Review: Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe

Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe
Big Bang: The Origin of the Universe by Simon Singh
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This one falls along the lines of the Elegant Universe as a history of science. Going back to Greek philosophers and moving through developments in understanding the Universe, Singh explains the findings and the contemporary reactions. And also how the world reached being ready for the next step. So it covers much of any number of physics histories but new nuances.

And he uses British phrasing in places that I was not familiar. Guess I should watch more British TV.

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God Lives 9 Light Years Away

This passage comes from the book Big Bang.

[George] Gamow was infamous for his limericks and his sometimes offbeat application of physics. On one occasion, he argued God lived 9.5 light years from the Earth. This estimate  relied on the fact that in 1904, at the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War, churches across Russia had offered prayers requesting the destruction of Japan, but it was not until 1923 that Japan was struck by the Kanto earthquake. Presumably prayers and God’s wrath wee limited by the speed of light, and the time delay indicated the distance of God’s abode.

The current year is 2013. 2013 – (9.5 * 2) = 1994. If it turned out to be 1995, then that would confirm Gamow and Republican prayers about defeating the Democratic president during the shutdown. OR… Maybe God is only 9 light years away now. Now the math works. Hindsight being 20/20 and all. He’s getting closer to us?


P.S. The whole post is a farce. I do not believe God lives a specific distance away. The passage was funny when I read it. I did the quick math and was disappointed it was just close. It would have been funnier to be right on target.


Challenger Explosion
NASA: Challenger Explosion

Twenty-five years ago today my teachers had us all gather in a classroom. A teacher was being sent into orbit. The intent was for us to see a historic event. Instead we got to see even bigger history being made as the Space Shuttle exploded 73 seconds after launch. The disintegration of the vehicle was blamed on failure of the o-rings to contain the hot gases. It grounded the shuttle program.

When I attended Space Camp over a year later, the program was still grounded. One of my hopes was to better understand the cause. The adults instead steered us towards the physics of space flight and mechanics. A black spot on the history seemed to be avoided.

Years later, my eighth grade science fair project was to show how freezing o-rings, especially with water involved, distorted their shape. Some o-rings even cracked. It earned me a second place overall for the school. It also got me to the regional science fair where it did not fare so well.

The Saturn Group

Cosmological Constants

Guess I am pretty dense. As many books and TV shows as I have read or seen about Einstein, physics, and cosmology, I just understood something for the first time since it was extremely plainly laid out for me. An ever expanding universe requires one or more forces to push matter further apart: cosmological constant. Forces attract or repel. Gravity attracts matter. Yet there is something, still unknown, repelling matter.

links for 2007-07-05

Physics for Eight Year Olds

BBC NEWS | Entertainment | Hawking to write children’s book:

Physicist Stephen Hawking and his daughter are to write a science book for children which will be “a bit like Harry Potter”, but without the magic.

Too bad I don’t have any children to which to read such a book. My favorite college volunteer experience was spending a couple hours a week working with Second graders for a “Human Growth and Development” class. I sensed the teacher’s hesitation at covering the Solar System and stepped in to help her.

The students seemed to enjoy it more than I did. 🙂

We need books like this. At the pace of science and engineering, introductions to these principles need to be introduced at younger and younger ages. My brother tackled Algebra at this age. So I can see many children finding such a book interesting.

Changing the Speed of Light

Kurzweil is an interesting thinker. His stuff gives me the willies. Don’t ask me why. He seems perhaps a little too far out there.
NPR : Thinkers Lay Out the Beliefs They Can’t Prove

At this point, we run up against a seemingly intractable limit: the speed of light. Although a billion feet per second may seem fast, the universe extends over such vast distances that this appears to represent a fundamental limit on how quickly an advanced civilization (such as we hope to become) can spread its influence.

There are suggestions, however, that this limit is not as immutable as it may appear. Physicists Steve Lamoreaux and Justin Torgerson of the Los Alamos National Laboratory have analyzed data from an old natural nuclear reactor that 2 billion years ago produced a fission reaction lasting several hundred thousand years in what is now West Africa. Analyzing radioactive isotopes left over from the reactor and comparing them with isotopes from similar nuclear reactions today, they determined that the physics constant a (alpha, also called the fine structure constant), which determines the strength of the electromagnetic force, apparently has changed since 2 billion years ago. The speed of light is inversely proportional to a, and both have been considered unchangeable constants. Alpha appears to have decreased by 4.5 parts out of 108. If confirmed, this would imply that the speed of light has increased. There are other studies with similar suggestions, and there is a tabletop experiment now under way at Cambridge University to test our ability to engineer a small change in the speed of light.