“We are embedded in a magical matrix of continuous motion,” writes Astronomy columnist and Old Farmer’s Almanac science editor Berman (The Sun's Heartbeat: And Other Stories from the Life of the Star that Powers Our Planet, 2011, etc.).
The author explains how, following two days of heavy rain that wreaked havoc on his rural community, he decided “to probe the most amazing motions of nature.” This led him to visit a mountain observatory in the Andes, where massive telescopes probe the far reaches of the universe in search of new galaxies. There, the author interviewed Dan Kelson, who has pioneered a new technology for “gathering the light from galaxies eight billion light-years away.” Kelson’s methods allow the detection of “objects rushing away from us at the astounding speed of 112,000 miles per second…more than half the speed of light.” Berman then discusses the explosive rate at which the universe is inflating as new galaxies are created and older ones fly apart. He introduces some deeper issues of cosmology—e.g., whether the universe had a beginning and whether or not it is infinite—placing them in a historical perspective, from Aristotle's speculations to Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Switching gears, Berman looks at events in nature that are so slow that we fail to observe their motion. An example of this is the shift of the Earth's magnetic poles—not to be confused with their fixed geographic counterparts. The author also considers our subjective perception of motion, which is relative to the size of a moving object—e.g., an airplane slowing for a landing appears to be virtually motionless while birds in flight seem to move quickly—and the rapidity with which we and other living creatures process information.
An engagingly quirky popular treatment of the ongoing debate about the nature of space and time in the universe and our place as both observers and participants.