A primer on cosmology and the origins of the universe
Jan 1, 2010
Dr Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist and the Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York, offers a twelve lecture primer on cosmology that is obviously aimed at a public largely uninformed about the beauties of the universe and its mysterious origins.
This lecture series' heart is certainly in the right place but, try as he might, I don't think that Tyson has found the perfect balance that he was doubtless seeking.
The physics of this lecture series is pitched somewhere between non-existent and low. Clearly then, "My Favorite Universe" is not aimed at a reader who, for example, is capable of making their way through Brian Greene's "The Fabric of the Cosmos" or Stephen Hawking's "Black Holes and Baby Universes".
On the other hand, Tyson's lecture series tries to cover so much ground in so little time that, of necessity, he is forced to breeze over concepts so quickly and with so little explanation that it will almost certainly go over the head of a beginner, illiterate in physics, and looking for an easy way into the topic.
That said, Tyson does come into his own when he uses a breathless, almost poetic, speaking style to simply convey his own wonder at the breadth, majesty and mystery of the universe - particularly, if it's an explanation of a concept or a detail that doesn't require physics to grasp.
For example, did you know that our universe, now estimated to be 13 billion years old is comprised of an estimated 100 billion galaxies similar to our own Milky Way, each of which is composed of an estimated 100 billion stars? Our own sun, so critical to our life here on earth is a very average member of that group in almost every respect - composition, size, age, temperature and development! And here you thought we were somehow special!
Did you know that one teeny, tiny thimble full of the material of a neutron star, the densest material known to man (never mind how it actually got that way) would weigh about the same as a herd of 50 million elephants?
Did you know that the combined mass of all of the asteroids in the asteroid belt (quite incorrectly portrayed in sci-fi flicks as a crowded navigational hazard fraught with danger to space-faring gents like Captain Picard) is actually only 2% to 3% of the moon and that 75% of that entire mass is locked up in the 4 largest asteroids in the entire belt?
In short, Tyson does a brilliant job on the "what"s but falls considerably short on elucidating the "why"s. Nevertheless, this lecture series is still an interesting, informative way to spend six hours of your life.
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