Oxford University Press
December 9, 1999
How old is the universe? How far away are the galaxies and how fast are they traveling away from us? What do the atoms in our bodies, and our very own existence, tell us about the history of the universe? Are we in a special place in the universe? What is dark matter and why do astronomers think it pervades the universe? How heavy is the vacuum? How do galaxies form?
Michael Rowan-Robinson answers these and other questions in a highly original and intriguing way: he encapsulates our current knowledge of the universe into nine numbers. Each chapter is built around a very basic fact about the universe, beginning with the simple but profound one that we exist. Along the way, ideas that underpin modern cosmology, like the origin of the elements, the General Theory of Relativity, quantum theory, and the standard model of particle physics, are explained clearly and accessibly. And while speculative ideas like inflation, ‘Theories of Everything,’ and strings and super strings are here, they are treated with a refreshing scepticism. Here, then, is a masterly account of what we know (and, equally important, but we don’t know) about the origin and nature of the universe.
Although most of what we know has been learnt during the twentieth century, Rowan-Robinson provides a historical perspective, paying homage to the achievements of the Greeks, Renaissance astronomers and the age of Newton. He ends the book with a look to the future, predicting that with the measurements to be made by the MAP and the PLANCK-Surveyor space missions, the Large Hadron Collider and other planned projects, all the nine numbers described in the book will be accurately known by 2015. But many questions and mysteries will remain and the book concludes with the prediction that the origin of the Big Bang itself will still be a mystery at the end of the twenty-first century, and perhaps even in the year 3000.
Michael Rowan-Robinson is Professor of Astrophysics and Head of the Astrophysics Group at Imperial College, London. An internationally recognized expert on observational cosmology, he leads several major international collaborations in infrared and submillimetre astronomy. He has served on numerous advisory bodies for ground-based and space astronomy, and has received a NASA Public Service award for his work on the Infrared Astronomical Satellite (IRAS) mission. His previous books for the general reader are Ripples in the Cosmos, Universe (Our Universe: An Armchair Guide in the USA), Fire and Ice: The Nuclear Winter, and Cosmic Landscape. He is the author of two textbooks, Cosmology and The Cosmological Distance Ladder.