October 11, 1994
With lucidity and grace a brilliant cosmologist here describes his work and illuminates his world.
Seeking to explain how astronomy is made and what he himself does, Alan Dressler tells the story of a decade-long study he undertook with six colleagues to determine whether the universe has expanded smoothly and symmetrically since its creation.
He leads us through the research step-by-step. We see close-up the background of each scientist involved in the project. We discover how they work together; how their complementary skills – and their differences – are instrumental in their formation of hypotheses about our origins, and how these hypotheses must be proven or modified one by one if we are to find explanations for phenomena that can rarely be directly observed in detail.
We watch the team probing intergalactic space and arriving ultimately at the discovery that our Milky Way galaxy and its neighbors are moving toward a great attractor – a distant continent of matter, mostly invisible, containing thousands of galaxies.
We see how the work done by this group of scientists blends with the work of other astronomers who have discovered that galaxies, previously thought to be more or less evenly distributed throughout the universe, are actually collected into huge superclusters separated by vast empty voids. And we arrive at an understanding of how the strength and texture of this pattern – the contrast between the superclusters of galaxies and the voids – may well reveal the nature of matter and energy in the first moments after the Big Bang, during which time events took place that predestined the universe in which we came to be.
A gripping account and exploration – clear and challenging and poetic – of what drives the scientist to feats of discovery: the search for order and the overwhelming need to know why things happen as they do.
Alan Dressler is an astronomer at the Observatories of the Carnegie Institution, in Pasadena, California. He received five graduate and postdoctoral fellowships to pursue his studies before he joined the Carnegie staff in 1981. A guest lecturer at more than a hundred universities and conferences, including the Smithsonian and the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, he has written for Scientific American and The Sciences. In 1993 he was elected to the distinguished Academy of Arts and Sciences. He lives in Altadena, California.