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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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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5.0 out of 5 stars 2 reviews
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Time in All Its Scales 11 Oct. 2014
By Rob Hardy - Published on
Format: Paperback
In 1957, Kees Boeke published an influential book, _Cosmic View: The Universe in 40 Jumps_, looking at where we live in different, wide-ranging scales. This was the precursor for the famous short film by Charles and Ray Eames, _Powers of Ten_, a mind-blowing view of scales subatomic to cosmic, each step of the way moving ten times further out or closer in. There are plenty of variations of this sort of scaling view of our universe available now; the book form of the Eames film is especially good because one can flip pages to go ten times out or in, and there are internet versions as well. These efforts were the inspiration for _Time in Powers of Ten: Natural Phenomena and Their Timescales_ (World Scientific) by Gerard ’t Hooft and Stefan Vandoren. Both are theoretical physicists, and this is their foray into popularization (translated from the Dutch by Saskia Eisberg-’t Hooft). It has to be said that they have taken on a less intuitively comprehensible task with the dimension of time rather than the dimensions of space. We can, after all, move ten times closer to an object or ten times further away, and imagining doing this movement on a subatomic or cosmic scale is relatively easy. We cannot move ten times further into the past or future (although of course time moves on in one direction, so ten seconds in the future will get here eventually). So the pages here, leaping between progressive powers of ten, require not just attention for the sometimes dense factual information presented but also leaps of imagination. The authors, however, convey a sense of amazement, and readers will have a renewed feeling of how complicated things are, past, present, and future.

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.
1 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars 1 July 2014
By Libby Dog - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
highly readable
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