Edge of the Universe: A Voyage to the Cosmic Horizon and Beyond

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9780470636244: Edge of the Universe: A Voyage to the Cosmic Horizon and Beyond
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An accessible look at the mysteries that lurk at the edge of the known universe and beyond.  The observable universe, the part we can see with telescopes, is incredibly vast. Yet recent theories suggest that there is far more to the universe than what our instruments record--in fact, it could be infinite. Colossal flows of galaxies, large empty regions called voids, and other unexplained phenomena offer clues that our own "bubble universe" could be part of a greater realm called the multiverse. How big is the observable universe? What it is made of? What lies beyond it? Was there a time before the Big Bang? Could space have unseen dimensions? In this book, physicist and science writer Paul Halpern explains what we know--and what we hope to soon find out--about our extraordinary cosmos.

  • Explains what we know about the Big Bang, the accelerating universe, dark energy, dark flow, and dark matter to examine some of the theories about the content of the universe and why its edge is getting farther away from us faster
  • Explores the idea that the observable universe could be a hologram and that everything that happens within it might be written on its edge
  • Written by physicist and popular science writer Paul Halpern, whose other books include Collider: The Search for the World's Smallest Particles, and What's Science Ever Done For Us: What the Simpsons Can Teach Us About Physics, Robots, Life, and the Universe

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From the Author:

What mysteries lurk beyond the edge of the observable universe?  Could the observable universe represent a mere drop in an endless cosmic sea?  If so, could there be signs of outside influences in the relic radiation leftover from the Big Bang?  Modern astronomy's astonishing achievements have placed it in an ideal position to tackle such profound riddles.

These are extraordinary times for humanity's quest to understand the universe.  Cosmology has entered an age of unprecedented precision.  Long sought questions such as the age and shape of the universe have finally been resolved.  We now know that the time since the Big Bang is 13.8 billion years.  In contrast to earlier views that space could be curved or saddle-shaped, we now know that it is as flat as a pancake. 

Yet, despite these tremendous advances, science has come to realize that much of the universe is made of unknown substances and influences.  Approximately 95 percent of the universe is made of dark energy and dark matter, with about 5 percent constituting the familiar stuff of atoms, molecules, people, and planets.  Dark energy makes itself felt through its unseen influence on galaxies, causing them to move away from each other at a faster and faster pace.  Dark matter, on the other hand, steers the outer stars of galaxies, binding them to galactic cores.  It also supplies the gravitational "glue" needed to keep clusters of galaxies intact.  Experiments have failed so far to reveal the true nature of these mysterious entities.

These are far from the only cosmological enigmas.  A strange dark flow seems to be driving galaxy clusters toward an unknown destination.   Scientists wonder if it could be a sign of tugs from regions beyond the observable universe.  Indeed the theory of inflation, the leading explanation for why the observable is relatively uniform, offers the intriguing possibility that our universe is a mere bubble in an immeasurably vast multiverse.  Researchers are examining the cosmic microwave background searching for signs of collisions with other universes.

The cosmic microwave background offers ample conundrums.  A strange alignment, called the "axis of evil," has perplexed astronomers.  While other oddities, such as Stephen Hawking's initials displayed in the radio sky, can be explained by coincidence, could the "axis of evil" represent a preferred direction in the cosmos?  Cosmic dragons, unidentified sources lurking in the gamma-ray fog, offer another intriguing puzzle. 

Is time travel possible?  Does the universe have unseen extra dimensions?  Could an advanced civilization construct traversable wormholes to expedite interstellar travel?  What is the fate of the universe?  Could there have been cycles of time before the Big Bang?

Edge of the Universe:  A Voyage to the Cosmic Horizon and Beyond
explores these mysteries and more.  It offers a passport to the frontiers of contemporary cosmology, examining the latest discoveries and debates in the scientific quest to unravel the mysteries of the universe.

From the Inside Flap:

How big is the observable universe?

What is it made of?

What lies beyond it?

Was there a time before the Big Bang?

Could space have unseen dimensions?

In Edge of the Universe, award-winning physicist and celebrated author Paul Halpern explores what science has discovered about the far reaches of space and examines the questions they raise about the origin, the development, and the very makeup of the universe.

Halpern reveals how twenty-first century technologies have helped scientists solve mysteries that have puzzled philosophers and other thinkers for millennia. He explains how astronomers have been able to pin down the age of the universe, amass a trove of data that describes the primordial era of the cosmos, and offer strong evidence of how the universe has developed since the Big Bang. He reports on a remarkable quest to gauge the shape, size, and fate of the universe using powerful telescopes, delicate microwave receivers, sophisticated computer algorithms, and a host of other tools for capturing light waves from across the spectrum.

Despite the high precision of these light-gathering instruments, it is perplexing that galaxies are guided by substances and forces we cannot see: dark matter and dark energy. Dark matter, Halpern explains, accounts for approximately 23 percent of all the material in the universe; yet despite multiple experiments, its identity remains unknown. Dark energy, the force that causes the accelerating expansion, accounts for more than 72 percent of everything in the universe. Yet another find, an enormous movement of galaxy clusters called dark flow, hints of unseen influences from beyond the observable universe.

The concept of multiple or parallel universes may sound like pure science fiction, but it has emerged as a potentially plausible explanation for dark matter, dark energy, and dark flow. Halpern explores several multiverse models as well as the even more mind-bending notion that our observable universe is a hologram and that everything that happens in it might be written on its edge.

Prepare to discover cosmic dragons lurking in gamma-ray fog, bottomless pits, and looking-glass worlds. Keep an eye out for portals into hidden realms, and don't be surprised if you should happen upon an immense axis of evil piercing the cosmic background. These and many other wonders await you in Edge of the Universe.

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