Book Reviews

Cosmology


LA trip! We just went to the Griffith Observatory and watched their absolutely amazing planetarium show, “Centered in the Universe.” After a long day of walking, you can sit in cushy reclining seats and look at a blue sky projected on the dome. A man’s calm and comforting voice surrounds you once everyone gets settled in their chairs. He holds a glowing orb and speaks of the way our ancestors viewed the sky, and how we still look to the stars to try and answer some of life’s hardest questions, like how did we get here? He finished his speech and the projected sun sets, giving way to a starry sky, the kind not often seen in Southern California. The show continues, starting from Ptolemy, moving on to Galileo, and later to Hubble. Throughout the show, the man tells the story of our night sky and what we’ve learned so far, including mentions of dark matter and dark energy.

Currently, I’m reading The Trouble with Physics by Lee Smolin. I admit, it is over my head, especially considering I have yet to take physics. But what I do understand is interesting. As far as I can gather, the book seeks to explain where physics is now. For the past 200 years, physics was a very fruitful, progresssive science, with new worldview-altering discoveries every 25 years or so. Since the 1970’s, however, physics as a science has come up short for any new unifications to progress the field. (This is from 2006, before the Higgs particle was observed, so I need to do more research and see if the state of physics has changed in the last 11 years.) In the first chapter of the book, Smolin describes what he finds to be the 5 main problems that make up the outer bounds of current physics knowledge, number 5 being “Explain dark matter and dark energy. Or, if they don’t exist, determine how and why gravity is modified on large scales. More generally, explain why the constants of the standard model of cosmology, including the dark energy, have the values they do.” I was glad the show touched on these hypotheses because it gave me a bit more background to understand what the book is talking about. I also appreciated having a visual representation to gain a better understanding. Still confusing stuff, though.

I may have been able to clear it up with a book from The Last Book Store, but sadly after spending an hourish in the science section, I ran out of time just as I hit the cosmology shelf. (I still made it out with 6 other books though) I’ll make sure to check out the cosmology section next time I’m in the library. After all, as Carl Sagan once said, we are all made of starstuff.

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