One of the world's leading astronomers, Robert Kirshner, takes readers inside a lively research team on the quest that led them to an extraordinary cosmological discovery: the expansion of the universe is accelerating under the influence of a dark energy that makes space itself expand. In addition to sharing the story of this exciting discovery, Kirshner also brings the science up-to-date in a new epilogue. He explains how the idea of an accelerating universe--once a daring interpretation of sketchy data--is now the standard assumption in cosmology today.
This measurement of dark energy--a quality of space itself that causes cosmic acceleration--points to a gaping hole in our understanding of fundamental physics. In 1917, Einstein proposed the "cosmological constant" to explain a static universe. When observations proved that the universe was expanding, he cast this early form of dark energy aside. But recent observations described first-hand in this book show that the cosmological constant--or something just like it--dominates the universe's mass and energy budget and determines its fate and shape.
Warned by Einstein's blunder, and contradicted by the initial results of a competing research team, Kirshner and his colleagues were reluctant to accept their own result. But, convinced by evidence built on their hard-earned understanding of exploding stars, they announced their conclusion that the universe is accelerating in February 1998. Other lines of inquiry and parallel supernova research now support a new synthesis of a cosmos dominated by dark energy but also containing several forms of dark matter. We live in an extravagant universe with a surprising number of essential ingredients: the real universe we measure is not the simplest one we could imagine.
This book invites any reader to share in the excitement of a remarkable adventure of discovery.
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'"This book describes a remarkable era in cosmology. Over the last three years several lines of evidence have gelled into a consistent but--to most of us--unexpected picture of what our universe consists of and how it is expanding. Told by a key participant, the story will be enjoyed by anyone with an interest in astronomy or cosmology, or even merely a general curiosity about science."--Martin Rees, author of Our Cosmic Habitat
"This is a wonderful book on one of the hottest topics in science, written by one of the main contributors to the breakthrough. It presents a history of modern cosmology written in a very lively style with amusing personal stories that make the reading easy and entertaining."--Bohdan Paczynski, Princeton University
Robert P. Kirshner is Clowes Professor of Science at Harvard University and Head of the Optical and Infrared Division at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
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