By Mark Kidger

The universe is gigantic. rather substantial. And it will get larger on a daily basis. In Cosmological Enigmas, Mark Kidger weaves jointly historical past, technology, and technology fiction to contemplate questions on the bigness of area and the unusual gadgets that lie trembling on the fringe of infinity. What are quasars, blazars, and gamma-ray bursters? may perhaps we ever go back and forth to the celebs? do we relatively count on extraterrestrial beings to touch us? From the profound (what proof will we need to help the large bang theory?) to the weird (can there be multiple universe and, if that is so, what percentage dimensions does it possess?) to the everyday-yet-profound (why is the sky darkish at night?), Kidger explains not just what we all know yet how we got here to grasp it. Reflecting on how stars shine and what could lie past the sting of the universe, Kidger takes us at the final cosmic trip. (October 2008)

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Extra resources for Cosmological Enigmas: Pulsars, Quasars, and Other Deep-Space Questions

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Where two stars are of different mass, the larger one will use up its nuclear fuel first and turn into a red giant. If the two stars are close enough together, the smaller of the two will start to feed off the red giant star, pulling material off it onto itself. Astronomers call this process mass transfer. Suppose the larger star is four times as massive as the Sun and the smaller twice the Sun’s mass. After this process has ended, the larger star may have shrunk until it is just the same mass 22 Cosmological Enigmas as the Sun, while the other has swollen to be five times the Sun’s mass.

The reason why the collapse stops in the end is the atomic force called degeneracy. This is produced when atoms are forced so close together that the orbiting electrons are pushed almost back into the atomic nucleus. The result is a white dwarf star. This is the dead shell, no bigger than a large planet, of a star that continues to glow from the residual heat that it contains. A white dwarf will cool slowly until it disappears completely. If the star has been large enough to convert helium into carbon, its nucleus may even crystallize over millions of years into an immense diamond, although one that no earthly prospector can ever reach, buried deep in the heart of a cold, dark star.

Neutron stars spin rapidly and, if they are aligned toward the Earth, we may see them flashing once every rotation as the magnetic pole passes in front. Usually this is detected as a radio pulse, and the star is known as a pulsar. One pulsar that flashes three times a second was even likened by its discoverers to a cosmic Ringo Starr, beating out time to some unheard celestial music. There still remains one more spectacular possibility. If a star is large enough— and Betelgeuse is close to this point—the remnant left after the supernova explosion may be several times the mass of the Sun.

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