Astronomy 2015-07.bak

BOOKS
ASTRONOMY & COSMOLOGY

Magazine

– Astronomy – July 2015

Books

1.
Michael J. Crowe
The Extraterrestrial Life Debate, Antiquity to 1915: A Source Book

This book presents key documents from the pre-1915 history of the extraterrestrial life debate. Introductions and commentaries accompany each source document, some of which are published here for the first time or in a new translation. The authors included are Aristotle, Lucretius, Aquinas, Nicholas of Cusa, Galileo, Kepler, Pascal, Fontenelle, Huygens, Newton, Pope, Voltaire, Kant, Paine, Chalmers, Darwin, Wallace, Dostoevski, Lowell, and Antoniadi, among others. Michael J. Crowe has compiled an extensive bibliography not available in other sources.These materials reveal that the extraterrestrial life debate, rather than being a relatively modern phenomenon, has extended throughout nearly all Western history and has involved many of its leading intellectuals. The readings also demonstrate that belief in extraterrestrial life has had major effects on science and society, and that metaphysical and religious views have permeated the debate throughout much of its history.

2.
James M. Overduin
The Light/Dark Universe: Light from Galaxies, Dark Matter and Dark Energy

To the eyes of the average person and the trained scientist, the night sky is dark, even though the universe is populated by myriads of bright galaxies. Why this happens is a question commonly called Olbers Paradox, and dates from at least 1823. How dark is the night sky is a question which preoccupies astrophysicists at the present. The answer to both questions tells us about the origin of the universe and the nature of its contents luminous galaxies like the Milky Way, plus the dark matter between them and the mysterious dark energy which appears to be pushing everything apart. In this book, the fascinating history of Olbers Paradox is reviewed, and the intricate physics of the light/dark universe is examined in detail. The fact that the night sky is dark (a basic astronomical observation that anybody can make) turns out to be connected with the finite age of the universe, thereby confirming some event like the Big Bang. But the space between the galaxies is not perfectly black, and data on its murkiness at various wavelengths can be used to constrain and identify its unseen constituents.

3.
Jean-Philippe Uzan
The Natural Laws of the Universe: Understanding Fundamental Constants (Springer Praxis Books / Popular Astronomy)

Constants, such as the gravitational constant and the speed of light, are present in all the laws of physics. Recent observations have cast doubt on one of them. Does this mean that the structure of physics will crumble? Are we seeing the dawn of a scientific revolution? This book is written in the form of an enquiry into the importance of a possible variation in fundamental constants. Jean-Philippe Uzan and Benedicte Leclercq ask such questions as:
What is a constant? What role do constants play in the laws of physics? How can we verify that they are indeed constants?
The authors take us though the history of the ideas of physics, evoking major discoveries from Galileo and Newton to Planck and Einstein and raising questions provoked by ever more current accurate observations. They approach physics by way of its constants in order to distinguish the fundamental from the particular, and to recognise different physical forces, but these cannot be drawn together into one unique force, as those seeking a unified theory would like. The book shows how the development of theories leads to simplification, analogy and the regrouping of phenomena. It describes how physicists seek to explain why the world is as it is and why can they cannot explain the values of the mass of elementary particles such as the electron and the proton. The authors ask if we can have confidence in the promising theory of superstrings, which would reinterpret these particles as states of vibration of the strings, extended objects appearing only in macroscopic dimensions.
This highly instructive survey of physics, from the laboratory to the depths of space, explores the paths of gravitation, general relativity and new theories such as that of superstrings. It is complete and coherent, and goes beyond the subject of constants to explain and discuss many ideas in physics, encountering along the way, for example, such exciting details as the discovery of a natural nuclear reactor at Oklo in Gabon.

4.
Guillermo Gonzalez
The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery

Earth. The Final Frontier Contrary to popular belief, Earth is not an insignificant blip on the universe’s radar. Our world proves anything but average in Guillermo Gonzalez and Jay W. Richards’ The Privileged Planet: How Our Place in the Cosmos Is Designed for Discovery. But what exactly does Earth bring to the table? How does it prove its worth among numerous planets and constellations in the vastness of the Milky Way? In The Privileged Planet, you’ll learn about the world’s: life-sustaining capabilities water and its miraculous makeup protection by the planetary giants And how our planet came into existence in the first place.

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