Our Cosmic Habitat

Martin J. Rees, Author
Martin J. Rees, Author Princeton University Press $19.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-691-11477-4
Reviewed on: 03/03/2003
Release date: 03/01/2003
The cosmos depicted in this fascinating exploration of astrophysics, now in paperback, is mind-boggling--vast and old and full of supernovae, black holes and mysterious dark matter. But its greatest conundrum is how delicately attuned and""biophilic"" a habitat it is. If the laws of nature had been configured just a bit differently--if gravity were slightly stronger, the electron a smidgen heavier, the texture of ripples in the universe a bit rougher or smoother, or the infinitesimal imbalance between matter and anti-matter off by one part in a billion--then galaxies, planets, atoms and life as we know it would have been impossible. Rees, Great Britain's Astronomer Royal and the author of Just Six Numbers: The Forces That Shape the Universe, is a sure guide to the science that illuminates these mysteries, from quantum mechanics to cosmology. He takes us from the Big Bang to the heat death of the universe, exploring along the way how the galaxies gelled, how elements were forged in the furnace of the stars and how planet Earth, ensconced in a warm orbit, stabilized by the Moon and shielded from asteroids by Jupiter's gravitational field, provided a sheltered breeding ground for intelligent life. He also ponders the philosophical significance of a cosmos so finely engineered to support life, asking whether our universe is a big fluke, a miracle of providential design, or just one particularly favored example of an infinite""multiverse."" Rees's engaging style, lucid exposition and grand conception make this a wonderful introduction to the biggest of scientific questions.