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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.
Using accessible writing and vivid examples, Randall (Higgs Discovery), a theoretical particle physicist and cosmologist at Harvard University, examines the indirect role dark matter may have played in the extinction of the dinosaurs, as just one example of the unlikely connections to be found in the universe. She builds her argument methodically, moving from discussions of the big bang and galaxy formation, through prehistoric extinction events, and into the way dark matter interacts with other forces and particles. Scientists detect dark matter indirectly, Randall says. In space, a massive object bends light as it zips past, so that object's mass can then be determined by measuring the bend. Its gravity can also perturb the motion of other bodies passing through the area. Randall proposes the existence of a dense disk of dark matter inside the galactic disk of the Milky Way. As stars including our sun rotate around a galactic center, they and their planets cross the dark disk. On Earth's pass-through, the dark disk's gravity could have perturbed an icy rock in the Oort Cloud, sending it on a collision course with Earth. Randall covers a lot of ground, but does so smoothly even when addressing some of science's most abstruse subjects. Hers is a fascinating, tantalizing theory, linking life on Earth or the extinction thereof with the very origins of our universe.