J. Richard Gott on The Cosmic Web

Posted by David Eicher
on Friday, March 4, 2016

When we think of galaxies, we normally think of lots of objects that are very close to us in space. It’s difficult for the very distant galaxies, and very largest structures, to spring into our minds. And yet this is where the highest understanding of how galaxies function, and how the universe is organized, resides — in the large-scale structure of the cosmos.

J. Richard Gott, professor of astrophysics at Princeton University, has been at the forefront of extragalactic research for a long time. His new book provides an outstanding summation of his search for understanding the spongy cosmic web that characterizes the universe at large scales. Anyone interested in this cosmic detective story will want to read his new book, The Cosmic Web: Mysterious Architecture of the Universe (255 pp., hardcover, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 2016, $30; ISBN 978–0–691–15726–9).

Gott begins with the tale of Hubble identifying the expanding universe and the cosmic distance scale, the very nature of galaxies. He then takes readers on a sweeping historical tour leading up to his own research and that of his group and its contemporaries. We learn about Fritz Zwicky and dark matter, clusters of galaxies and how they behave, the discovery of cosmic voids, and cosmic inflation.

And then an interesting story turns even more interesting as we ride along with Gott throughout the development of his remarkable career. Gott’s fascination with geometry led to his investigation of the topology of the universe and various cosmological models. Large-scale galaxy surveys, the Great Wall, supercomputer simulations, and the Great Attractor all receive splendid storytelling and explanation.

Gott‘s book concludes by examining the meaning of dark energy and its connection to the universe’s fate.

This is a book that will be must reading for anyone interested in cosmology and the universe’s large-scale structure. It is a magnificent achievement.

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