Monday, November 2, 2015

Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs

Lisa Randall is a physicist asking deep questions about nature’s mysteries, particularly origins or cosmology, in DARK MATTER AND THE DINOSAURS, subtitled “The Astounding Interconnectedness of the Universe.” Narrated with skill by Carrington MacDuffie, this audiobook is a practically a college course on astronomy and some of the life sciences, although her main thesis is that a comet was perturbed by dark matter from its distant orbit in the Oort Cloud far beyond Neptune to crash into the Yucatan 66 million years ago, putting a final nail into the extinction coffin of the dinosaurs. How this was discovered, and why scientists believe it to be true, is discussed, among other subjects, such as how astronomers and physicists are trying to detect dark matter using various instruments and means. Dark matter is 5/6ths of the known mass in the universe, and yet it is invisible to detection. We only know it is there by the perturbations it makes on visible or ordinary matter. Spiral galaxies would not form or stay together, moving at the same rotational speed, were it not for this “missing mass.” It is not gas or dust, either. It is a strange form of matter that barely comes in contact with the matter we know, and yet has a gravitational impact on it. (When I wrote several articles on astronomy for various publications like Sky & Telescope and Tucson Weekly I interviewed astronomers at Kitt Peak and the LBT, to find they are deeply involved in determining the nature of dark matter and dark energy.) Randall is in agreement that physics is the king of the sciences because there are repeatable experiments which can determine the nature of everything we see, and explain the underpinnings of life too. Her broad focus will appeal to listeners who want to understand the connections between theories and what we see happening around us, including the beauty of the natural world. There are surprises along the way, too!  

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