Measuring the Universe: Our Historic Quest to Chart the Horizons of Space and Time

Measuring the Universe: Our Historic Quest to Chart the Horizons of Space and Time - Kitty Ferguson Ferguson charts the history of measuring stuff in the sky from the ancients to the end of the 20th century. The viewpoint is always from the viewer of the time, making the interesting perspective of what was not known when the discoveries are made.

The historical chapters concerning Ptolemy, Copernicus, Tycho, Kepler, Cassini, etc are very interesting, then, as we move forward in time there is less concentration on the individuals and the simple yet controversial theories that they develop and more of the theory. Explained by Ferguson as limited by the sheer numbers of people involved in such work these days compared to centuries past.

The fact, with the more modern chapters, much of what we know is based on speculation and supposition would seem to suggest that what we know in modern times is on shaky ground - and it may well be, and there is much discussion!

I found the chapter on the Omega equation to be particularly interesting, because here is an example of something we think we know, but which we don't actually understand or cannot provide the terms for (kind of like the Drake equation, not covered in this book).

So the universe, in 1999, is somewhere between 10 and 15 billion years old, is probably an open or flat universe (meaning the big bang won;t end in a big crunch) there is about 75% of the universe that we don't know what it is (dark energy) and about 20% we can't see (Dark matter). We only think we can measure how far it is to a distant galaxy (by the brightness and red shift of supernovae in those galaxies) and we are not really sure if the cosmological constant is a fudge or actually represents something real...

The fact that we make progress at all is a testament to those individuals who ponder these questions. The fact that is is possible to understand these things, even in rudimentary layman's terms is amazing. The fact that the latter theories are quite baffling is probably not surprising!