BRAVE NEW UNIVERSE

ILLUMINATING THE DARKEST SECRETS OF THE COSMOS

PAUL HALPERN AND PAUL WESSON

Joseph Henry Press

Washington, D.C.



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Brave New Universe: Illuminating the Darkest Secrets of the Cosmos BRAVE NEW UNIVERSE ILLUMINATING THE DARKEST SECRETS OF THE COSMOS PAUL HALPERN AND PAUL WESSON Joseph Henry Press Washington, D.C.

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Brave New Universe: Illuminating the Darkest Secrets of the Cosmos Joseph Henry Press 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001 The Joseph Henry Press, an imprint of the National Academies Press, was created with the goal of making books on science, technology, and health more widely available to professionals and the public. Joseph Henry was one of the founders of the National Academy of Sciences and a leader in early American science. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this volume are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Academy of Sciences or its affiliated institutions. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Halpern, Paul, 1961- Brave new universe : illuminating the darkest secrets of the cosmos / by Paul Halpern and Paul Wesson.— 1st ed. p. cm. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-309-10137-9 (hardcover : alk. paper) — ISBN 0-309-65823-3 (PDFs : alk. paper) 1. Cosmology. I. Wesson, Paul S. II. Title. QB981.H248 2006 523.1—dc22 2006004464 Cover Image © Mark Garlick/Photo Researchers, Inc. Copyright 2006 by Paul Halpern and Paul Wesson. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America.

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Brave New Universe: Illuminating the Darkest Secrets of the Cosmos O, wonder! How many goodly atoms are there here! How mysterious the dark substances and energies are! O brave new universe that hath such diverse materials in it! The Cosmic Tempest (with apologies to William Shakespeare)

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Brave New Universe: Illuminating the Darkest Secrets of the Cosmos Contents     Preface   vii     Introduction: The Quest for Cosmic Understanding   1 1   To See the World in a Grain of Sand: What We Can Observe from Earth   7 2   Infinity in the Palm of Your Hand: Einstein’s Far-Reaching Vision   27 3   Eternity in an Hour: The Accelerating Universe   75 4   Darkness Apparent: The Hidden Stuff of the Cosmos   121 5   Ever-Changing Moods: Did Nature’s Constants Evolve?   147 6   Escape Clause: Circumventing the Big Bang Singularity   173 7   What Is Real?   195     Conclusion: The Spirit of Eddington   215     Acknowledgments   235     Notes   237     Further Reading   245     Index   249

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Brave New Universe: Illuminating the Darkest Secrets of the Cosmos Preface In this book the two Pauls wish to share with readers the fascination that is modern cosmology—the study of the universe. Recent years have seen monumental progress in this field, transforming it from a compendium of rough observations and general trends into a finely honed science, analyzed through statistical and computational techniques. This revolution is akin to the leap taken in weather forecasting when meteorologists turned to detailed mathematical models and to the strides in genetics when biologists began mapping out the precise structures of chromosomes. As with other human pursuits, we can learn a lot about cosmology by looking at its puzzles and seeing how they can be solved. Archaeologists do this when they study the structure of the ancient pyramids. Musicians do it when they pore over the scores of bygone composers. Painters do it when they scrutinize the techniques of the Old Masters. Even physicians do it, when in setting out to cure an illness they develop a better understanding of what it means to be healthy. Our aim is to examine the conundrums posed by cosmology so that, through their resolution, we can obtain a deeper comprehension of the universe. A typical example is Olbers’ paradox—the mystery of why the night sky is dark. Under what appear to be fairly simple assumptions, the universe should be ablaze with the light from trillions of stars and galaxies, instead of the speckled black we observe. Anyone

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Brave New Universe: Illuminating the Darkest Secrets of the Cosmos with a clear mind, anyone who has been awed by the darkness of a clear night, can solve this paradox—and thus reveal deep truths about the nature of space. Delving into other basic issues offers valuable insight about additional aspects of reality: Where are the aliens? What would happen if we fell into a black hole? Was there really a Big Bang? Can matter have negative mass? Are there extra dimensions and perhaps parallel universes? Are we as humans affected by the most remote objects we see through large telescopes, such as quasars? In this book we demonstrate how even in this age of fantastic new technologies—with reams of telescopic data flooding astronomers’ computers—some of the most poignant dilemmas can be tackled through sheer reasoning. Often, one does not need fancy machines or complicated mathematics to get to the crux of a subject. An old English saying warns of the danger of not being able to see the wood for the trees. As we will show, our insights help us reveal the “solid wood” of modern cosmology. With all our grand explorations, nothing is more extraordinary than the power of the human mind.