January 1, 1981
In Cosmic Dawn, Harvard astrophysicist Eric Chaisson takes us on a mind-boggling, interdisciplinary tour of fifteen billion years of cosmic history – an epochal saga still in the process of being written, as modern technology revolutionizes our understanding of the origin, evolution, and destiny of all that lies on planet Earth and in the Universe beyond.
Chaisson probes the deepest nature of the universe in this dynamic, thoroughgoing work, drawing on every field of modern science – astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, geology, anthropology, and sociology, among others – in an attempt to unravel the two most fundamental problems of all: the origin of matter and the origin of life.
Writing in clear, non-technical terms that give a feeling for the frontiers of science, Chaisson outlines the prevailing scientific view known as cosmic evolution – an astounding concept of interrelatedness the traces the transformation of simple atoms into galaxies, stars, planets, and life. He follows its course and a grand scenario of cosmic events that includes the making of the Universe, the emergence of matter from radiation, the dawn of galaxies, the origin of stars, the birth of planets, the beginnings of life, and the development of man, whose unique cultural evolution has made him responsible for the future of this planet.
Since the dawn of consciousness, man has asked such fundamental questions as Who are we? Where did we come from? How do we relate to the rest of the Universe? What is our destiny? What are the origin and destiny of the Earth, the Sun, the Universe? Cosmic Dawn transfers these queries from the speculative realms of philosophy and religion into the late twentieth century arena of inspired scientific research and dramatic technological advances.
In an ominous, even shattering look at the near future, Chaisson regards the possibilities for future life on Earth, in the Solar System, and in the Universe. Yet, despite perils of nearly infinite difficulty, he envisions the dawn of a second great era of cosmic history: “A Life Era. Why? Because technology enables life to begin to control matter, rivaling that previous transformation when matter began uncoupling from radiation more than ten billion years ago.… This is a transition of astronomical significance, the dawn of a whole new reign of cosmic development.… The cycle is nearly complete. Life now contemplates life.”
Eric Chaisson is an associate professor at Harvard and a staff member of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He has conducted important research on the Milky Way, especially the formation of stars in interstellar space, and in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence in the Galaxy.