal reference companion for more technical classroom texts. 100 b&w photos. 
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

• With a large measure of humor and a minimum of math (one equation), physics professor Goldberg and engineer Blomquist delve into the fascinating physics topics that rarely make it into introductory classes, including time travel, extraterrestrials, and "quantum weirdness" to prove that physics' "reputation for being hard, impractical, and boring" is wrong by at least two-thirds: "Hard? Perhaps. Impractical? Definitely not... But boring? That's where we really take issue." Breaking up each topic into common sense questions ("How many habitable planets are there?" "What is Dark Matter?" "If the universe is expanding, what's it expanding into-and"), the duo provides explanations in everyday language with helpful examples, analogies, and Blomquist's charmingly unpolished cartoons. Among other lessons, readers will learn about randomness through gambling; how a Star Trek-style transporter might function in the real world; and what may have existed before the Big Bang. Despite the absence of math, this nearly-painless guide is still involved and scientific, aimed at science hobbyists rather than science-phobes; it should also prove an ideal reference companion for more technical classroom texts. 100 b&w photos. (Mar.) (PublishersWeekly.com, March 29, 2010)

"If you've ever wondered what happened before the big bang or where the universe is expanding, then the new book A User's Guide to the Universe is for you. A hilariously serious journey through all the big questions (Can I build a time machine?) with answers from real-life physicist David Goldberg and sly illustrator Jeff Blomquist, this indispensable window on modern science makes a great nonfiction companion to the beloved, A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy." (Christian Science Monitor)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780470496510
  • Publisher: Turner Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 3/1/2010
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 7.60 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Dave Goldberg is a professor and director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Physics at Drexel University. He earned a Ph.D. in Astrophysics from Princeton University, and currently works on issues in theoretical cosmology, especially on how gravity can distort our view of the universe. Dr. Goldberg is very interested in the interface between science and pop culture and is especially prone to nerdly excess of sci-fi references. He writes an "Ask a Physicist" column for io9.com, has been featured on NPR's Studio 360, and has contributed to Slate.com and the L.A. Times. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife and daughters.

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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments vii

Introduction 1

"So, what do you do?"

1 Special Relativity 7

"What happens if I'm traveling at the speed of light, and I try to look at myself in a mirror?"

Why can't you tell how fast a ship is moving through fog? 11

How fast does a light beam go if you're running beside it? 16

If you head off in a spaceship traveling at nearly the speed of light, what horrors await you when you return? 20

Can you reach the speed of light (and look at yourself in a mirror)? 23

Isn't relativity supposed to be about turning atoms into limitless power? 26

2 Quantum Weirdness 33

"Is Schr?dinger's Cat Dead or Alive?"

Is light made of tiny particles, or a big wave? 38

Can you change reality just by looking at it? 43

If you look at them closely enough, what are electrons, really? 47

Is there some way I can blame quantum mechanics for all those times I lose things? 50

Can I build a transporter, like on Star Trek? 56

If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound? 59

3 Randomness 67

"Does God play dice with the universe?"

If the physical world is so unpredictable, why doesn't it always seem that way? 70

How does carbon dating work? 76

Does God play dice with the universe? 80

4 The Standard Model 89

"Why didn't the Large Hadron Collider destroy Earth?"

What do we need a multibillion-dollar accelerator for, anyway? 93

How do we discover subatomic particles? 99

Why are there so many different rules for different particles? 103

Where do the forces really come from? 108

Why can't I lose weight (or mass)-all of it? 114

How could little ol' LHC possibly destroy the great big world? 118

If we discover the Higgs, can physicists just call it a day? 122

5 Time Travel 131

"Can I build a time machine?"

Can I build a perpetual motion machine? 133

Are black holes real, or are they just made up by bored physicists? 137

What happens if you fall into a black hole? 142

Can you go back in time and buy stock in Microsoft? 145

Who does time travel right? 151

How can I build a practical time machine? 154

What are my prospects for changing the past? 161

6 The Expanding Universe 165

"If the universe is expanding, what's it expanding into?"

