For all curious readers, a lively introduction to radical ideas and discoveries that are transforming our knowledge of the universe This book provides a tour of the “greatest hits” of cosmological discoveries—the ideas that reshaped our universe over the past century. The cosmos, once understood as a stagnant place, filled with the ordinary, is now a universe that is expanding at an accelerating pace, propelled by dark energy and structured by dark matter. Priyamvada Natarajan, our guide to these ideas, is someone at the forefront of the research—an astrophysicist who literally creates maps of invisible matter in the universe. She not only explains for a wide audience the science behind these essential ideas but also provides an understanding of how radical scientific theories gain acceptance. The formation and growth of black holes, dark matter halos, the accelerating expansion of the universe, the echo of the big bang, the discovery of exoplanets, and the possibility of other universes—these are some of the puzzling cosmological topics of the early twenty-first century. Natarajan discusses why the acceptance of new ideas about the universe and our place in it has never been linear and always contested even within the scientific community. And she affirms that, shifting and incomplete as science always must be, it offers the best path we have toward making sense of our wondrous, mysterious universe.
Priyamvada Natarajan is professor of astronomy and physics at Yale University and holds the Sophie and Tycho Brahe Professorship at the Dark Center, Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, and an honorary professorship at the University of Delhi, India.
Table of Contents
1 Early Cosmic Maps 1
2 The Growing Border: The Universe Expands 29
3 The Dark Center: Black Holes Become Real 66
4 The Invisible Grid: Coping with Dark Matter 96
5 The Changing Scale: The Accelerating Universe 129
6 The Next Wrinkle: The Discovery of Cosmic Background Radiation 160
7 The New Reality and the Quest for Other Worlds 193
Suggested Further Reading 246
How do you map the universe? Explorers once understood Earth by mapping what they saw. If I only included visible objects in my map of the universe, it would show a mere four percent of the cosmos. Equipped with Einstein’s theory of general relativity, I use gravity to see how invisible “dark matter” bends light from stars and galaxies. This provides a remarkably detailed picture of the structure of the universe.
Is dark matter real? Scientists know a lot about how dark matter is distributed in the universe and the critical role it plays in the formation of galaxies. Dark matter is mysterious because it lacks much personality—it interacts very weakly with ordinary matter (like you), it moves sluggishly, and it accumulates in lumps. You are right to be skeptical—the history of science is replete with abandoned invisible explanations (ether, miasma, and phlogiston)—but there is much evidence that dark matter is real.
Could a figure like Einstein exist today? No and yes. Many fields are so specialized that it is hard to imagine one person making an Einsteinian impact. That said, the Internet makes it much easier for an outsider to garner the attention of the scientific establishment. Of course she would still need transformative, innovative, and radical ideas.
Where will we find the next radical scientific ideas? We now have copious data in cosmology, neuroscience, genetics, and material science. Finding and comprehending meaningful patterns in that data will allow us to mine for fundamental principles and new frontiers for exploration. This is how I think we are going to find the next radical idea that could upend everything!
The 2012 winner of the Yale Drama Series A fifteen-year-old boy decides to accompany his
severely depressed high school French teacher on a road trip to the Canadian province of Quebec, where the mother tongue of Voltaire and Balzac is ...
Pyle’s classic account of discovery along the migration trail of monarch butterflies is part natural
history, part road trip adventure Although no one had ever followed North American monarch butterflies on their annual southward journey to Mexico and California, in the ...
A seminal biography of the underappreciated eleventh-century Scandinavian warlord-turned-Anglo-Saxon monarch who united the English and
Danish crowns to forge a North Sea empire Historian Timothy Bolton offers a fascinating reappraisal of one of the most misunderstood of the Anglo-Saxon kings: ...
The most authoritative book to date on the life and work of Eero Saarinen, one
of the most influential architects of the 20th century From the swooping concrete vaults of the TWA Terminal at JFK Airport to the 630-foot-tall Gateway ...
The first exploration of Bacon’s compelling work during the key decade when he was attaining
the height of his powers From the screaming heads and snarling chimpanzees of the late 1940s to the anonymous figures trapped in tortured isolation some ...
This "bold new English translation” (Adam Kirsch, Wall Street Journal) of Job by one of the
world’s leading biblical scholars will reshape the way we read this canonical text “A work of erudition with . . . a revolutionary twist.”—James Parker, ...
A tale of violence, lofty ideals, and moral ambiguity, Fontaine’s best-selling novel is now available
in a superb English translation Set in the darkest years of the Pinochet dictatorship, La Vida Doble is the story of Lorena, a leftist militant ...
“If justice had a Jericho trumpet, Chamoiseau would be it.”—Junot Díaz As migrants embark on
perilous journeys across oceans and deserts in pursuit of sanctuary and improved living conditions, what is the responsibility of those safely ensconced in the nations ...