Time in Powers of Ten: Natural Phenomena and Their Timescales Paperback – 14 Jul 2014
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The somewhat facetious narrating style and the abundance of illustrations are so inviting and rather addictive once you picked up the book. --European Mathematical Society
Pleasingly accessible volume that will give pleasure to academics, students, connoisseurs of coffee-table books and even the people who compile questions for Trivial Pursuit… Can be enjoyed as a source of scientific stories and images, as an unusual perspective on history, as a popular account of modern physics, and so on. Underneath them all is a wealth of serious science that will give readers insights into abstract fundamental ideas via concrete realities… Every science teacher would benefit from reading Time in Powers of Ten, but I hope it will have an even wider reach. --Times Higher Education
The authors have compiled a refreshing mix of historical anecdotes and examples from music to sport and biology to astronomy to lighten up the heavier taste of particle physics and cosmology… It is both an enjoyable read and very pleasant to browse at leisure… It fully conveys the authors' amazement at — as Feynman put it — our fantastically marvellous universe. --Nature Physics
From the Inside Flap
In this richly illustrated book, Nobel Laureate Gerard 't Hooft and Theoretical Physicist Stefan Vandoren describe the enormous diversity of natural phenomena that take place at different time scales.
In the tradition of the bestseller Powers of Ten, the authors zoom in and out in time, each step with a factor of ten. Starting from one second, time scales are enlarged until processes are reached that take much longer than the age of the universe. After the largest possible eternities, the reader is treated to the shortest and fastest phenomena known. Then the authors increase with powers of ten, until again the second is reached at the end of the book.
At each time scale, interesting natural phenomena occur, spread over all scientific disciplines: orbital and rotation periods of planets and stars, decay times of elementary particles and atoms, biological rhythms and evolution processes, but also the different geological time scales.
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The book has a sensible structure. It starts with our friend the second, a scale of time we live with constantly. The pages devoted to the second have to do with such things as heartbeats and pendulum clocks. The next chapter has to do with 10 seconds, the times for 100 meter sprints or the fall from a 500 meter building. The next chapter is about 100 seconds, and the next 1000. It does not take long for those seconds to accumulate; the eleventh chapter is a billion seconds (10^9), or 31.7 years. This goes on through 10^90, by which time “the universe will have practically ceased to exist.” After that, there is a two-page spread of “All Timescales on a Timeline,” from the shortest possible intervals to the longest. Then the latter half of the book is involved with timescales shorter than a second, starting with the Planck time, which is somehow the shortest time there ever can be at 10^-44 seconds. Ideas about the physics of very long time spans and very short ones are closely and mysteriously linked, and present day research on such topics as quantum gravity is nowhere near settling the links. From the Planck time we get, chapters on, to the snappily-named zeptosecond, 10^-21 seconds. A photon traveling at (of course) the speed of light from the nucleus of a hydrogen atom would get only one hundredth of the way out toward its electron shell in a zeptosecond. Picoseconds are 10^-10 of a second, and two hundred of them make the time it takes for a computer to add two integers. We work down to the millisecond (a thousandth of a second), and consider the duration of an eye blink, about 60 milliseconds literally “in the blink of an eye,” and it seems after all the speeding that has gone before to be a pretty extensive duration.
Boxing things this way helps gives stability to a wide-ranging book, which has lots of pictures and is suitable in size for the best coffee table. Like the original _Powers of Ten_, it is a wonderful book for flipping through and thinking about puzzles of longer and shorter times, and is a good introduction to basics like how to tell a quark from a lepton. There is an enormous amount of physics and cosmology lore here, much of it which was well above my head and I will have to spend some time taking it all in. There are many references among the strange and counterintuitive findings that show that we have to take into account all the details we can. For instance, we all know where we are by GPS satellites. And those satellites know where they are by the clocks they carry on board, but those clocks can’t keep the time that Earth-bound ones do. Their movement slows their internal clocks down, and the decreased gravity speeds them up (if I understood Relativity I would understand this), and so they gain 39 microseconds per day. It sounds tiny, but without making a correction for the difference, GPS fixes might go inaccurate by ten kilometers every day.