An inventory of cosmological mysteries

Taken from the August 2021 issue of Physics World where it first appeared under the headline “The cosmos in 30 questions”. Members of the Institute of Physics can enjoy the full issue via the Physics World app.

Laura Hiscott reviews What’s Eating the Universe and Other Cosmic Questions by Paul Davies

Over thousands of years, humans have never tired of pondering the universe and our place in it. But as our knowledge has advanced, the specific questions we ask have changed. What’s Eating the Universe and Other Cosmic Questions by physicist and writer Paul Davies is a whistle-stop tour of the biggest mysteries that cosmologists are investigating today.

Each of the 30 chapters is devoted to a different question. The chapters are only about two to five pages long each, but they are not there to provide answers, nor even to deeply explore any theories. The author briefly explains where each question arose from, and some of the suggested solutions, occasionally opining on whether he thinks any are convincing.

This structure makes for a nice overview of the state of cosmology. After all, science is driven by questions, so summarising the questions that scientists are currently asking is a good way of describing the state of the field. Some chapters look at problems I had already heard of, such as the mysterious fine-tuning of fundamental constants that allows life to exist. Others were new to me – the eponymous chapter details an unexpected void-like cold spot that astronomers have found in the constellation of Eridanus. Speculations follow that our universe might be spontaneously engulfed by a collision with another, or by the quantum vacuum decaying to a lower energy level. If you can bear to contemplate such scary prospects, this book is a fun way of making sure you’re all caught up on where cosmology is at today.

  • 2021 Allen Lane £16.99hb 192pp

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