Some concepts are just hard to wrap your brain around, especially when it comes to physics and astronomy. Just try imagining extra dimensions, parallel universes or dark matter. At least we finally have a camera that can capture light traveling at, well you know, the speed of light.
We can come closer to understanding how some of these other far-out ideas of our universe might work, even if the visuals are out of our grasp. In this list of titles, these upper-level-science-credentialed authors are writing to the lay audience, which is great because otherwise I would just give up and attribute all of it to wizardry.
Let’s start with something easy to get warmed up, like astronomer Mike Brown’s How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming. I know a lot of people are very upset that Pluto has been downgraded in its planetary status, but really we should be more excited that this announcement came with the discovery of Pluto’s fellow dwarf planet, Eris!
Now for the basics, let’s go to Why Does E=MC2? (And Why Should We Care?) Particle physicists Brian Cox and Jeff Forshaw break down Einstein’s famous equation and, in the process, introduce the reader to the Large Hadron Collider, a machine so crazy and intense that many people thought it would destroy the universe when turned on for the first time in 2008. Obviously, that didn’t happen.
How about something from Stephen Hawking? His latest work, The Grand Design, written with theoretical physicist Leonard Mlodinow, discusses three questions: Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do we exist? And why this particular set of laws and not some other?
What about all those parallel universes, extra dimensions, and dark matter that I promised? Rest assured, physicist Lisa Randall will make your brain hurt with Warped Passages: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Universe’s Hidden Dimensions. Also not to miss is her highly acclaimed newest title, Knocking on Heaven’s Door: How Physics and Scientific Thinking Illuminate the Universe and the Modern World.
As for parallel universes, if there are, in fact, infinite alternate realities, then there is one where everything is the same as this one, except everyone has a mustache. Think about that. Then read Parallel Worlds: A Journey through Creation, Higher Dimensions, and the Future of the Cosmos by physicist Michio Kaku.
If you and I and all the stars and all the planets only make up 4 percent of all of the matter in the universe, then what could possibly constitute the rest? In the 4% Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality, science writer Richard Panek will tell you what astronomers think is out there. It’s weird, exciting and makes you slightly uncomfortable all at the same time.
Finally, let’s finish with something fun. Plenty of real-life scientists admit that they were inspired by science fiction in books, TV and movies that they saw as kids. Lawrence Krauss uses his expert-level knowledge of physics to entertain in Beyond Star Trek: The Physics of Star Trek, The X-Files, Star Wars, and Independence Day.
Karen Donovan is a collection development associate at OverDrive.
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