Stars in their Eyes

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(262)

Review of 'Cosmology', Peter Coles, Oxford £5.99

This pocket size book starts with a history of how humanity came to terms with the universe and its creation, and then seeks to explain the modern understanding. On its way it covers Einstein's theories of relativity, how we know the age and size of the universe, the process of the Big Bang, and how the matter we see around us was created. In the latter stages it describes the structure of the cosmos in terms of galaxies and clusters, and ponders on matters such as whether a grand unified theory of everything can be created.

Much of the book is arranged in the chronological order that cosmological principles were discovered, with much trouble taken to explain which scientist should be credited with which discovery. This approach, while successful in places, can lead to frustration if you are eager to hear the final answer. Nevertheless one cannot help but be stunned not only by the wonder of the universe but by how humanity has come to understand it. By studying galaxies unimaginably far away scientists are studying events billions of years ago--the time it has taken for their light to reach us. We can now know what occurred milliseconds after the formation of the universe.

Physicists use the language of mathematics to be able to describe the universe. Many people will be thankful that here we find only two equations, and both of them easy to cope with. This, however, leaves the the hurdle of describing in plain words things that are much beyond our everyday experience.

Although we are sure about the Big Bang there is much left to know. Since time itself began when the cosmos was created there may be little point in asking what happened before, but rather what will be the final fate of the universe--will it expand forever or end in a big crunch? Some things stand out for a socialist, particularly that the universe has always been in a process of change, with order appearing out of chaos and matter undergoing fundamental shifts between states.