Books : reviews

Virginia Trimble.
Visit to a Small Universe.
American Institute of hysics. 1992

Virginia Trimble possesses the rare ability to distill the deepest meanings of astronomy and astrophysics and articulate them in a manner smoothly accessible to professionals and the public alike. This superb collection takes us on an exciting odyssey back in time, out in space, and finally, down to earth again.

It begins in the Fertile Crescent, with phenomena and physical structures that have long been the subject of intense debate. Were the unique air shafts burrowed through Cheops’ pyramid simply for ventilation? Or were the openings purposefully placed to provide a path to the heavens for the soul of the deceased Pharaoh? Could a real astronomical event have been associated with the Star of Bethlehem and what would its significance have been to astrologers of the time?

Trimble then guides us through our vast, astonishing universe, providing a close-up look at the formation of galaxies, a glimpse into the lives and deaths of stars, and thoughts on the elusive nature of dark matter.

We are brought back to earth with a sobering examination of the obstacles that lie in the path of scientific research today. We are then treated to intimate portraits of noted scientists—Martin Rees. Beatrice Tinsley, among others who helped chart the course of twentieth-century astronomy.

With wit, charm, and an uncanny ability to illuminate technical implications with master strokes of simplicity, Virginia Trimble weaves two important themes. First, that we really understand much of what our universe is like on a large scale; and second, that unanswered questions are at least as exciting as those we think we’ve answered.