Guide The 4-Percent Universe

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The rest—96 percent of the universe—is completely unknown. Science writer Richard Panek has risen to that task.

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In his journalistic yet artful style, Panek guides you through the quirky discoveries that established the existence of dark matter and dark energy. But along the way, you also get to meet the quirky cosmologists who got us there. At its heart is a search for what forces and particles make up reality. It baffled Einstein, and it now obsesses a cadre of fascinating cosmologists. By brilliantly capturing their passions and pursuits, Richard Panek has made this cosmic quest exciting and understandable.

The rivalries, the surprises, and the excitement are brought vividly to life. People are a very tiny percentage of the universe, but we remain the most interesting part.


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Advanced Search. By Richard Panek. Description The epic, behind-the-scenes story of an astounding gap in our scientific knowledge of the cosmos. He succeeds because he recognizes that he's writing not just about red shifts and supernovae, but about people Dark secrets.

Panek's joyful journey through the wilds of modern cosmology gives us good reason to care about those secrets, and their sure-to-be surprising answers. One detail remained disturbing: Galaxies were moving too fast. Since gravity controls movements, they had to be heavier than predicted.


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By the s, this "missing mass" problem became critical as it became clear that galaxies, including ours, were rotating so fast that missing mass far outweighs visible objects such as stars. Even after eliminating gas and dust, "dark matter" represents strange particles unknown to science.

Astronomers also believed that gravity was slowing expansion of the universe but debated if galaxies would reverse themselves, continue to recede ever more slowly or the favorite theory simply stop. Panek describes frustrating struggles with high-tech detectors, complex computer algorithms and massive telescopes to search distant galaxies for the key.

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The answer came in the late '90s expansion wasn't slowing but speeding up. Flabbergasted astronomers understood that accelerating billions of galaxies requires immense energy. Since Einstein proved that energy and mass are equivalent, this "dark energy" makes up three-quarters of the universe. Dark energy added to dark matter reduces the familiar universe to 4 percent of the total.

The 4-Percent Universe

Panek delivers vivid sketches of scientists, lucid explanations of their work and revealing descriptions of the often stormy rivalry that led to this scientific revolution, usually a media cliche, but not in this case. The search for these hidden elements began in the s with astronomers asking whether the universe would end in an infinitely expanding "Big Chill" or a collapse into a "Big Crunch"--or whether the universe is a just-right "Goldilocks" space that would nurture stars and galaxies forever.

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To answer this question, scientists calculated the universe's mass and discovered there was far more mass than we could see. But where is this "missing mass" and what kind of exotic "dark" stuff is it made of? Panek gleefully describes a 'Wild West of the mind, where resources were scarce, competition was fierce, and survival depended on small alliances of convenience, often enduring just long enough to publish a paper.

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