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The Biggest Bangs: The Mystery of Gamma-Ray Bursts, the Most Violent Explosions in the Universe (Anglais) Relié – 25 juillet 2002

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On December 7, 1941, the "date which will live in infamy," a surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, sank much of the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet, shocked Americans from their naive isolationism, and carved a permanent mark in the national character: never again would the United States permit itself to be caught by surprise. Lire la première page
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Couverture | Copyright | Table des matières | Extrait | Index | Quatrième de couverture
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11 internautes sur 11 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Written too Soon? 12 mai 2003
Par Stephen Holland - Publié sur
Format: Relié
In the late 1960s the U.S. military discovered gamma-ray bursts: intense bursts of radiation coming from random points in the sky. Over the next thirty years these bursts remained one of the most mysterious astrophysical phenomena. Very little was known about them. This changed in 1997 when Paul Vreeswijk discovered an optical flash at the location of one gamma-ray burst. This discovery made it possible to determine that gamma-ray bursts are at cosmological distances and involve energies that are usually only seen in exploding stars. Jonathan Katz gives the history of gamma-ray bursts and provides a clear explaination of how astronomers have come to understand what they are and how they work. Unfortunately most of the book is devoted to what happened before 1997. Only four of the seventeen chapters cover the time after the discovery of the optical flashes. This is unfortunate because it has been since 1997 that science has been able to understand gamma-ray bursts. The book would have been much better if it had treated the two eras equally instead of concentrating on the early history of the field. The book also suffers from a slighly biased view of who contributed what to our understanding of gamma-ray bursts. The field is competetive, and rival researchers often refuse to give credit where credit is due. It is unfortunate that Katz chooses to continue this trend in a popular work. Gamma-ray bursts are a hot topic in astronomy, and the story of their discovery is worth telling. However, "The Biggest Bangs" is not that story.
10 internautes sur 10 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
I didn't know I was interested in astronomy! 13 avril 2002
Par John Henriksson - Publié sur
Format: Relié
The cover illustration grabbed me in my local bookstore. So I opened it, and started reading. By the time I put it down, I was late for dinner (and my wife was very unhappy). This account of gamma-ray bursts (weird explosions in the distant universe, discovered by a satellite meant to be sure the Soviets weren't cheating on the test ban treaty) reads like a detective novel, with false leads, colorful characters and feuds like the Hatfields and McCoys. After being misled by erroneous data and going down several blind alleys the astronomers think they have figured bursts out---a collapsing star spits out matter at nearly the speed of light, and it emits gamma-rays, visible light (enough to fry the Earth if one happens close by, but fortunately this is very unlikely) and radio waves. They still aren't sure if supernovas (exploding stars) make gamma-ray bursts or not. I didn't realize there was so much bickering in science (what about the pursuit of pure knowledge?), but it's an exciting story.
6 internautes sur 7 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
If Carl Sagan had written about gamma-ray bursts, it might 9 mai 2002
Par Un client - Publié sur
Format: Relié
have been this book. Of course, he didn't, leaving all of us who loved Cosmos wishing he'd had time to tell us lots more. The Biggest Bangs is in Sagan's style, with history and personalities mixed in with a clear explanation of the science. In places it is hilarious (look for the bit about the alligators). Gamma-ray bursts were discovered by accident and took a long time to understand. They turn out to be very distant and incredibly powerful, but they are also very rare, completely unpredictable and don't last long, which makes them hard to study (how do you know where and when to point your telescope?). It took the astronomers a long time to figure all this out. They are human, get things wrong sometimes and disagree with each other a lot, just like the rest of us. The Biggest Bangs does a good job of showing this human side of science as well as the science itself. As Sagan said, science is our most powerful tool to understand the world. This is how it works.
2 internautes sur 2 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
An educational and insightful peek into the research on Gamma-Ray Bursts 20 août 2007
Par Darby - Publié sur
Format: Relié
In this book, Dr. Katz (a professor of Physics) takes the reader on an educational and insightful trip into the history of research on the phenomena of Gamma-Ray Bursts ... bursts of highly energetic photons with energies far in excess of standard X-Rays - sometimes hundreds (even thousands) of times more powerful.

The journey of discovery goes all the way back to the early days of the Cold War, and fledgeling attempts to monitor international compliance to the nuclear test ban treaty ... and from there into the early days of the space program ... and on into the days of the Hubble Space Telescopes, the BATSE/GRO (Gamma Ray Observatory), HETE-2 (High-Energy Transient Explorer), and on into attempts to scatter GROs far and wide throughout the solar system, in order to use triangulation and parallax to pinpoint the location and distance of such bursts ... with the holy grail being to someday localize such a burst quickly enough to focus a telescope on the origin, and settle the ongoing (and heated) debates concerning the nature (and distance) of their origin.

The author does an excellent job of taking the reader along on a thrilling ride of discovery - not just of the phenomena at hand, but also on a lifecycle of the scientific method itself ... from the early stages of gamma burst detection, through early theoretical explanations, through increasingly complex experiments attempting better measurements, through setbacks of funding and accidents during and after launch, to revised theories and debates in response, to still more ambitious experiments by forward thinking and innovative minds ... and finally onward to the holy grail itself - timely photos of the afterglow of a super burst, and the long sought-after confirmation of the origin and nature of such bursts - a holy grail that, in this case, is found and described by the author in his closing chapter

The book is recommended, albeit with one minor stylistic nit ... the author has this inexplicable aversion to using superlatives when he writes about his subject. This causes him, at times, to project an overly-cool detachment, when describing mind-bogglingly powerful phenomena (on the order to 10**54 ergs) ... it left me feeling half-crazed at times, wishing I could shake him.

Anyway, if you like populist {astro}physicists-turned-authors like Brian Greene, you'll like Dr. Katz, and this book as well.
Science is Done by People 2 octobre 2002
Par Un client - Publié sur
Format: Relié
The Biggest Bangs is really two books in one. The first book is an entertaining popular account of astronomical gamma-ray bursts. It tells how they were accidentally discovered (by satellites launched to monitor the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty), how (through the development of better instruments) we gradually learned more about them, how the right ideas were sifted from the wrong ideas (there were plenty of wrong ideas), and how astronomers finally arrived at their present understanding. The picture is still rather cloudy, so there are likely many surprises yet to come. This is straightforward popular science writing, uncontroversial and rather well done.
The second book hiding inside The Biggest Bangs is an account of the human side of science, warts and all. This is reminiscent of The Double Helix (although Katz is only one of many contributors to understanding gamma-ray bursts, and his own name doesn't even appear in his index, in contrast to The Double Helix, in which Watson was the biggest player as well as the author). In both books the human side is often ugly. Good ideas are rejected for funding, scientists can be real backstabbers (they're human beings with the usual share of jealousy and more than the usual share of ambition), and credit doesn't always go to the most deserving (the Soviet contributors seem to have received particularly short shrift). NASA comes in for severe criticism (well-deserved, according to most scientists who have dealt with that agency). NASA apparatchiks and people who believe that science is a never-never land populated by goody-goodies above mere human failings have not been pleased.
This second book within The Biggest Bangs is really a book about the history and sociology of science, using gamma-ray bursts as a source of illustrations. It occupies only a small fraction of the text, a paragraph or a page here and there. Yet it may the most interesting part, especially for readers who don't begin with a great interest in astronomy. If the people who run science read it and pay attention it might do some good. Science could be more efficient and productive, if it were run a little differently.
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