The Extravagant Universe tells the story of a remarkable adventure of scientific discovery. One of the world’s leading astronomers, Robert Kirshner, takes readers inside a lively research team on the quest that led them to an extraordinary cosmological discovery: the expansion of the universe is accelerating under the influence of a dark energy that makes space itself expand. In addition to sharing the story of this exciting discovery, Kirshner also brings the science up-to-date in a new epilogue. He explains how the idea of an accelerating universe–once a daring interpretation of sketchy data–is now the standard assumption in cosmology today.
This measurement of dark energy–a quality of space itself that causes cosmic acceleration–points to a gaping hole in our understanding of fundamental physics. In 1917, Einstein proposed the “cosmological constant” to explain a static universe. When observations proved that the universe was expanding, he cast this early form of dark energy aside. But recent observations described first-hand in this book show that the cosmological constant–or something just like it–dominates the universe’s mass and energy budget and determines its fate and shape.
Warned by Einstein’s blunder, and contradicted by the initial results of a competing research team, Kirshner and his colleagues were reluctant to accept their own result. But, convinced by evidence built on their hard-earned understanding of exploding stars, they announced their conclusion that the universe is accelerating in February 1998. Other lines of inquiry and parallel supernova research now support a new synthesis of a cosmos dominated by dark energy but also containing several forms of dark matter. We live in an extravagant universe with a surprising number of essential ingredients: the real universe we measure is not the simplest one we could imagine.