THE UNIVERSE AT MIDNIGHT: Observations Illuminating the Cosmos

Ken Croswell, Author . Free Press $27 (352p) ISBN 978-0-684-85931-6

The battles to ascertain the values of three little "constants," whose importance far surpasses their size, form the center of this first-rate survey of cosmology's development over the last 100 years. They are the Hubble constant, or the universe's present expansion rate; the universe's matter density, or omega; and lambda, the cosmological constant, which counteracts gravity and pushes the universe apart. Croswell (Alchemy of the Heavens; Planet Quest) dishes surprisingly engrossing intergalactic dirt on the cutthroat competition among cosmologists, few of whom will be familiar to most readers. Some readers, therefore, may feel their heads start to spin like a spiral galaxy as they attempt to keep track of all the interactions between the different constants and which cosmologist is pushing which value at what point. (For the more scientifically inclined, there are 20 pages of tables, along with an excellent glossary and extensive bibliography.) Recently, scientists quite unexpectedly discovered that the universe is expanding faster and faster, generating the dreaded lambda force. In the far distant future the universe will be a gargantuan cold, dark void—as recently reported in a Time cover story. Readers whose interest has been piqued by the mass media reports will find this a comprehensive and understandable explanation of our eventual doom's mechanics. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 08/06/2001
Release date: 08/01/2001
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