Today I started reading Neil De Grasse Tyson’s new book, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.
I’m enjoying it. It’s just enough science for my brain not to freeze up.
To the scientist, the universality of physical laws makes the cosmos a marvelously simple place. By comparison, human nature—the psychologist’s domain—is infinitely more daunting. In America, local school boards vote on subjects to be taught in the classroom. In some cases, votes are cast according to the whims of cultural, political, or religious tides. Around the world, varying belief systems lead to political differences that are not always resolved peacefully. The power and beauty of physical laws is that they apply everywhere, whether or not you choose to believe in them.
Tell ’em, Neil.
Like Richard Feynman before him, Tyson is great at conveying complex ideas in simple, digestible terms.
Of course, the key to this is knowing how to deploy the proper metaphors:
You will find most (known) dwarf galaxies hanging out near bigger galaxies, in orbit around them like satellites. The two Magellanic Clouds are part of the Milky Way’s dwarf family. But the lives of satellite galaxies can be quite hazardous. Most computer models of their orbits show a slow decay that ultimately results in the hapless dwarfs getting ripped apart, and then eaten, by the main galaxy. The Milky Way engaged in at least one act of cannibalism in the last billion years, when it consumed a dwarf galaxy whose flayed remains can be seen as a stream of stars orbiting the galactic center, beyond the stars of the constellation Sagittarius. The system is called the Sagittarius Dwarf, but should probably have been named Lunch.
This book is proving to be a fun, fast, and an enlightening read.