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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on 20 January 2002
This is an excellent book for laypeople about the Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite, and its discovery of ripples in the radiation from the Big Bang.
Electrons jiggling around generate radio waves. Temperature is just a measure of the average speed with which the atoms of a body are moving, vibrating and spinning. So any body, at any temperature above absolute zero, emits radio waves. Cool!
Why tell you this? Well, when they say the Background radiation is at a temperature of 3 degrees what they mean is, it's of the type of radiowaves that are emitted by a body at a temperature of 3 degrees.
-- and that's something I didn't know, before I read the book.
It's the least of what you'll get:
1. You get a history of the theory.
2. Details about radioastronomy, and how astronomers work around their problems (since everything -- the ground, the air, the dust in the galaxy, the cables on a balloon carrying a detector -- glows with radio waves, it's a bit tricky seeing the backround radiation of the Big Bang)
3. Peeks into how science works: you propose a theory, and then chuck it if it doesn't fit the data, except that sometimes it's the data that's at fault not the theory
4. The importance of confirming your results, so that scientific discovery's a community effort despite all the pushing to get there first
5. The importance of looking at all the ramifications of a theory: gas clouds in interstellar space are warmed by the background radiation, and people measured their temperature, and wondered why they weren't stone cold, long before the radiation itself was observed
6. Why that famous photo of pink and blue patches is both the truth and not
7. Interesting tidbits on cosmology
8. the personalities involved
... and more, and more, in only 170 pages.
Students doing London A Level Astrophysics will find this an exceedingly useful read. (Though no mathematical equations at all, you get a load of physics, painlessly)
And to top it all, some neat rhetoric:
" ... COBE had reached its orbit 900 kilometres above the Earth. It was now circling the Earth every 72 seconds as it turned on its axis. It could be seen in the night sky, going from south to north a little after sunset, or from north to south a little before dawn.
COBE awakened, opening its eyes to the microwave Universe. "
The bit at the end's the best, though.
Read, enjoy, learn.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 21 April 2010
An interesting alternative history of the exploration of the cosmic background radiation and its implications for the theory of 'the Big Bang' origin of our observable universe.

Chown, through the presentation of a narrative based upon interviews with other key members of the COsmic Background Explorer team and a version of the history of 20th century cosmology, downgrades the role played by George Smoot (who shared a Nobel Prize for his and his team's role in developing the COBE experiment) and presents a panoply of alternative 'stars' of the story - only one of whom shared the Nobel Prize with Smoot.

Chown's explanations of the physical concepts are very clear and the story is quite gripping - and there's a useful update to the COBE findings in the new edition: a teasing coverage of the problems of 'dark matter' and 'dark energy' which may tempt the reader to want to go further.

A very good read!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 18 October 2007
as usual, chown tells a brilliant story.

this book starts with the realisation that the milky way is just one galaxy amongst billions of others and goes on to explain the significance of that knowledge with reference to the more recently proposed big bang theory.

it's a fascinating tale. chown relates the serendipitous discoveries that astronomers and cosmologists have continued to find. these are men and women of gigantic intellect and genius. in short, you will probably find it as fascinating a read as i did.

on the other hand, it IS a shorter book than chown's other works. but that's not necessarily a criticism.
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on 5 May 2013
I had been looking for a copy of this book for about 15 years. I first read it, as background reading, for an OU course on Astronomy; having borrowed it from the local library. A few years later I asked the Chief Librarian for N. Yorkshire if I could purchase it when they decided to dispose of it. She refused as it was against their policy, and eventually it was sold off in the normal branch book disposal sale, so I missed it.

I was really please to find this copy, and have enjoyed reading it again. I find books by Marcus Chown very interesting although, at times, they can be difficult to digest unless you already have more than average knowledge of the subject area.

V. good transaction.
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on 14 April 2013
Neither too technical nor swathed in mathematics. As an ordinary reader with an interest in this subject I would recommend this to any general reader.

solmagwind.
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on 15 June 2011
I love all of Marcus Chowns books, he writes for the man in the street and not to impress other writers who have made that mistake.
Terry
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on 21 August 2015
Poorly written, and actually incorrect in places. Avoid.
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