June 7, 2020

Review: Bang!



Think hard rock and astrophysics don’t mix? Think again. Recently, we had the pleasure of reading Bang! The Complete History of the Universe,” by astronomy heavyweights Brian May, Patrick Moore, and Chris Lincott…

Brian May? Yes, that Brian May. Longtime guitarist for the British rock band Queen, Brian is also well accomplished in the field of astrophysics. What isn’t generally known is that May put his PhD work on hiatus when Queen took off in the 70′s. In 2007, he finished his PhD thesis on A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud,  and has been a long time popularizer of astronomy.

Now here’s the weird part… Sir Patrick Moore (he of the monocle) has also been well known as a long time astronomer and promoter of science, hosting the long running The Sky at Night for BBC and even penning a science fiction tome or two… the Apollo missions couldn’t have happened without his meticulous lunar maps. But what isn’t generally known about Moore is that he is also an accomplished musician, the reverse of May! Of course, the xylophone is Moore’s axe of choice…

One would think that Chris Lintott’s resume might get lost among these big hitters… well, how ’bout the founder and organizer of none other than Galaxy Zoo? This “crowd-sourcing” project has proven that cosmology can be done by citizen scientists before bedtime. Watch for the Lincott name in the up and coming!

Whew! That might prove to be our longest author intro ever! Anyway, back to Bang!….out early last year from John Hopkins University Press, Bang! comes in a large, glossy coffee (or tea, in England) table book format. The cool holographic cover is what grabs everyone, including my wife as I read it! Consider it a family photo album of the universe, a kind of 101 of how we got here, how we know this, and where our knowledge and the universe is headed. This would be a good pictorial companion to Hawking’s A Brief History of Time or Adams & Laughlin’s excellent The Five Ages of the Universe which came out a few years back. Cosmology is indeed coming of age as a real “respectable” science and Bang! reflects the excitement in the field. Maybe cosmologists will get invited to more wild cocktail parties now…(and not get mistaken for hair-dressers!)

Of course, the scope of the book is ambitious; its hard to cram in antimatter and inflation in one chapter and then skip to planetary science and biology in the next. Still, the authors do a wonderful job tackling a broad array of cosmic subjects. This is just the kind of book that would have fired up my imagination as a kid!

Our favorite segment? I’m glad the authors added in some of their own personal pics, such as those at Moore’s private observatory. Star charts are provided in the last segment of the book, perhaps to whet the budding observers appetite for more. The well known is presented along side the rare, such as photographs on the zodiacal light (fairly rare along with pics of the gegenschein; try searching on the web sometime) and art work by Patrick Moore’s mom!

The bits showing such exotic devices as the repairmen floating in Japan’s Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector are also super cool…why doesn’t that job ever pop up on Monster.com?

The biographies are also enlightening; everybody knows Galileo and Newton, but do you know Shapely and Schwarzchild? Or how ’bout Martin Ryle, one of the key proponents of radio astronomy in the 20th century?

In the end, Bang! Is an excellent illustrated compendium for what are perhaps weightier and less accessible tomes. Leave it lying about your loft-style apartment to show your prospective mate that you have a bent towards all things cosmological. And it ties in the two things we here at Astroguyz love in life; Astronomy and Metal! Now, if only Ozzy Osborne or Henry Rollins could publish a book on stellar evolution…


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