I am currently reading Simon Singh’s Big Bang, and it’s a perfect primer on the whole field of cosmology if, like me, you know absolutely nothing about it. I know the earth is round because I’ve seen the pictures, but how did the ancient Greeks figure it out? How did they then proceed to measure how big it was? How did Einstein prove Newton wrong? How can we know anything about the origin of the universe? As well as getting the basics in cosmology, you also get a lesson in how science works, how it progresses, why people thought the way they did in the past, and how we know they were wrong. How we know what we know, and how we can test if it’s really true. All great stuff.

At the end of the book, Singh lists some websites if you want to find out more. One of the best is the Nasa website’s Cosmology 101 course. It explains clearly and simply the main ideas, and has nice colour pictures, something Simon Singh’s cover artist should have learnt from.

Better for images though is the Nasa gallery. This also has classic images of the moon landings for all you conspiracy nuts out there.

Perhaps more next week. But finally for this week, let’s just look at what you’re letting yourself in for if you start to get into all this stuff. Physicists probe the fifth dimension is a story that takes us into the 11th dimension (via 3Quarks.

Eleven dimensions? If that doesn’t make any sense to you, don’t panic. Getting to grips with relativity will be more than enough to be going on with. As Singh relates, the physicist Ludwig Silberstein once said to Arthur Eddington that he “must be one of only three persons in the world who understands general relativity”. Eddington stared back in silence, prompting Silberstein to tell him not to be so modest. “On the contrary,” replied Eddington, “I am trying to think who the third person is.”

In our more irreverent age, I expect there’s at least one person out there in the blogosphere who has copied and pasted something from Cosmology 101 into their blog, which they think destroys relativity theory. Can you find one? First entry in the comments box wins a ReadySteadyBook bookmark!

Readers Comments

  1. Resolute Reader Monday 12 June 2006

    People always seem surprised that the ancients knew the world was a sphere. But there was plenty of evidence for it..... the idea that the people thousands of years ago though the world flat is a recent idea. The simplest way to work it out, would be for them to watch a ship arriving from over the horizon. First the masts were visible, then the whole boat. As if the boat was approaching from over a hill. Simple.

    More impressive where there attempts to work out the SIZE of that globe. Now that was cleaver thinking..... but too much to go into here.

  2. Indeed, that's exactly how Simon Singh explains it. But I didn't know that till I read him!

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