Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Earth to Solve the Problems of Physics

The Edge of Physics: A Journey to Earth's Extremes to Unlock the Secrets of the Universe by Anil Ananthaswamy

Summary: In this deeply original book, science writer Anil Ananthaswamy sets out in search of the telescopes and detectors that promise to answer the biggest questions in modern cosmology. Why is the universe expanding at an ever faster rate? What is the nature of the "dark matter" that makes up almost a quarter of the universe? Why does the universe appear fine-tuned for life? Are there others besides our own? Ananthaswamy soon finds himself at the ends of the earth—in remote and sometimes dangerous places. Take the Atacama Desert in the Chilean Andes, one of the coldest, driest places on the planet, where not even a blade of grass can survive. Its spectacularly clear skies and dry atmosphere allow astronomers to gather brilliant images of galaxies billions of light-years away. Ananthaswamy takes us inside the European Southern Observatory’s Very Large Telescope on Mount Paranal, where four massive domes open to the sky each night "like dragons waking up." He also takes us deep inside an abandoned iron mine in Minnesota, where half-mile-thick rock shields physicists as they hunt for elusive dark matter particles. And to the East Antarctic Ice Sheet, where engineers are drilling 1.5 miles into the clearest ice on the planet. They’re building the world’s largest neutrino detector, which could finally help reconcile quantum physics with Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The stories of the people who work at these and other dramatic research sites—from Lake Baikal in Siberia to the Indian Astronomical Observatory in the Himalayas to the subterranean lair of the Large Hadron Collider—make for a compelling new portrait of the universe and our quest to understand it. An atmospheric, engaging, and illuminating read, The Edge of Physics depicts science as a human process, bringing cosmology back down to earth in the most vivid terms.

Review: A nice mix of physics and scientific experiments.

This book does some physics in it, but it has to have some to explain why the experiments are being performed. The author does a nice job of explaining complex physics concepts although he does not go into too much depth. Some of the physics might be confusing even though the author explains it well because of the more complex nature of some of the concepts. Still, the book is mainly understandable. I had personally hoped for more physics and the experiments than a lot of back story about the place and the people running the experiments. 

Despite that, I still did enjoy learning about the experiments and how they came to be. I just did not need so much back story. It really is fascinating to what extremes of the earth we have to go to discover new things about the universe. And those places are slowly disappearing. Luckily, we still have space left as long as Earth's orbit is not too cluttered up with space junk. The author seems to have visited these sites over a few years and did not have much in the way of experimental results, which was disappointing. 


Recommendation: I would recommend this book to those interesting in science, physics, or space. 

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