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4.7 out of 5 stars

on 16 September 2015
LOVE it thanks
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 3 January 2009
The blurb above describes the content of the book adequately enough but does not emphasis the significance of the experiment and the engineering achievement.

The book includes a good pop resume of cosmology up to the state of the Big-Bang model in the 80's, and the issues that were emerging. In that the large scale structures we see of galaxies and clusters ought to have left some imprint on the cosmic microwave background. Some theories suggested we ought to be able to see at least a bit of this structure from earth based methods but it wasn't showing up. Clouds were gathering over the Big-Bang model.

We also get the fun human interest story of how Smoot payed his dues to become one of the directors of the COBE project, chasing balloons around in exotic and wacky locations. Then the heroic story of how the whole COBE project had to be re-engineered down to half it's original design weight, in less than a year, after the grounding of the shuttle fleet, following the Challenger disaster.

Then there is the nail biting story of waiting for the data to amass for over a year, and the refinement of the computer programs that had to process the data and eliminate erroneous signals from space based, earth based, computer and software based errors, until the true COBE picture could be released. A map of variations in the Cosmic background down to 1 in 100,000 accuracy. Which is, a truly astonishing achievment, a vindication of Big-Bang theory, and the most precise picture of humanities 'place' in the universe we are ever going to get.

Since the publication of the book a persepective on these matters has emerged that wasn't apparent at the time. This was the last positive experiment from a golden age of physical and cosmological discovery, whereby we seemed to be getting closer to a robust and healthy physics that had all the big stuff nailed down, and just needed the detail filled in. A situation analagous to that of the same period in the previous century.

Since then it's been weirdness and confusion all the way. What is dark matter and how do we find it? Dark energy as implied by accelerated cosmic expansion? None of our models anticipated that. How good is our Standard Model if it has nothing to say about these? Physics has been in a slow decline into crisis since.

The next great experiment will be the search for the Higgs at the LHC, but whether we find it or not it's onlly going to tell us just how off the mark our Standard Model is. If we do find the Higgs then how do we take the Standard Model forward? If we don't, just how much of the Standard Model will we have to tear up?

I have one gripe with Smoot's book. At a certain point he takes a swipe at the Anthropic Cosmological Principle, in which I have a keen philosophical interest, which he misleadingly equates with theistic thinking. This is at best a miunderstanding, at worst a misrepresentation. He asserts his confidence that a single theory will be found that will show why the Universe is the way it is, and that it could not have been any way other than it is. This is a leap of faith that amounts to scientistic dogma, that has no place in proper science, and no argumentative force whatsoever. Another symptom of an age of over-optimism. It's just this sort of talk that gets the sociologist sniffing around :-)

Anyway. Just to say that this has a necessary place on the bookshelf for all lay cosmologists.
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on 15 November 2002
In April 1992 a team of American scientists announced that they had found the "seeds" from which our present-day universe was created. This book is the story of that discovery, giving the reader a gentle introduction into cosmology and the theories behind creation. The author, George Smoot, was the chief investigator in this experiment and his writing style involves the reader in his highs and lows as he reaches his goal.
The book tells of the eventual launch and results from NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite which were front-page news aruond the world. Even if you're not a physics buff, this is an adventure story worth reading.
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on 29 December 2000
This book was a great summary of recent and past issues in astrophysics, and, as far as I was concerned, as a side effect, told a facinating story of his and his team's quest to overcome technical difficulties and prove beyond resonable doubt that these 'wrinkes' did exist. The author explains with great clarity the ideas of many eminent thinkers, ranging from Alfven's anti-world thesis (claiming the big bang never happened)to Turok's super-string theory. All in all a good read that really engages the mind.
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