Contents & Excerpts

Part I: Looking for Our Place in the Stars

These pages examine some of science’s amazing discoveries, while also pausing to ask, “What does this mean for us?” Science is not only out there but also in us. As the only known life form in the universe contemplating the mysteries that surround us, a look beyond our daily routine could be enriching. There’s always a human dimension to things we learn about our world, even if the insight is how insignificant the human dimension appears to be.

Chapter 1                  Exploring the Universe on Its Grandest Scale:
A Cosmos of Constant Change

At one point, physicists thought that the era of scientific discovery was over, and all that remained was fine-tuning the calculations in the laws of the universe. Now we’ve discovered the presence of a powerful force permeating the entire universe, and we don’t know what it is. Equally mysterious is that scientists have discovered that there is a large amount of matter in the universe that we had not accounted for. It’s appropriately called “dark matter.” …There’s a future in science after all.

Chapter 2                  Much More Than Stars:
Black Holes, Bending Space, Gravitational Waves

In a black hole, time stops completely. That is, if you were able to peer inside a black hole into which a clock was falling, that clock would tick more slowly as it approached the singularity point, and would eventually stop altogether—not because the clock would be destroyed (which it would be), but because every kind of timekeeping device would be slowed to a halt: the beating of a heart, the vibrations of a molecule, etc.

Chapter 3                  One Universe or Many?
A Multiplicity of Multiverses

So far, all of the life we know of in this vast expanse sits on one planet near one star in a galaxy of 200 billion stars, which in turn sits in a universe of hundreds of billions of galaxies. The fraction of the universe that we have explored is infinitesimal.

Chapter 4                  Life on Other Planets:
Reaching Out to E.T.

Some SETI explorers have already started listening for signals from the TRAPPIST-1 system. If intelligent life exists there and if it has developed the technology to receive and interpret our electromagnetic signals, it may be starting to view television shows from the 1970s. In terms of responding to our signals, comments from them about our radio programs of the 1930s might be just reaching us now.

Chapter 5                  Time and Space:
Even Simple Things Can Be Hard to Understand

Chapter 6                  Why Is There Something Instead of Nothing? And How Much of Something Are We?

Part II: From Telescope to Microscope

Chapter 7                  A Code for Being Human:
DNA, Selfish Genes, and Machines

Chapter 8                  Common Ground with the Universe:
Take Three Particles and What Do You Get?

Chapter 9                  Stranger Still: The World At Its Most Fundamental Is Not What Anyone Expected

Chapter 10                On The Horizon: Quantum Computers, A Theory of Strings