Word Power: Short is Sweet

Believe this! It’s what many writers know instinctively — and from experience. But we find it ever so hard to accomplish.

Just finish reading a beautiful short book,  Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, by Neil deGrasse TysonHe is, among many other things, head of New York’s Hayden Planetarium. Like Carl Sagan once did, Tyson is becoming the current “popular voice” of things interplanetary and interstellar.

We so need people with his skills in many disciplines. Maybe it was a powerful liberal arts experience at Colgate that taught the extraordinary value in committing to study the fundamentals of disciplines we’d never imagine diving into with both feet.

I once had that happen with philosophy and religion requirements at Colgate University. In the last few days it’s happened again with Tyson’s startling short book on our universe.

When the words short and universe get in the same sentence, it’s time to explain fast!

I went to the Hayden Planetarium with my Dad as a grade schooler. Ever after, I’ve been a star-gazer. Astronomy was something I thought would be great career once upon a time. Now it has all come roaring back into my consciousness with Astrophysics for People in a Hurry .

galactic cloud
Galactic cloud

Imagine the audacity of choosing to take this on in a short volume. Yet Tyson pulls it off. This book is so jammed with astounding practical and theoretical thinking I had to stop every 20 minutes or so, put it down, and just reflect on what I had “heard” in his words.

A few samples follow. Does the “big bang” explain the start of it all? Well yes, until we consider forces and substances that seem to exist to the theoreticians — that cannot be explained by anything visible! This goes way beyond black holes. “Dark Matter” and “Dark Energy” are the only plausible explanations for how, although Newton’s gravity is clearly at work everywhere we can see, there are big things happening that we simply cannot yet explain.

The universe is pulling apart from itself at blinding speed. Although no one can postulate a speed greater than the speed of light, Tyson explains why hundreds of generations from now, the night sky will look very different to earth-bound eyes simply because stars and galaxies we see today will have moved so far away their light will no longer reach us. Hmm.

Oh, and somewhat more reassuring — we humans are literally made of the stuff of the universe. A few new elements have been found in laboratory experiments, but we are still hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon combined in understandable ways with amazing results. And we are on an endless mission of discovery!

My words can’t do this work justice. But I trust I have enticed you.

Do give this book a go. Expand your universe.


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