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Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The…
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Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs: The Astounding Interconnectedness of the… (2015)

by Lisa Randall

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Admittedly, my first reaction to the title of this book was that it must be some kind of joke. It sounded, well, loony. But Lisa Randall is a brilliant, world-famous, very influential theoretical physicist and I am...none of the above, so my initial reaction was, at best, probably uninformed. Sadly, I got lost a few times when reading this, especially when the discussion turned to particle physics (see above about what Lisa Randall is and I am not), but I think I caught the main thread of her proposal. I'll try to summarize:
In order for the universe to behave the way it does, something that isn't ordinary, visible matter (like stars and such) must be exerting a gravitational influence. It's uncertain if this something reacts with anything else (like electromagnetism), but if it does, it's not obvious. By consensus, this unknown something is called dark matter, but no one really knows what it is. Professor Randall discusses some of the possibilities, few of which I can honestly say I fully understand. Her conjecture, based on what little data that exists, is that the dark matter may not be all one type of unknown something. Different dark matter parts may interact with other parts in ways not entirely unlike how protons and electrons of normal matter interact. Dark matter of this nature could, theoretically, form a disk that is contiguous with the plane of galaxy and exert significant gravitational influences on normal matter (like the Sun and our own lovely planet).
So where do dinosaurs come in?
Well...
Impact craters on Earth suggest that there may be some periodicity (30-35 million years) to when really big things fall out of the sky and rearrange the landscape. (This is not yet firmly established.)
Such impacts probably are not asteroids that normally hang out between Mars and Jupiter but are, instead, large comets. (Also not certain.) These comets could originate in the Oort cloud (which probably does exist, although we have no firm observational evidence).
As the Solar System travels around the disk of the galaxy, it not only goes round and round but also up and down. This takes it through the galactic plane and the hypothesized dark matter disk, possibly every 30-some million years (although this is uncertain). When it does pass through, though, the dark matter could nudge objects from their stable orbits in the Oort cloud and send them inward toward the sun and Earth. Some of those could actually hit us, and one such might be the prime suspect for whatever caused that big crater off the Yucatan peninsula and took out the dinosaurs 66 million years ago.
So you see, it's not loony. It's actually quite informative, although it is highly speculative. There are a lot of unknowns here, but some may be known better soon and the theory will stand or fall based on the evidence. That's science.

( )
1 vote DLMorrese | Oct 14, 2016 |
As a very readable journey through the start and formation of the universe, an explanation of the planets, mass extinctions, etc. - excellent. Learnt a great deal. Weight to Lisa Randall's theory appears to have been added as just when I finished reading this I saw a news article about a galaxy made of dark matter being found......! ( )
  mnorfolk49 | Sep 5, 2016 |
Lisa Randall attempts to connect the dots between diverse topics such as particle physics, astrophysics, biology and archaeology. I think she succeeds admirably, but then again, I try to keep up with major developments in these fields and the names she drops and the research cited are all pretty familiar to me. It is not, perhaps, the entry-level book Randall might have hoped this would be.

In some cases, this book seemed to be a lot of thinking out loud...trying to make a case for interdependencies as well as cause-and-effect of micro, macro, and galactic systems. It's an overview of the current state of research in many disciplines, and is of particular interest if you are following and are familiar with a previous snapshot of the research. Much of it, as the title indicates, revolves around the presumptive abundance of "dark matter", matter that is not directly observed, but inferred and must be of a certain quantity for other physical models to make sense. Dark matter theory has long been an interest of mine, but my technical knowledge is rather permanently stuck at just the level this book is fortunately written. ( )
1 vote JeffV | Aug 7, 2016 |
Worth reading if just for the overview of the theory of how the universe was formed and the conjectures about the nature of dark matter. But, be warned, it's quite the understatement when author Lisa Randall writes, "Without some background in particle physics... these ideas can be difficult to grasp..." I struggled and gave up on more than a few. ( )
1 vote wandaly | Jun 30, 2016 |
Physicist Lisa Randall provides a detailed and insightful journey through the fields of particle physics, cosmology, and astrophysics. She proposes that the comet that hit the Yucatan Peninsula 66 million years ago and destroyed the dinosaurs was knocked loose from the Oort Cloud when the edge of the solar system passed through a disk of dark matter. In about 30 million years, this could happen again, so make plans now. ( )
1 vote proflinton | Jun 20, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062328476, Hardcover)

In this brilliant exploration of our cosmic environment, the renowned particle physicist and New York Times bestselling author of Warped Passages and Knocking on Heaven’s Door uses her research into dark matter to illuminate the startling connections between the furthest reaches of space and life here on Earth.

Sixty-six million years ago, an object the size of a city descended from space to crash into Earth, creating a devastating cataclysm that killed off the dinosaurs, along with three-quarters of the other species on the planet. What was its origin? In Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs, Lisa Randall proposes it was a comet that was dislodged from its orbit as the Solar System passed through a disk of dark matter embedded in the Milky Way. In a sense, it might have been dark matter that killed the dinosaurs.

Working through the background and consequences of this proposal, Randall shares with us the latest findings—established and speculative—regarding the nature and role of dark matter and the origin of the Universe, our galaxy, our Solar System, and life, along with the process by which scientists explore new concepts. In Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs, Randall tells a breathtaking story that weaves together the cosmos’ history and our own, illuminating the deep relationships that are critical to our world and the astonishing beauty inherent in the most familiar things.

(retrieved from Amazon Sat, 11 Jul 2015 07:01:03 -0400)

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