Two physicists lead a tour of our universe and explain how we can better understand it by “doing science.”
Authors who take on cosmology have a difficult job. Many concepts (relativity, quantum phenomena) are complex, and even familiar ones, like gravity and light, need at least a little mathematics to make sense. Since equations are often considered the kiss of death regarding sales to general readership, popular science writers traditionally assure readers that none will sully their texts. Even in skilled hands, the simplification and/or absence of math converts much of cosmology into a magic show. Although they’re entertained, readers must accept many phenomena on faith. This is not a problem since few creationists read these books, but TV commentator Cox (Particle Physics/Univ. of Manchester) and Forshaw (Theoretical Physics/Univ. of Manchester), who have co-authored multiple books, including The Quantum Universe (2012), refuse to take that approach. The authors not only describe what cosmologists have learned over the centuries, but how they proved it, and there is no shortage of math. As they note, “anybody, standing in their back garden with a reasonably sized amateur telescope…can prove that we live in an expanding Universe and measure the rate of the Universe’s expansion.” Readers willing to make a modest effort and use their high school algebra can confirm that examining the present universe makes it clear that it began with the Big Bang. Calculating when this happened is not difficult, but determining how everything—i.e. space, time, matter, and energy—evolved takes some thought. Fortunately, plenty of brilliant scientists, led by Einstein (a big favorite of the authors), gave it close attention.
Many readers will settle for the magic show, but those who choose to pore over the authors’ explanations and perhaps take a pencil and paper to follow along will gain a more significant understanding of some profound cosmological phenomena.