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The 4 Percent Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality Hardcover – 5 Mar 2011


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 297 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin (5 Mar. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618982442
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618982448
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.9 x 2.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,365,691 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"The centerpiece of "The 4% Universe" is a compelling narrative of science at its best... serve[s] handsomely as an illuminating guide to the dark mysteries lying at the heart of the intersection of astronomy and fundamental physics."--"The Wall Street Journal" "Impeccably researched and highly readable."--"New Scientist""A model for all would-be popular-science writers."--"Physics World" "Panek's passion for the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy wins the day. He succeeds because he recognizes that he's writing not just about red shifts and supernovae, but about people...the success of "The 4 Percent Universe" also stems from Panek's wisdom about how science works."--"The Washington Post" "The balance between lively characters and provocative ideas keeps the book moving as quickly as any high stakes thriller, but the pay-off here is an answer of truly cosmic significance...the universe is keeping secrets from us--big secrets. Dark secrets. Panek's joyful journey through the wilds of modern cosmology gives us good reason to care about those secrets, and their sure-to-be surprising answers."--"Ad Astra," Magazine of National Space Society "A superior account of how astronomers discovered that they knew almost nothing about 96 percent of the universe. Science writer Panek ("The Invisible Century: Einstein, Freud, and the Search for Hidden Universes," 2005, etc.) points out that 50 years ago astronomers assumed they understood the cosmos and its history from the big bang to galaxy formation to its ultimate fate as expansion continued. One detail remained disturbing: Galaxies were moving too fast. Since gravity controls movements, they had to be heavier than predicted. By the 1980s, this "missing mass" problem became critical as it became clear that galaxies, including ours, were rotating so fast that missing mass far outweighs visible objects such as stars. Even after eliminating gas and dust, "dark matter" represents strange particles unknown to science. Astronomers also believed that gravity was slowing expansion of the universe but debated if galaxies would reverse themselves, continue to recede ever more slowly or (the favorite theory) simply stop. Panek describes frustrating struggles with high-tech detectors, complex computer algorithms and massive telescopes to search distant galaxies for the key. The answer came in the late '90s expansion wasn't slowing but speeding up. Flabbergasted astronomers understood that accelerating billions of galaxies requires immense energy. Since Einstein proved that energy and mass are equivalent, this "dark energy" makes up three-quarters of the universe. Dark energy added to dark matter reduces the familiar universe to 4 percent of the total. Panek delivers vivid sketches of scientists, lucid explanations of their work and revealing descriptions of the often stormy rivalry that led to this scientific revolution, usually a media cliche, but not in this case." --Kirkus Reviews, STARRED review "There has always been more to the universe than we can see. Science journalist Panek ("The Invisible Century") offers an insider's view of the quest for what could be the ultimate revelation: the true substance of the unseen dark matter and energy that makes up some 96% of our universe. The search for these hidden elements began in the 1960s with astronomers asking whether the universe would end in an infinitely expanding "Big Chill" or a collapse into a "Big Crunch"--or whether the universe is a just-right "Goldilocks" space that would nurture stars and galaxies forever. To answer this question, scientists calculated the universe's mass and discovered there was far more mass than we could see. But where is this "missing mass" and what kind of exotic "dark" stuff is it made of? Panek gleefully describes a 'Wild West of the mind, where resources were scarce, competition was fierce, and survival depended on small alliances of convenience, often enduring just long enough to publish a paper.' This lively story of big personalities, intellectual competitiveness, and ravenous curiosity is as entertaining as it is illuminating."--Publishers Weekly, STARRED review""The 4% Universe" is a lively and well-researched account of the personalities and ambitions of modern scientists." --Alan Lightman, author of "Einstein's Dreams""Somebody needed to tell this story--of all that is dark and mysterious in the cosmos. Science writer Richard Panek has risen to that task. In his journalistic yet artful style, Panek guides you through the quirky discoveries that established the existence of dark matter and dark energy. But along the way, you also get to meet the quirky cosmologists who got us there."--Neil deGrasse Tyson, American Museum of Natural History, author of "Death by Black Hole""A contemporary adventure story of modern-day explorers who venture forth into the universe not by ships, but by telescopes and satellites. . . . Riveting."--Lee Smolin, author of "The Trouble with Physics""It's the biggest mystery of all: why is the universe expanding at an accelerated rate? At its heart is a search for what forces and particles make up reality. It baffled Einstein, and it now obsesses a cadre of fascinating cosmologists. By brilliantly capturing their passions and pursuits, Richard Panek has made this cosmic quest exciting and understandable."--Walter Isaacson, author of "Steve Jobs "and "Einstein: His Life and Universe" ""The 4% Universe" is a reliable and readable account of how scientists discovered--and are struggling to come to grips with--the astounding fact that most of the observable universe has not yet even been observed, much less understood. It has the further merit of relating how scientists arrive at their findings, rather than simply presenting their theories as objects of admiration or adoration. Highly recommended."--Timothy Ferris, author of "Coming of Age in the Milky Way "and" The Science of Liberty ""Modern cosmology tackles some of the biggest questions we have about the nature of the cosmos. In The 4% Universe, Richard Panek brings this quest down to a human scale. The rivalries, the surprises, and the excitement are brought vividly to life. People are a very tiny percentage of the universe, but we remain the most interesting part."--Sean Carroll, author of "From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time"

