The elephant in the universe Our hundred-year search for dark matter

Govert Schilling

Book - 2022

"If existing models of the structure of the universe are correct, then 85 percent of the cosmos comprises a substance called dark matter. Yet no direct evidence of dark matter exists. Award-winning science journalist Govert Schilling details the quest to detect dark matter and how the search has helped us to understand the universe we inhabit"--

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Cambridge, Massachusetts : The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press 2022.
Main Author
Govert Schilling (author)
Physical Description
xi, 364 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 323-345) and index.
  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • Part I. Ear
  • 1. Matter, but Not as We Know It
  • 2. Underground Phantoms
  • 3. The Pioneers
  • 4. The Halo Effect
  • 5. Flattening the Curve
  • 6. Cosmic Cartography
  • 7. Big Bang Baryons
  • 8. Radio Recollections
  • Part II. Tusk
  • 9. Into the Cold
  • 10. Miraculous WIMPs
  • 11. Simulating the Universe
  • 12. The Heretics
  • 13. Behind the Lens
  • 14. MACHO Culture
  • 15. The Runaway Universe
  • 16. Pie in the Sky
  • 17. Telltale Patterns
  • Part III. Trunk
  • 18. The Xenon Wars
  • 19. Catching the Wind
  • 20. Messengers from Outer Space
  • 21. Delinquent Dwarfs
  • 22. Cosmological Tension
  • 23. Elusive Ghosts
  • 24. Dark Crisis
  • 25. Seeing the Invisible
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
  • Image Credits
  • Index
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Journalist Schilling (Ripples in Spacetime) chronicles the decades-long search for dark matter in this fascinating history. Sophisticated experiments are being conducted to document the existence of dark matter, which Schilling describes as "one of the biggest enigmas of modern science": though it is believed to hold "the universe together," he writes, its "true nature" remains a mystery. The author outlines the work of key players in the field: there's Jacobus Cornelius Kapteyn, who "was the first to come up with a description of the shape and size of the Milky Way, a description that included a role for dark matter" in the 1920s; Phillip James Edwin Peebles, "godfather of the theory of cold dark matter," who was prominent in the 1970s and '80s when "dark matter burst onto the scene"; and Vera Rubin, whose 1980 paper on "missing mass" revolutionized the field. Along the way, Schilling convincingly argues that even without proof of its existence, dark matter has increased people's understanding of the world--the search for it has led to greater knowledge of galaxies, gravity, and the big bang, among other phenomena. It makes for a solid introduction to an elusive topic. (May)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

A veteran science journalist delves into one of astronomy's greatest mysteries. Stars and other visible objects make up about 15% of solid matter in the universe; the other 85% is invisible. Astronomers have known this since 1932, but only recently has the hunt for dark matter taken off. Schilling begins with a disclaimer of sorts: "Despite decades of speculation, searching, studies, and simulations, dark matter remains one of the biggest enigmas of modern science." Rather than follow the traditional format by beginning with the history (and easy concepts) and proceeding toward more complex ideas, the author offers a series of interesting chapters, many of which could stand alone. He chronicles his interviews with scientists around the world and often rewinds the clock to earlier discoveries that foreshadow today's massive but still frustrating efforts. Early in the last century, astronomers discovered that stars were moving too fast. Just as planets circle the sun, stars circle their galaxies. Since gravity diminishes with distance, outlying planets move more slowly, but this wasn't true in galaxies. Outlying stars were not slowing. Gravity controls movements, so galaxies had to be much heavier than predicted. At first, astronomers assumed that gas, dust, and small solid bodies made up the difference, but these were never found. By the 1980s, scientists concluded that this "missing mass" represented particles unknown to science. They're still unknown, but researchers keep searching. Curious, indefatigable, and a fine writer, Schilling clearly relays the work of astrophysicists, some of whom denigrate the work of colleagues. Great telescopes and other instruments on Earth and in space work their magic, but they reveal only hints of dark matter. The discovery of dark energy created yet another significant enigma. "Over the past two decades," writes the author, "the pie diagram of the composition of the universe--68.5 percent dark energy, 26.6 percent dark matter, and 4.9 percent familiar stuff--has become an iconic representation of our cosmic ignorance." An entertaining account of a scientific quest that has failed--so far. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.