"Drawing upon Descartes's saying, 'What do I know?' Rowan-Robinson asks what we know about the universe. In answer, he has come up with nine numbers that summarize our current understanding of the cosmos. . . . The numbers Rowan-Robinson presents are grounded in scientific research, although more than a little speculation was used in deriving a couple of them. . . . His nine numbers relate to the density of baryonic matter, the anisotropy of the universe, the Hubble constant, the age of the universe, the temperature of the microwave background, the densities of cold dark matter and hot dark matter, the cosmological constant and the star formation history of the universe. . . . Readers should gain an excellent understanding of what we currently know about the universe and the techniques through which we have acquired that knowledge. . . . The book is a good summary and will make a useful addition to general science collections."--Publishers Weekly
How old is the universe? What do the atoms in our bodies, our very existence, tell us about the history of the universe? How heavy is the vacuum? How do galaxies form? Michael Rowan-Robinson answers these questions and encapsulates all that modern astronomy has discovered about the universe around nine numbers. His motto is Montaigne's "What do I know?" And the reader emerges with a genuine feel for what we do really know about the universe and also what we do not.
Only one of the nine numbers is known with real precision, while four of them are not known at all. Complicated ideas like the origin of the elements, the General Theory of Relativity, quantum theory, and the standard model of particle physics, ideas that constitute modern cosmology, are explained in a simple way. Speculative ideas like inflation, Theories of Everything, strings and superstrings, are also in this book, but they are treated with a refreshing skepticism.
Although most of what we know has been learned during the twentieth century, Rowan-Robinson gives an historical perspective and honors the achievements of the Greeks, renaissance astronomers, and the age of Newton. He ends the book with an analysis of the future, predicting that with the advent of the MAP and PLANCK-Surveyor space missions, the Large Hadron Collider, and other planned experiments, all nine numbers will be accurately known by 2015. However, he stresses that many questions and mysteries will remain, and the book concludes with the idea that the origin of the Big Bang will remain a mystery in 2100 and perhaps even in the year 3000.
Michael Rowan-Robinson is Professor of Astrophysics, and Head of the Astrophysics Group, at Imperial College, London. He is an internationally recognized expert on observational cosmology and his book. The Cosmological Distance Scale is generally regarded as a classic. He leads several major international collaborations in infrared and submillimetre astronomy, including a European Commission Training and Mobility Network. He has served on numerous advisory bodies for ground-based and space astronomy both in the UK and abroad. He received a NASA Public Service award for his work on the IRAS mission.