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Eight Improbable Possibilities: The Mystery of the Moon, and Other Implausible Scientific Truths

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A mind-warping excursion into the wildly improbable truths of science. Echoing Sherlock Holmes' famous dictum, John Gribbin tells us: 'Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever is left, however improbable, is certainly possible, in the light of present scientific knowledge.' With that in mind, in his sequel to the hugely popular Six Impossible Things and Seven Pilla A mind-warping excursion into the wildly improbable truths of science. Echoing Sherlock Holmes' famous dictum, John Gribbin tells us: 'Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever is left, however improbable, is certainly possible, in the light of present scientific knowledge.' With that in mind, in his sequel to the hugely popular Six Impossible Things and Seven Pillars of Science, Gribbin turns his attention to some of the mind-bendingly improbable truths of science. For example: We know that the Universe had a beginning, and when it was – and also that the expansion of the Universe is speeding up. We can detect ripples in space that are one ten-thousandth the width of a proton, made by colliding black holes billions of light years from Earth. And, most importantly from our perspective, all complex life on Earth today is descended from a single cell – but without the stabilising influence of the Moon, life forms like us could never have evolved.


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A mind-warping excursion into the wildly improbable truths of science. Echoing Sherlock Holmes' famous dictum, John Gribbin tells us: 'Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever is left, however improbable, is certainly possible, in the light of present scientific knowledge.' With that in mind, in his sequel to the hugely popular Six Impossible Things and Seven Pilla A mind-warping excursion into the wildly improbable truths of science. Echoing Sherlock Holmes' famous dictum, John Gribbin tells us: 'Once you have eliminated the impossible, whatever is left, however improbable, is certainly possible, in the light of present scientific knowledge.' With that in mind, in his sequel to the hugely popular Six Impossible Things and Seven Pillars of Science, Gribbin turns his attention to some of the mind-bendingly improbable truths of science. For example: We know that the Universe had a beginning, and when it was – and also that the expansion of the Universe is speeding up. We can detect ripples in space that are one ten-thousandth the width of a proton, made by colliding black holes billions of light years from Earth. And, most importantly from our perspective, all complex life on Earth today is descended from a single cell – but without the stabilising influence of the Moon, life forms like us could never have evolved.

31 review for Eight Improbable Possibilities: The Mystery of the Moon, and Other Implausible Scientific Truths

  1. 4 out of 5

    Brian Clegg

    There are broadly two types of short, stylish-looking little hardback science books. Some are all froth and very little content, where others manage to pack in a remarkable amount of information in a readable fashion. The latest from veteran British science writer John Gribbin is very much in the second category. In this book he presents us with aspects of science (mostly around astronomy and physics) which seem improbable yet appear in our current best theories. These are: 'the mystery of the Mo There are broadly two types of short, stylish-looking little hardback science books. Some are all froth and very little content, where others manage to pack in a remarkable amount of information in a readable fashion. The latest from veteran British science writer John Gribbin is very much in the second category. In this book he presents us with aspects of science (mostly around astronomy and physics) which seem improbable yet appear in our current best theories. These are: 'the mystery of the Moon', 'the universe has a beginning and we know what it was', 'the expansion of the universe is speeding up', 'we can detect ripples in space made by colliding black holes', 'Newton, the bishop, the bucket and the universe', 'simple laws make complicated things, or little things mean a lot', 'all complex life on Earth today is descended from a single cell' and 'ice age rhythms and human evolution'. These are all interesting topics, but for me some were a lot more engaging than others, in part because some subjects (such as coverage of the big bang, cosmic microwave background radiation and gravitational waves) have been discussed in many other books. However, three of the topics really grabbed my attention. One was that opener about the Moon (an influence that comes back up again in the final chapter) - Gribbin points out just how unusual our moon is in being far bigger than you would otherwise expect, and shows how its formation and gravitational influence have a huge influence on what the Earth is like and how suitable it was for life to develop. We simply wouldn't be here without the Moon. The second topic, for which I would buy this book alone (I wish, if anything, the whole thing had been on this subject as it deserves a dedicated book) was the one with Newton, the bucket et al. As Gribbin points out, it sounds like the opening of a joke, but in reality it's a crucially important observation that feeds into relativity - the oddity of how something 'knows' that it is rotating. This is the idea that led to Mach's principle - that this 'awareness' comes from the interaction of the spinning object and the rest of the universe. This concept and what this implied for Einstein's development of the general theory of relativity are beautifully explored. It's both intriguing and philosophically mind-boggling stuff that is usually brushed over without diving into the detail as happens here. The final topic I want to pick out is the origin of complex life on Earth. It might be well-known, but this exploration of the roots of life is still something that feels remarkably counter-intuitive. It's a useful counter to the petty discoveries of genealogy to realise that we are all related to every living thing (so who cares if you can find royalty in your family tree?) There was one issue here: the assertion that the two most basic types of organisms, archaea and bacteria did not arise from a common ancestor. Gribbin tells us that 'the two forms of life must have arisen separately, but out of the same chemical soup, which explains their similarities.' The biological consensus is that there was a single universal common ancestor, but that archaea and bacteria most likely evolved separately from that same common ancestor, not just a soup. I do wish there had been more of the less familiar material, but even so, this is a very good addition to the short but beautifully formed genus of popular science book, and would make a great gift or addition to the bookshelf.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Barış Kaplan