About the Author

Richard Panek is author of The Invisible Century and Seeing and Believing and writes frequently for the New York Times, as well as Discover, Esquire, Outside, and others. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

3.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By alapper on 7 Aug. 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The story told in this book is one of the great discoveries of modern times and it is good that someone has chosen to tell it. However I found it rather difficult to follow the science because of the continuous insertion of biographical material - and this became quite frustrating at times. Because of the many people involved there is a lot of this and the science and the discovery get rather lost. Perhaps the biographical material should have been kept in separate chapters from the scientific development. It lacks the conciseness and breathtaking excitement of the 'Double Helix' by James Watson - another thrilling tale of an elegant and truly great discovery. Perhaps discoveries by one or two people are intrinsically more interesting than team events. However it is still well worth buying just to hear the tale.
I should perhaps mention another disappointment in this account which is the relegation of the WMAP probe to a passing mention - I think a full account of this would have made a good chapter in its own right.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Tsuchan on 29 Sept. 2012
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Cosmology is a complex subject to cover for non-specialists, because there's always quite a long and necessary background story, reviewing the science that has led us to the start point of the book.

But this book is written in the style of a fiction novel, with a scene being set and a drama enacted. I guess the very first paragraph of the book shows what I mean:

"in the beginning - which is to say, 1965 - the universe was simple. It came into being one noontime early that year over the course of a telephone conversation. Jim Peebles was sitting in the office of his mentor and frequent collaborator, the Princeton physicist Robert Dicke, along with two other colleagues. The phone rang; Dicke took the call. Dicke helped run a research firm on the side, and he himself held dozens of patents. During these weekly lunches in his office, he sometime got phone calls that were full of esoteric and technical vocaulary that Peebles knew intimately - concepts the four physicists had been discussing that very afternoon. Cold load, for instance: a device that would help calibrate the horn antenna - another term Peebles overheard - that they would be using to try to detect a special signal from space. The three physicists grew quiet and looked at Dicke. Dicke thanked the caller and hung up, then turned to his colleages and said, "Well boys, we've been scooped."

Don't expect the style to settle down - it doesn't. It's something like a radio panel show game, with contestants given a task "Explain a scientific story in the style of an Inspector Rebus novel". It's just inappropriate, frustrating; and very soon the recession velocity of useful information exceeds the cosmic attention span, and one just gives up.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Bojan Tunguz TOP 500 REVIEWER on 28 Feb. 2013
Format: Hardcover
Cosmology, the science of the origin, evolution and the ultimate fate of the Universe, is a surprisingly young scientific discipline. For the most of history cosmological questions were dealt with through a philosophical or theological inquiry, but in the early part of the twentieth century it became possible to inquire about these things in a more systematic and scientific manner. The research in Cosmology really gained steam since the 1960s, when the discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB) put the Big Bang Theory on a very firm footing. However, the subsequent inquiry revealed something really intellectually curious and potentially disturbing about the Universe: we can only see a very tiny fraction of it. The vast proportion of the "stuff" that makes up the Universe, about 96% of it to be more precise, is invisible. We can only infer its existence from the gravitational effects it has on the "visible" matter. This "invisible" stuff came to be known by a very prosaic couple of names: dark matter and dark energy.

The aim of "The 4% Universe" is to explain our best current understanding of what the dark matter and the dark energy are. The book provides some good physics background to all of these phenomena, and tries to explain how the observation and the research into these topics have progressed over the last half a century or so. Unfortunately, this book goes way overboard in taking the inside look at the workings of the physicists and the astronomers who do research on dark matter and dark energy. It narrates, in painful details sometimes, the comings and goings of the select groups of scientists as they conduct their research, grapple with work-family balance, and engage in petty turf wars with their colleagues and other competing research collaborations.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Timothy W. Dumble on 19 Mar. 2013
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If you are expecting a hard nosed science book such as: 'Why Does E= mc2?' 'A brief history of Time' or 'The Quantum Universe' then you will be disappointed. What Panek has produced however is a thoroughly researched, semi biographical account of the lives and work of the key scientific protagonists in dark matter and dark energy investigation, that following the discovery of the Higgs boson, lies at the frontier of particle research.

At times the pace of the science can be frustratingly slow and the biographical detail a little florid. Nevertheless, the author paints a compelling human picture of academic research: the rivalries and tensions, the personal sacrifices, the funding crises, the ground breaking insights, failures and even the tragedies.

The human narrative is based around two rival teams of researchers vying to be the first to discover and publish their findings with respect to dark matter and energy and thus the future of the universe. What makes this story fascinating and the rivalry so intense is the fact that the teams come from the very different disciplines of astronomy and particle physics - with different academic modus operandi and cultures.

Panek adroitly outlines the study of supernovae which led to the dramatic conclusion that the expansion of the universe is actually accelerating, rather than slowing as would be predicted by Newtonian theories of gravity. He describes how this in turn led to the revival of Einstein's cosmological constant, initially seen by physicists as a fudge and later discarded with Hubble's discovery of an expanding universe through inflation. Subsequent discussion leads inexorably into the hypothesis of dark matter - bizarre enough and then stranger still -dark energy as the catalyst of this acceleration.
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