Skip to main content

Endless Universe – Neil Turok & Paul J. Steinhardt ****

The standard big bang inflationary model of cosmology describes our Universe as beginning as an infinitesimal point of infinite density, energy and mass known as a singularity, where all of the known laws of physics break down. For reasons we are still not certain about, this singularity started to expand. In order to explain certain features of the universe around us (mainly the smoothness of the cosmic background radiation), it has been proposed that our early universe went through an exponentially rapid period of expansion – this is dubbed ‘inflation’.
Although this is the conventional view that cosmology holds about the origins of our universe, it is not without its flaws. In particular some astrophysicists are unhappy about the proposed singularity at the start of our universe. Inflation theory has also had to be tinkered with in order to take in to account the existence of dark matter and more recently dark energy, driving our universe’s expansion to accelerate, contrary to the expectations from the original inflationary theory.
Turok and Stienhardt have been developing their repost to the inflationary model for a number of years. Known as the ekpyrotic (without fire) theory – in essence this puts forward the idea that instead of a singularity, our universe was created as the result of two branes colliding with each other and triggering a ‘big bang’ event. They take this idea further and propose that we live in a cyclic universe (this is not a new idea in itself) where the two branes move along higher dimensional space and regularly collide and separate over periods of billions of years. If they are correct their model could successfully explain the features of our universe that the inflationary model fails to cover.
This book describes in a highly accessible and readable manner the outline of Turok and Stienhardt’s new theory. Mercifully, in place of complex mathematics, diagrams are employed to get across the complex ideas featured. This is no mean feat given the fact that the book’s topic is at the cutting edge of 21st century cosmology.
After deftly describing inflationary theory and pointing out where its flaws lie, the authors give an account of how they developed their theory. Parts of this are auto-biographical, which really gives you a flavour of how cosmologists work.
At present there is little observational evidence to support the ekpyrotic model – as the authors themselves point out. This may be about to change within the next decade or so as gravitational wave detectors could detect the characteristic energy signature from gravity waves created in the brane collision.
The idea that there may well have been a universe before ours has also gained credence as some cosmologists have claimed as recently as this week to have detected imprints in the cosmic microwave background that suggest our universe may have ‘bubbled off’ from a previous universe.
Paperback:  
Review by Scotty_73

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Quantum Space: Jim Baggott *****

There's no doubt that Jim Baggott is one of the best popular science writers currently active. He specialises in taking really difficult topics and giving a more in-depth look at them than most of his peers. The majority of the time he achieves with a fluid writing style that remains easily readable, though inevitably there are some aspects that are difficult for the readers to get their heads around - and this is certainly true of his latest title Quantum Space, which takes on loop quantum gravity.

As Baggott points out, you could easily think that string theory was the only game in town when it comes to the ultimate challenge in physics, finding a way to unify the currently incompatible general theory of relativity and quantum theory. Between them, these two behemoths of twentieth century physics underlie the vast bulk of physics very well - but they simply can't be put together. String theory (and its big brother M-theory, which as Baggott points out, is not actually a the…

Beyond Weird - Philip Ball *****

It would be easy to think 'Surely we don't need another book on quantum physics.' There are loads of them. Anyone should be happy with The Quantum Age on applications and the basics, Cracking Quantum Physics for an illustrated introduction or In Search of Schrödinger's Cat for classic history of science coverage. Don't be fooled, though - because in Beyond Weird, Philip Ball has done something rare in my experience until Quantum Sense and Nonsense came along. It makes an attempt not to describe quantum physics, but to explain why it is the way it is.

Historically this has rarely happened. It's true that physicists have come up with various interpretations of quantum physics, but these are designed as technical mechanisms to bridge the gap between theory and the world as we see it, rather than explanations that would make sense to the ordinary reader.

Ball does not ignore the interpretations, though he clearly isn't happy with any of them. He seems to come clo…

Everything You Know About Planet Earth is Wrong - Matt Brown ****

This is the latest of a series of 'Everything You Know About... is Wrong' books from Matt Brown. Although I always feel slightly hard done by as a result of the assertion in the title, as there are certainly things here I know that aren't wrong (I mean, come on, the first corrected piece of 'knowledge' is that 'The Earth is only 6,000 years old' and I can't imagine many readers will 'know' that), it's a handy format to provide what are often surprisingly little snippets of information that are very handy for 'did you know' conversations down the pub (or showing up your parents if you're a younger reader).

Some of the incorrect statements that head each article are well-covered, if often still believed (for example, people thought that world was flat before Columbus), some are a little tricksy in the wording (such as seas have to wash up against land) and some are just pleasantly surprising (countering the idea that gold is a rar…