After the laws of physics, everything else is opinion

“Astrophysics for People in a Hurry” by Neil deGrasse Tyson

I read this book because I wanted to learn the basics about astrophysics. But as I quickly discovered, this is not astrophysics for dummies. Yes it’s a relatively quick read but Neil deGrasse Tyson seems to wrote it with the assumption of basic knowledge from the readers.

Nevertheless, the general feel about the subject can still be understood.

Firstly, we can assert without further hesitation that the universe had a beginning. The universe also continues to evolve, with every atom in our body is traceable to the Big Bang and to “the thermonuclear furnaces within high-mass stars that exploded more than five billion years ago.”

Moreover, while the Big Bang occurred 13.8 billion years ago, it took another 380,000 years before we can see any matter forming, and few more billion years to form a planet that we call home. Yes, time moves slowly in the universe, and in the grand scale of things our 70-100 years of life, by contrast, is ridiculously short.

Furthermore, there are more stars in the universe than there are grains of sand on any beach, more stars than seconds have passed since Earth was formed 4.5 billion years ago. In fact, there are about 100 billion galaxies that we have discovered so far in the universe, one of which is our Milky Way galaxy that in turn contains approximately 100 billion more stars, with one of them is our Sun. We truly are nothing but a speck of dust in the face of the massive universe.

Meanwhile, as one star (our Sun) can have several planets orbiting it, other stars also have planets orbiting them and quite a lot of these planets are at a similar distance like the Earth to the Sun, not too close that it evaporates the water but not too far that it freezes the water. In other words, there are thousands of planets that have been found so far that are habitable and have the potential to support life just like on Earth.

I also find it particularly intriguing that Newton’s Law of Gravity also guides planets, asteroids, and comets in their orbit around the Sun and organised the orbit of the billion stars within our Milky Way Galaxy. This, as it turns out, is a common thing in the world of science: that everything from nature to space all follow certain laws of physics, while everything else, as Tyson remarks, is opinion.

The book also mentions so many fascinating facts such as different colour have different temperature, it also features the explanations of most of the elements in the periodic table, amusing speculations like the possibility that Earthlings might just be a descendant of Martians, and many, many space-science stuff that I find it challenging to digest.

Needless to say, I came here to find answers but come out with more questions. Questions like what’s in the space between galaxies? Who or what neatly organised the gravitational orbits of the planets and the stars? What is a supermassive black hole? What’s on the dark side of the moon? What’s that bright thing in the center of the Milky Way galaxy?

But I guess that’s what a stimulating book is supposed to do, and the amount of mysteries about the space that we still haven’t uncovered yet are intriguing to closely follow.