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Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Invisible Universe

Jeremiah P. Ostriker
Simon Mitton
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Heart of Darkness
    Book Description:

    Heart of Darknessdescribes the incredible saga of humankind's quest to unravel the deepest secrets of the universe. Over the past thirty years, scientists have learned that two little-understood components--dark matter and dark energy--comprise most of the known cosmos, explain the growth of all cosmic structure, and hold the key to the universe's fate. The story of how evidence for the so-called "Lambda-Cold Dark Matter" model of cosmology has been gathered by generations of scientists throughout the world is told here by one of the pioneers of the field, Jeremiah Ostriker, and his coauthor Simon Mitton.

    From humankind's early attempts to comprehend Earth's place in the solar system, to astronomers' exploration of the Milky Way galaxy and the realm of the nebulae beyond, to the detection of the primordial fluctuations of energy from which all subsequent structure developed, this book explains the physics and the history of how the current model of our universe arose and has passed every test hurled at it by the skeptics. Throughout this rich story, an essential theme is emphasized: how three aspects of rational inquiry--the application of direct measurement and observation, the introduction of mathematical modeling, and the requirement that hypotheses should be testable and verifiable--guide scientific progress and underpin our modern cosmological paradigm.

    The story is far from complete, however, as scientists confront the mysteries of the ultimate causes of cosmic structure formation and the real nature and origin of dark matter and dark energy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4464-7
    Subjects: Astronomy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)
  5. Prologue From Myth to Reality
    (pp. 1-26)

    When we look up at a clear, dark sky and are inspired with wonder and curiosity by the sight above us, we share a long and vibrant story with our ancestors—a quest to understand the nature, origin, and behavior of the glimmering points and patches of light above and around us. What are the heavens made of? And what is our own planet Earth’s place within the cosmos that surrounds us? These questions occupied the philosophers of antiquity for centuries. They fascinated such luminaries as Nicolas Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, and Isaac Newton, and they continue to captivate the leading...

  6. Chapter One Einstein’s Toolkit, and How to Use It
    (pp. 27-51)

    As the nineteenth century drew to a close and the new century dawned, an intellectual ferment spread across the disciplines comprising western culture. Art, music, literature, and science were radically transformed in the Modernist period to a degree comparable to the changes that occurred in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. The revolutionary expansion of our cosmic consciousness, which we will detail in the next chapter, was paralleled by the revolution in our scientific tools—the laws of physics. But at first no one saw the changes that were coming in both physics and astronomy. The complacent, turn-of-the-century belief that the...

  7. Chapter Two The Realm of the Nebulae
    (pp. 52-88)

    The 1919 British eclipse expedition confirmed Einstein’s general theory of relativity, proving that theoretical astronomers had a toolkit they could use to investigate the properties of the universe. However, studying the remote cosmos soon became an activity in which the old world astronomers could not compete with those in the new world. Observatories under the clear and peaceful skies of Arizona and California emerged from wartime as the places where the discoveries were to be made. Mount Wilson Observatory, Pasadena, boasted a 60-inch telescope and the newly completed 100-inch telescope, the largest in the world.

    American observers, using these new,...

  8. Chapter Three Let’s Do Cosmology!
    (pp. 89-101)

    The fact that we live in an expanding universe had been amply confirmed. The implications for the future were obvious. But, what of the past? Were the arcane speculations of the Belgian priest, Lemaître, to be taken seriously? Is the true but intimidating general theory of relativity the only key to understanding the evolution of the universe and to extrapolating from the present back into the past? In fact, the clear conclusion that there was an explosive event in the past is easily shown, and much of the basis for modern cosmology can be easily presented. A simplified version will...

  9. Chapter Four Discovering the Big Bang
    (pp. 102-129)

    In astrophysics the connections between the very small and the very large are intimate. Atoms are very small and are composed of a much smaller and extremely dense nuclear ball made up of neutrons and protons surrounded by a cloud of electrons. This chapter tells how the knowledge that physicists obtained of the workings of atomic nuclei transformed our understanding of both stars and the cosmos. In all of the familiar chemical reactions made in our laboratories on Earth the atomic nuclei are untouched, and the atoms interact and combine by sharing electrons in the clouds surrounding the nuclei. The...

  10. Chapter Five The Origin of Structure in the Universe
    (pp. 130-173)

    Until recently, astronomers had never asked the obvious question that philosophers had often asked. The German existentialist Martin Heidegger rated the question “Why is there something rather than nothing” as the most fundamental issue in philosophy. Why does existence exist? All attempts to unravel the evolution of existence become an infinite regression that may be, in fact, a philosophical dead end. However, a cosmological variant of this question had become ever more pressing after cosmologists realized in the 1960s that they should be able to answer it: “Why is there structure in the universe and from what does it arise?”...

  11. Chapter Six Dark Matter—or Fritz Zwicky’s Greatest Invention
    (pp. 174-201)

    What is dark matter? Do we really need to believe in its existence, or is it simply the invention of excessively ingenious minds? We have had a rather casual introduction in the last chapter to this principal component of the universe, as the stuff that makes gravity act properly, to force the growth of all the structure that we observe around us. But that is not at all the way that dark matter was found. What we shall show here is that there was not one argument for this strange material, nor two, but many distinct observational clues, and they...

  12. Chapter Seven Dark Energy—or Einstein’s Greatest Blunder
    (pp. 202-228)

    We start this chapter with a brief quotation from Lewis Carroll’sAlice’s Adventures in Wonderland. This famous book is not just a novel for young children. It is a masterpiece of imaginative literature, with rich symbolism, coded language, nonsensical conversations, and poetry. The Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodson was a mathematician and lecturer at Christ Church, Oxford, and, while he and Alice were not talking of cosmology, they might have been. We hope that you are becoming comfortable with the curious dark matter, but our tale is about to become still stranger, as the last vital ingredient of the universe is...

  13. Chapter Eight The Modern Paradigm and the Limits of Our Knowledge
    (pp. 229-252)

    What do we know, what do we consider likely, what do we conjecture, and what is it that is frankly unknown to us at the present time? We will now put together the various pieces that have been introduced in the prior chapters, summarizing what has been called the modern paradigm of cosmology, continuing with some of what is exciting but uncertain, and ending, in our final chapter, with what is in some sense most important, the open questions of cosmology. The scientific method, used to construct and test the picture that we have put together, was developed in large...

  14. Chapter Nine The Frontier: Major Mysteries That Remain
    (pp. 253-262)

    By the normal standards of science, we have achieved an astonishing level of success in our search for a viable cosmology. We have an elegant new model that can address every well-defined question. When we build a new instrument to study some aspect of the extragalactic world—for example the large-scale distribution of galaxies—we can predict what it will see; and our predictions turn out to be correct. The uncertainties in our model steadily decline as more and more refined measurements are made, and it now seems as if the simplest, “vanilla flavored,” version of the LCDM paradigm is...

  15. Appendixes
    (pp. 263-280)
  16. Glossary
    (pp. 281-290)
  17. Bibliography
    (pp. 291-294)
  18. Index
    (pp. 295-300)