Astrophysics for People in a Hurry Summary

Neil deGrasse Tyson

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry

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Astrophysics for People in a Hurry Summary

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Neil deGrasse Tyson’s scientific nonfiction Astrophysics for People in a Hurry (2017) summarizes the most frequently asked questions about the universe and how we fit into the cosmos. It was nominated for various awards, including the 2017 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album. Tyson has a BA in Physics from Harvard University and a PhD in Astrophysics from Columbia. Directly appointed to various space exploration commissions by President Bush, he served on the Advisory Council at NASA. He has received numerous accolades for his contributions to science.

Each chapter of Astrophysics for People in a Hurry covers a fundamental facet of the universe, such as gravity, dark matter, and light travel. Targeted at casual readers looking for more information about the universe, science students, and anyone who wonders why we are here in the cosmos, at 200 pages long, the chapters are brief. Tyson hopes that the book triggers conversations about science, encouraging people to learn more about space exploration.

Tyson begins the book with a chapter on the big bang. He explains how, 14 billion years ago, matter occupying a microscopic space suddenly exploded into the size of the known universe. No one knows precisely how the big bang happened, or why, but there are significant markers quantum physicists can study to map a possible timeline. The timeline is comprised of millionths and tenths of seconds, and Tyson highlights the most important markers.

After introducing readers to the big bang, Tyson looks at universal laws and why the cosmos operates the way it does. For example, in the second chapter, “On Earth as in the Heavens,” Tyson discusses gravity and how it affects our daily lives. Gravity controls how other planets, stars, and satellites move through the universe and interact. Without gravity, we would not orbit around the Sun, and we wouldn’t exist.

Tyson highlights how universal laws and scientific discovery coincide. When scientists first discovered the laws of the universe, such as gravity, they realized they could begin making sense of our cosmos. All that is left for scientists to do, Tyson explains, is to unpick these laws to unlock the secrets of the universe. This is no easy task, and there is much we still cannot fathom.

The longest chapters in the book are dedicated to these things we don’t understand yet—specifically, dark matter and dark energy. We know enough about black holes, star births and deaths, and light travel to explain a host of scientific phenomenon, but we know nothing about the driving force behind the universe itself. Tyson hopes that a future generation of astrophysicists will explain these mysteries one day.

Tyson pays homage to the scientists and physicists who shaped our understanding of the cosmos, from Isaac Newton to Edwin Hubble and Tyson’s contemporary colleagues. Scientists like Tyson find it frustrating that new discoveries often contradict what we think we know about the universe and physical laws. We must constantly challenge what we know and what we don’t know, because this is the only way we will one day answer our most important questions about the universe.

Tyson urges readers to think of the cosmos with humility. Humans are made of stardust and we all have something in common. It is easy, Tyson explains, to forget our place in the universe because we forget its sheer size and scope. Earth is only a tiny fraction of what the universe has to offer; this should both comfort and inspire us to do better. Although Astrophysics for People in a Hurry is by no means a political book, there are humanitarian messages scattered throughout.

In Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, Tyson highlights how much there is about the universe we cannot yet see. For example, although telescopes allow us to see dwarf galaxies and the spaces between them, we can’t see everything. There are undoubtedly details we do not yet have the technology to identify. Just as the human eye can only pick up so many colors, we are still blind to a whole spectrum of the universe. This quest for hidden knowledge is what makes astrophysics so exciting for Tyson and scientists like him.

The book does not confine itself to astrophysics. Tyson describes how fields such as chemistry, biology, and astrophysics are intrinsically linked. For example, we cannot understand the fundamentals of the big bang without also understanding the Periodic Table and the basic elements of life. The Periodic Table is the starting block for further scientific study; we shouldn’t forget about it the moment we leave high school. We cannot understand one field of science without understanding the others—the universe is too big to confine to one box.