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Book Review: The Day We Found The Universe by Marcia Bartusiak

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In The Day We Found the Universe, Marcia Bartusiak explains how the universe was discovered one building block at a time, each scientist adding her/his discovery atop the insights of previous scientists. In spite of the ah-ha insights of Lucretius (1 BC), the earliest Greek scientists strongly held the belief that the nightly stars were embedded in some kind of a dome-like ethereal sphere over their flat world.

Knowing that some of the lights seemed to move over time, The Day We Found The Universe tells how many of these early thinkers spent their lives calculating the reoccurring orbits of these heavenly lights. But some noticed all did not travel at the same speed; In fact, some appeared to reverse themselves and then move forward again. As a result, these lighted bodies were thought to be traveling in numerous crystalline spheres, the slower moving lights in spheres more distant from earth.

It wasn’t until the eighteenth century when men like Galileo began to study the universe that Lucretius’ prediction was appreciated; there was no lid to the universe. Instead, It extend far beyond our own sun/star and its planets. In fact, now our solar system was given the majestic position in the center of a vast array of what appeared to be a flat gaseous disk called the Milky Way.

The Day We Found The Universe tells how, with the invention of larger and more powerful telescopic lenses, scientists eventually noticed that this gaseous milky disk in which our solar system floated was not a gas at all. Incredibly, it consisted of thousands upon thousands of extremely distant stars giving the illusion of a gas to the naked eye and to primitive telescopes.

But with the telescope at Mount Wilson Observatory, Edwin Hubble noticed that a star which appeared to be in our Milky Way was in fact outside it. This sparkler appeared as part of a gaseous cloud called Andromeda. After keen observation, Hubble determined that what he saw was not just one star. It was in fact one of countless stars that made up what appeared to be Andromeda's dust. There was no cloud: Each dust particle was an entire stellar body.

The next startling discovery occurred when scientists discovered and then applied the idea that light, when passing through a prism, breaks down according to what elements are burning to produce that light. Upon further examination, this spectrum is not continuous as one might expect. Instead, it is broken up by thin lines. Armed with these signature lines within the spectral colors for an element, astronomers and physicists could accurately determine what materials even the most distant stars were made of.

But according to The Day We Found The Universe, next came the discovery that our universe is indeed expanding. The galaxies and their stars are subsequently moving away from what would have been a single vortex or ignition point. This happened when scientists noticed the spectral lines for a given element were indeed there, but were shifted.

When burning elements on earth are examined through a spectroscope, their elemental colors appear with their spectral lines. When distant stars are examined with a spectroscope, their signature elemental colors and lines are present, but the tell-tale lines are shifted toward the red end of the color spectrum. The only logical conclusion is that these burning bodies are moving away from a central point at tremendous speeds.

 

And where are they going? Father Georges LeMaitre, believing that space time is stretching, proved to Einstein and other astronomers and astrophysicists that "The galaxies are not rushing through space but instead are being carried along as space-time inflates without end."

Thus, astronomers now believe they've uncovered the universe for what it is. It is not infinite. But it is vast; so vast that our species will never reach even the nearest star. Even IF somehow a spaceship could be built to travel at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second), many generations would have to live and die on that spaceship before finally reaching the nearest star which may or may not have a planet favorable to human life.

Want an entertaining, easy-to-follow description of the scientists and their discoveries which led to our current paradigm about the universe? Then The Day We Found The Universe is a must read for you. Often we get so intimately involved with our own inner and outer makeup, that we give little thought to our very being—the incredulous, maybe even precarious existence of our species on tiny planet earth. Although this book does little to explain the why and wherefore of our existence in time, it will undoubtedly puzzle you with four outstanding paradoxes:

1) If the universe is expanding so very rapidly from a single point, what was its inconceivable Big Bang beginning?
2) If the universe will expand forever, then we have an incident occuring without cause that has a beginning and no ending.

3) If the universe is moving outward from a single point, sooner or later there will be a "doughnut hole" of nothingness left in the center in due time.

4) Will another universe begin in that "doughnut hole" of nothingness? If it happened once, it could happen again … and again … and …

I would recommend The Day We Found The Universe to any reader who, like me from early childhood, has stared upward at the night sky with awe. The universe and its meaning will always be a thorn in thinking man’s brain but, after reading Bartusiak’s enjoyable book, you will be inspired to imagine, wonder, and then hunt for more answers, knowing of course they may never be found.

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