13.8: The Quest to Find the True Age of the Universe and the Theory of Everything

13.8: The Quest to Find the True Age of the Universe and the Theory of Everything

by John Gribbin


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A celebrated astronomer makes a powerful case for the harmony between two of physics’ most important and seemingly contradictory theories

The twentieth century gave us two great theories of physics. The general theory of relativity describes the behavior of very large things, and quantum theory the behavior of very small things. In this landmark book, John Gribbin—one of the best-known science writers of the past thirty years—presents his own version of the Holy Grail of physics, the search that has been going on for decades to find a unified “Theory of Everything” that combines these ideas into one mathematical package, a single equation that could be printed on a T-shirt, containing the answer to life, the Universe, and everything. With his inimitable mixture of science, history, and biography, Gribbin shows how—despite skepticism among many physicists—these two great theories are very compatible, and point to a deep truth about the nature of our existence. The answer lies, intriguingly, with the age of the universe: 13.8 billion years.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780300230635
Publisher: Yale University Press
Publication date: 10/24/2017
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 256
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

John Gribbin is a visiting fellow in astronomy at the University of Sussex in the United Kingdom and the author of many best-selling science books.

Table of Contents

About the Author v

Acknowledgements vi

List of Illustrations vii

Introduction: The Most Important Fact xi

Part 0 Prologue 1

2.712 - Taking the temperature of the Universe 3

Part 1 How Do We Know the Ages of Stars? 21

1 2.898 - Prehistory: Spectra and the nature of stars 23

Locating lines 23

Hunting helium 26

Hunting hydrogen 28

The heat of the Sun 32

The heat of the stars 34

The heat inside 37

2 0.008 - At the heart of the Sun 41

A French connection 42

No free lunch 44

Seats of enormous energies 50

A hotter place? 58

A quantum of solace 62

3 7.65 - Making 'metals' 65

Cycles and chains of fusion 69

Rocks of ages 75

From the Bomb to the stars 79

The last should be first 82

Stardust 86

4 13.2 - The ages of stars 91

Hertzsprung, Russell and the diagram 91

Ashes to ashes 93

Globular cluster ages 96

White dwarf ages 100

Radiometric ages and the oldest known star 105

Part 2 How Do We Know the Age of the Universe? 113

5 31.415 - Prehistory: Galaxies and the Universe at large 115

The power of pure reason 116

One step forward, two steps back 118

Nebular spectroscopy 121

First steps 123

The long and winding road 128

An unresolved debate 131

A universe destroyed 135

6 575 - The discovery of the expanding Universe 139

Surprising speeds 139

Taking the credit 142

A Russian revolution 148

A Priestly intercession 154

7 75 - Sizing up the cosmic soufflé 161

Einstein's lost model 163

Keeping it simple 165

Across the Universe 169

Doubling the distances 169

Hubble's heir 177

Another Great Debate 184

8 13.8 - Surveys and satellites 189

The culmination of a tradition 189

Too perfect? 192

The dark side 197

Supernovae and superexpansion 206

Sounding out the Universe 210

Ultimate truth 214

Glossary 221

Sources and Further Reading 233

End Notes 235

Index 237

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