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One Universe by Neil deGrasse Tyson and Charles Liu

2000; 218 pp.

$40

Joseph Henry Press

Ah, what a universe! Maybe only a little one in the grander multiverse of the ultimate cosmos, but it is where we live. Our universe, defined by only six constants, such as the speed of light and the pull of gravity, and by only the four known laws of thermodynamics. I used to dream I could saddle up a light beam and then inch my body up the beam. Both astrophysics and I were too young to know that in my dream I was space/time traveling into another universe organized by different constants and, perhaps, a different Big Bang.

One Universe , though spectacularly beautiful, is not a coffee table book with lots of gripping photos and minimal text.

It has a smart and comprehensible text, info-captions, colorized astro-images, and elegantly rendered 3-D diagrams ?all woven together with intelligence and pizzazz.

Here in our itty-bitty universe, in which everything moves, and matter and energy tangle and disattach, there remain lots of mysteries and invisible powers. These cosmic forces once proclaimed themselves as gods and goddesses. Now, in One Universe , they sport monikers like Galactic Tide, Shepherd Moon, Fermion, Quark, Gluon, and Gravitron. So read all about it: the Pulsing Heart of the Crab Nebula, the Violet Shift as light spirals into a black hole, Earth's Precession, the Retrograde Mystery, and Cosmic Magnetospheres. It's science's depiction of our secular cosmos at its best.

" ...No wall separates our Earth and sky from the rest of the cosmos. We live in One Universe. Some of those connections are easy to see. A crystal hanging in a window lights the room with bands of color on a sunny day. We use more elaborate crystals to break up light from stars and galaxies. Special instruments extract hidden details from those delicate rainbows, revealing what the objects are made of and how they move through space. Baseball fans watch the cosmos at work when they follow the arc of a home run soaring into the bleachers. The arc is a perfect illustration of the ever-present force of gravity, which pins us to the ground, keeps the Moon in orbit around Earth, and steers our Sun through our Milky Way galaxy. The Moon and the Sun also exert gravitational pulls on Earth, creating tides that we see as the twice-daily ebb and flow of the ocean. Stronger tides elsewhere in the universe turn the insides of moons to mush and stretch pairs of closely orbiting stars into egglike shapes.

"Today's best candidate for such a unifying description is called string theory. For a moment, suspend all preconception you have about matter to entertain what string theorists claim. In the standard model, we can think of particles as points of mass. No, say string theorists; particles actually are minuscule strings or membranes that vibrate in space. Each particle would represent a different mode of vibration of the strings, much as a single guitar string can create many notes. The forces of nature would arise from the harmony of the interacting strings.

"One crucial puzzle goes by the name of 'dark matter.' Simply put, this is stuff we can't see, yet it exerts a gravitational pull like visible matter. Objects that shine may dominate our images of the cosmos, but they hardly make a difference in the big picture of mass in the universe. At least 90 percent of all mass out there is invisible in any wavelength of light?perhaps as much as 99 percent. Indeed, if our telescopes observed gravity rather than light, the cherished galaxies in galaxy clusters would appear as insignificant blips amid giant gravitational fields. "

 

ISBN: 0309064880

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