    İlginç şeyler yalnızca dengeye yakın bir yerde ve bir sistemde enerji akışı olduğunda gerçekleşir. Tam olarak dengede, hiçbir şey değişmez. Dengeden uzakta, her şey karmaşık bir şekilde sürekli değişir; bu kaostur. ... Hayat kaosun eşiğinde bulunur... Bu kitap ile nasıl bir olasılıkla yaşaya bildiğimizi anlatıyor bize; Büyük patlama gerçekten odu mu? Evren statik mi, sıkışır mı, genişler mi? Evren kaç yaşında? Arkea ve bakterinin simbiyotik bir ortaklığı ile mi başladı tüm yaşam? Okuması kolay, çok hız İlginç şeyler yalnızca dengeye yakın bir yerde ve bir sistemde enerji akışı olduğunda gerçekleşir. Tam olarak dengede, hiçbir şey değişmez. Dengeden uzakta, her şey karmaşık bir şekilde sürekli değişir; bu kaostur. ... Hayat kaosun eşiğinde bulunur... Bu kitap ile nasıl bir olasılıkla yaşaya bildiğimizi anlatıyor bize; Büyük patlama gerçekten odu mu? Evren statik mi, sıkışır mı, genişler mi? Evren kaç yaşında? Arkea ve bakterinin simbiyotik bir ortaklığı ile mi başladı tüm yaşam? Okuması kolay, çok hızlı akıyor... Keyifli okumalar...

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ka Ming

    It is a short well written book telling the importance of Moon to the Earth and the science discoveries of the Universe. It brings back the joy of reading a popular science book as I experienced when I was a kid.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Martinez

  5. 5 out of 5

    Xavi Hernandez

  6. 5 out of 5

    Matt

  7. 4 out of 5

    Steven Chew

  8. 4 out of 5

    Saurabha Thakar

  9. 4 out of 5

    Srinivas Naik

  10. 4 out of 5

    Oge

  11. 4 out of 5

    Paul Vittay

  12. 5 out of 5

    Janardan Misra

  13. 5 out of 5

    Alfonso Sierra

  14. 5 out of 5

    Nadia

  15. 5 out of 5

    Andrias

  16. 4 out of 5

    Erik Gustafsson

  17. 4 out of 5

    Arturo

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mutlu

  19. 4 out of 5

    Frank

  20. 4 out of 5

    Christian

  21. 4 out of 5

    Brett White

  22. 5 out of 5

    Rachel Bury

  23. 5 out of 5

    John Schepens

  24. 5 out of 5

    Francisco Martorell

  25. 5 out of 5

    Dennis39784

  26. 4 out of 5

    Julian

  27. 4 out of 5

    Prashastha Mudannayake

  28. 4 out of 5

    Leonie

  29. 4 out of 5

    genn

  30. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Miller

  31. 4 out of 5

    Julia

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