Monday, November 3, 2014

Book review: Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang by Steinhardt and Turok

Competition to the inflationary modelNovember 3, 2014
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This review is from: Endless Universe: Beyond the Big Bang -- Rewriting Cosmic History (Paperback)
This book is about the ekpyrotic model for the evolution of our universe. It states that about every trillion years or so our universe recycles itself.As the authors say in their glossary "ekpyrosis: a collision between two branes that produces a flat, expanding universe filled with matter and radiation, with a nearly scale-invariant distribution of density inhomogeneities." It is a competing theory to the better known inflationary model of the universe. Both the authors are practicing cosmologists with Steinhardt at Princeton and Turok at the Perimeter Institute. Steinhardt made early contributions to the inflationary model in the early 1980's and is therefore well aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the inflationary model. This is a well written book and was a pleasure to read. If you are interested in cosmology this book is a must for you. The level of this book is such that any interested high school student should have no trouble reading this book.

This book is written in a casual style and mentions how the authors first got the idea for their theory while they were both attending a lecture on the overview of string theory. They both went up to the speaker after his talk and asked him questions about strings and branes. Later the authors met at a small physics conference in Finland and started to work out the details their theory. The book describes the various questions that must be overcome such as flatness and thermodynamics. In the past various cyclic models of the universe have been proposed but they were later shown to have flaws. In careful precise wording they explain how they were able to overcome all the previous questions with their new model.

As expected they describe very well the inflationary model since the book compares the two models closely. One of the main differences being that their model has small if any primordial gravitational waves which have been in the news since March 2014 because of the BICEP2 cosmic microwave radiation data which initially claimed to have observed these gravitational waves to only latter say that their results could also be explained by galactic dust. The physics community awaits further data on this subject.

Steinhardt has been a public vocal critic of inflation going so far to say that it isn't even science since one can get just about any prediction from the theory since it is so general in nature. This is also discussed in the book.

My disagreement with the theory is that it is based on string theory and brane theory. There have been no experimental tests that have every shown that string and brane theory have anything to do with reality. There are two wonderful books that show the problems with string theory. They are Lee Smolin's "The Trouble with Physics" and Peter Woits "Not Even Wrong". If anything since this book was written string theory has lost some of the luster it had back in 2007. Nevertheless I would recommend this book since it is quite educational and very well written.

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