THE VERY FIRST LIGHT

THE TRUE INSIDE STORY OF THE SCIENTIFIC JOURNEY BACK TO THE DAWN OF THE UNIVERSE

The Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) was one of the most successful scientific packages ever launched by NASA; here, the chief project scientist tells its story. COBE was designed to make three delicate measurements of the microwave energy that cosmologists believe to be the last remnant of the Big Bang. Mather and Boslough (a freelance journalist) begin with a quick look at the launching of the satellite, then flash back to cover the scientific background. The Big Bang theory arose from the discovery, early in this century, that distant galaxies are moving away from Earth at high speeds. By the 1940s, scientists had concluded that the universe must have originated in a gigantic explosion, the Big Bang. The greatly cooled energy of that explosion—the cosmic background—was detected in 1964. But the microwave frequencies of the energy were difficult to measure precisely from the surface of the Earth. When NASA put out a call for experiments to be conducted on future satellite launches, the cosmic background measurement was an obvious candidate; NASA eventually combined three proposals into a single project, the COBE. Some 1,600 scientists and technicians would eventually be involved in the project. The design team faced great challenges: Instruments had to be fitted into a severely restricted space, and, while the instrumentation had to be sufficiently precise to do the job, it also had to be tough enough to withstand the rigors of a space shuttle launch. Meanwhile, the team had to keep the project moving forward despite budget cuts, changes in NASA administrators, and rivalry among engineers, scientists, and bureaucrats. In the end, the experiments were spectacularly successful; the instruments sent back data that confirmed the Big Bang theory. Mather concludes by considering the larger cosmological questions yet to be answered, and reflecting on the place of human beings in the cosmos. A useful look behind the scenes of modern science, as told by one of the key players.

Pub Date: Dec. 4, 1996

ISBN: 0-465-01575-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1996

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Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science...

A SHORT HISTORY OF NEARLY EVERYTHING

Bryson (I'm a Stranger Here Myself, 1999, etc.), a man who knows how to track down an explanation and make it confess, asks the hard questions of science—e.g., how did things get to be the way they are?—and, when possible, provides answers.

As he once went about making English intelligible, Bryson now attempts the same with the great moments of science, both the ideas themselves and their genesis, to resounding success. Piqued by his own ignorance on these matters, he’s egged on even more so by the people who’ve figured out—or think they’ve figured out—such things as what is in the center of the Earth. So he goes exploring, in the library and in company with scientists at work today, to get a grip on a range of topics from subatomic particles to cosmology. The aim is to deliver reports on these subjects in terms anyone can understand, and for the most part, it works. The most difficult is the nonintuitive material—time as part of space, say, or proteins inventing themselves spontaneously, without direction—and the quantum leaps unusual minds have made: as J.B.S. Haldane once put it, “The universe is not only queerer than we suppose; it is queerer than we can suppose.” Mostly, though, Bryson renders clear the evolution of continental drift, atomic structure, singularity, the extinction of the dinosaur, and a mighty host of other subjects in self-contained chapters that can be taken at a bite, rather than read wholesale. He delivers the human-interest angle on the scientists, and he keeps the reader laughing and willing to forge ahead, even over their heads: the human body, for instance, harboring enough energy “to explode with the force of thirty very large hydrogen bombs, assuming you knew how to liberate it and really wished to make a point.”

Loads of good explaining, with reminders, time and again, of how much remains unknown, neatly putting the death of science into perspective.

Pub Date: May 6, 2003

ISBN: 0-7679-0817-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Broadway

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2003

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A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

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NO ONE IS TOO SMALL TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE

A collection of articulate, forceful speeches made from September 2018 to September 2019 by the Swedish climate activist who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in such venues as the European and British Parliaments, the French National Assembly, the Austrian World Summit, and the U.N. General Assembly, Thunberg has always been refreshingly—and necessarily—blunt in her demands for action from world leaders who refuse to address climate change. With clarity and unbridled passion, she presents her message that climate change is an emergency that must be addressed immediately, and she fills her speeches with punchy sound bites delivered in her characteristic pull-no-punches style: “I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel every day. And then I want you to act.” In speech after speech, to persuade her listeners, she cites uncomfortable, even alarming statistics about global temperature rise and carbon dioxide emissions. Although this inevitably makes the text rather repetitive, the repetition itself has an impact, driving home her point so that no one can fail to understand its importance. Thunberg varies her style for different audiences. Sometimes it is the rousing “our house is on fire” approach; other times she speaks more quietly about herself and her hopes and her dreams. When addressing the U.S. Congress, she knowingly calls to mind the words and deeds of Martin Luther King Jr. and John F. Kennedy. The last speech in the book ends on a note that is both challenging and upbeat: “We are the change and change is coming.” The edition published in Britain earlier this year contained 11 speeches; this updated edition has 16, all worth reading.

A tiny book, not much bigger than a pamphlet, with huge potential impact.

Pub Date: Nov. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-14-313356-8

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2019

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