Where is the center of the universe? 170

What's at the edge of the universe? 173

What is empty space made of? 176

How empty is space? 181

Where's all of the stuff? 185

Why is the universe accelerating? 188

What is the shape of the universe? 192

What's the universe expanding into? 195

7 The Big Bang 199

"What happened before the Big Bang?"

Why can't we see all the way back to the Big Bang? 205

Shouldn't the universe be (half) filled with antimatter? 208

Where do atoms come from? 211

How did particles gain all that weight? 216

Is there an exact duplicate of you somewhere else in time and space? 218

Why is there matter? 225

What happened at the very beginning of time? 227

What was before the beginning? 228

8 Extraterrestrials 235

"Is there life on other planets?"

Where is everybody? 237

How many habitable planets are there? 241

How long do intelligent civilizations last? 245

What are the odds against our own existence? 248

9 The Future 253

"What don't we know?"

What is Dark Matter? 256

How long do protons last? 264

How massive or nuetinos? 267

What won't we know anytime soon? 274

Further Reading 281

Technical Reading 283

Index 291

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Sort by: Showing all of 17 Customer Reviews
  • Posted May 6, 2010

    Where theories and practice meet: This book is practical!

    "The life of a physicist can be a lonely one." So begins the Introduction to this fascinating book. Physicist-authors, Goldberg and Blomquist, might have been lonely when they started this book, but all that is past when readers finish the book. I am sure that the two authors must now refuse social invitations to talk sense, just as they wrote sense in this book.

    Composed in everyday language, this book will benefit lots of readers by applying theories from physics to questions that you have always wanted to ask a physicist. For example, you might have wondered: "Can you change reality just by looking at it?" [43]. While answering the question, the following sentence exemplifies the everyday language of the book: "Scientists had observed that if you shine a beam of ultraviolet light on metals, electrons will pop out" [44].

    The book is divided into nine chapters with intriguing titles, such as Chapter 1, 'Special Relativity:' "What Happens if I'm traveling at the speed of light, and I try to look at myself in a mirror?" One of the many interesting features of the book is entertaining line-art figures. Acknowledged artists for "figures," which I assume to imply the line-art drawings in black and white, are Rich Gott and Akira Tonomura [vii]. Take, for example, a caricatured photon depicted on the cover to Chapter 1. The photon is seated at a table with a lamp, and the caption reads: "A photon is grilled to recall the events of the last hundred years." The photon's stunned response is, "I...I don't know! It all happened so fast!" ["fast" is emphasized, p. 7].

    One of many delights in the book appears at the end of Chapter 8 [Chapter title --'Extraterrestrials:' "Is there life on other planets?"]. The subsection is entitled "What are the odds against our own existence?" [248-51]. This part of the book deals with the "anthropic principle," a term which Brandon Carter coined in 1974 to name the phenomenon that human beings do exist despite "the utter improbability of our existence" [249]. The authors introduce Carter's term in order to say that there must be some principle(s) supporting intelligent life, otherwise we wouldn't be here to talk about it. The big picture of this section's discussion is that principles of physics and probability statistics do not pair up on many issues, and the existence of intelligent life is but one of many issues.

    Further reading suggestions [popular references], a reference list of technical sources, and an index of names and subjects conclude this 296-page book. Buy one for yourself and family, and discuss various sections over an evening meal with family and friends. Children from age 10 - 12 will be able to grasp these ideas, and you can make discussions fun by following suggestions for simple experiments. I suggest trying to draw pictures about what you read, because a picture is worth a thousand words. Besides, pictures make physics fun--as it should become for years to come, thanks to this exciting book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2012

    I am loving it even though I havent read it yet

    I haven't read it yet but I have been looking at it by sampling chapters and l love it. The only reason I haven't read it yet is becuase I am reading another book about Physics right now:Black Holes & Baby Universes by Stephen Hawking {this review is by amelia}

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