A Time-Traveler's Guide to the Universe
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I OPEN MY EYES ONTO A STARK AND BEAUTIFUL LANDSCAPE. A plain strewn with boulders stretches in front of me. The contours and shadows are etched with perfect precision, as if by a sharp knife. Rolling hills define the horizon, and, above it, a vault of absolutely black sky. The only hint of color is an ochre tinge to the gray rocks and soil.
The sound of labored breathing echoes inside my space suit. I hear my heart thumping. These rhythms slow and become more regular. Bending my knees, I feel rather than hear the crunch of the lunar soil, its consistency like sugar. Looking down, a fine patina of dust clings to my boots. Minerals in the soil glisten and glint like crushed diamonds in the harsh light. Something else: footprints. Cleats have sculpted perfect ridges and grooves in the surface. I’m alone. I know that no human has been here for 40 years, but on this airless world these footprints look like they were made yesterday.
Gingerly, I test the gravity. A small jump propels me above waist height. I tilt forward in midair and gently crash onto the surface on hands and knees. Alarmed, I hold my breath and listen for the telltale sound of air rushing out of my suit. Nothing. I get up clumsily. Small steps. Then bigger, but I lose my balance again and tumble to the ground, sending up lazy plumes of dust so fine it looks like talcum powder or smoke.
Then I recall the grainy video beamed back decades ago from the Sea of Tranquility to a keenly waiting world. The trick is not to take giant steps or hops, but to execute a slow loping motion. Galumphing across the Moon with my arms cartwheeling, I whoop with delight. My heart feels light. And so it should—it weighs less than 2 ounces.
THE ROCK NEXT DOOR
A quarter of a million miles straight up. That’s the distance to the Moon, and it’s not just a guess but a very well-determined number, even though the distance varies by 10 percent due to the Moon’s elliptical orbit. We know the Moon’s distance with a precision of 1 millimeter, far more accurately than you might know the distance to the nearest wall, or the distance to the person across from you at the dinner table.
Reprinted from How It Began: A Time-Traveler’s Guide to the Universe by Chris Impey. Copyright © 2012 by Chris Impey. With permission from the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.
How did it all begin? Humans have been asking for millennia, but modern cosmology finally has some answers. Conceived by Chris Impey as “a time traveler’s guide to the universe,” How It Began takes us outward in space and backward in time to offer science’s best explanations.
In the first of three parts, Impey covers our immediate cosmic neighborhood, starting with our solar system as well as the nearest stars that may harbor habitable worlds of their own. After venturing to the star-forming regions of the Orion nebula, we proceed to the giant black hole lurking at the Milky Way’s core. The second part of the book explores the remote universe from the nearest galaxy out to the earliest stars. From the Andromeda galaxy and Coma Cluster we venture to the realm of galactic clusters and superclusters, pondering the roles of dark matter and dark energy. We finish our exploration with the alien realm of the infant universe. Along the way, we meet the cosmologists who reconstruct cosmic history from slender shards of evidence. Evidence for the Big Bang centers on detailed baby pictures taken in microwaves, beyond which is an impenetrable fog of radiation; earlier, we ponder a time when all forces of nature, including gravity, were unified.
How It Began offers a breathtaking tour from the familiar night sky to the remote frontiers of the early universe.
Hardcover Book : 448 pages
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co. ( March 26, 2012 )
Item #: 13-540605
Product Dimensions: 6.125 x 9.25 inches
Product Weight: 21.0 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)