Astronomer Royal Martin Rees shows how the behaviour and origins of the universe can be explained by just six numbers.
How did a single genesis event create billions of galaxies, black holes, stars and planets? How did atoms assemble – here on Earth, and perhaps on other worlds – into living beings intricate enough to ponder their origins? This book describes the recent avalanche of discoveries about the universe’s fundamental laws, and the deep connections that exist between stars and atoms – the cosmos and the microscopic world. Just six numbers, imprinted in the big bang, determine the essence of our world, and this book devotes one chapter to explaining each
1. The cosmos and the microworld
2. Our cosmic habitat I: planets, stars and life
3. The large number N: gravity in the cosmos
4. Stars, the periodic table, and ε
5. Our cosmic habitat II: beyond our galaxy
6. The fine-tuned expansion: dark matter and Ω
7. The number λ: is cosmic expansion slowing or speeding
8. Primordial ripples: the number Q
9. Our cosmic habitat III: what lies beyond our horizon?
10. Three dimensions (and more)
11. Coincidence, providence – or multiverse
Mathematical laws underpin the fabric of our universe – not just atoms, but galaxies, stars and people. The properties of atoms – their sizes and masses, how many different kinds there are, and the forces linking them together – determine the chemistry of our everyday world. The very existence of atoms depends on forces and particles deep inside them. The objects that astronomers study – planets, stars and galaxies – are controlled by the force of gravity. And everything takes place in the arena of an expanding universe, whose properties were imprinted into it at the time of the initial Big Bang.
Science advances by discerning patterns and regularities in nature, so that more and more phenomena can be subsumed into general categories and laws. Theoriests aim to encapsulate the essence of the physical laws in a unified set of equations, and a few numbers. There is still some way to go, but progress is remarkable.
This book describes six numbers that now seem especially significant. Two of them relate to the basic forces; two fix the size and overall “texture” of our universe and determine whether it will continue for ever; and two more fix the properties of space itself: