Robert P Kirshner

The Extravagant Universe

The 1990's brought some big surprises in cosmology. Some thought that the universe was fairly low density with gravity having little effect, others that it had the critical density, so that gravity would asymptotically bring the expansion to a stop. Then suddenly people were talking about an accelerating universe. This book is about some of these developments. More precisely its main subject is the work done studying supernovae by Kirshner and his colleagues in order to learn more about the expansion of the universe. If you're interested in how a research group in astronomy tackled this important question then you should read this book.

I don't think that this book is really suitable for a complete beginner in the subject - I think that the early chapters which introduce the concepts used might be a bit confusing for anyone who didn't already have a grounding in the cosmology. The second half of the book goes more into the activies of Kirshner's research group - for example how the competition from other groups influenced their research. Again this can be hard to follow if you're unfamiliar with the subject. At the very least the book needs a glossary of the abbreviations used. On the other hand the book is not at all technical, so if you have read other books on this topic then you will have no problems with this one.

Product Description

The Extravagant Universe tells the story of a remarkable adventure of scientific discovery. 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.