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4.0 out of 5 stars Cutting-edge cosmology, 27 Jun 2014
This review is from: The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter (Science Essentials) (Hardcover)
Science is perennially exciting. No sooner does it solve a problem than the solution poses more questions than answers. Little more than a century ago, we thought that our galaxy, the Milky Way, constituted the entire universe. Since then, we have discovered our universe to be many billions of times larger, and to have had a moment of creation some 13.8 billion years ago. Explanations of the behaviour of the stars and galaxies, and the matter they contain, have rested upon the twin, though often conflicting theories of relativity and quantum mechanics.

Recent observations tell us that the expansion of the universe is accelerating, while the galaxies are rotating very much faster than predicted by the amount of matter they appear to contain. Tweaking the present theories, as has happened in the past, is unsatisfactory, and what is needed is a paradigm shift. This is suggested by invoking dark energy to cover the former observation, and dark matter to explain the latter. The trouble is that nobody understands either, nor has either yet been detected.

Katherine Freese works at the forefront of research into dark matter, and here presents us with a summary of where we are, at present in our quest to discover the nature of the exotic substance which, together with the eponymous, though unrelated energy, makes up an estimated 95% of the mass of the universe. She fills in the background to our understanding of the creation of the universe in the Big Bang and the synthesis of the elements and the menagerie of fundamental particles from which they, and we are made. We are brought up to date with the recent confirmation of the existence of the Higgs particle by the Large Hadron Collider. Where the book really takes off, however, is in the discussion of the various experimental methods being employed to investigate the possible nature of dark matter. Of the many theoretical candidates, Professor Freese has firmly nailed her flag to the mast of Weakly Interacting Massive Particles (WIMPs), though what these are, and even whether they exist at all, remains a big question.

Scattered throughout the book are anecdotes from the authors experiences, though many of these, while adding a human touch, do not really add anything and could have been left out, perhaps to be replaced by a more comprehensive insight into the workings of the scientists involved. On the other hand, attention is drawn to the number of women making major contributions to this abstruse subject which, at the start of the author’s career, lay almost exclusively in male-dominated territory. If this encourages more women to join the club, then it can only be a good thing.

Readers with a background in the physical sciences might have appreciated a deeper discussion of the theories surrounding the search for dark matter, but then this might have complicated things too much for the non-physicist. The story is fascinating, well told, and the balance, I think, is just right. This is a rapidly developing field of research and I have no doubts that it will not be long before the book will need to be updated.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars, 19 July 2014
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This review is from: The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter (Science Essentials) (Hardcover)
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The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter (Science Essentials)
The Cosmic Cocktail: Three Parts Dark Matter (Science Essentials) by Katherine Freese (Hardcover - 4 May 2014)
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