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The Mysteries of the Universe Explained — in 30 Seconds!

How old is the universe? What’s a black hole? Why do planets spin? A new book strives to answer those questions and many others with short, readable explanations that can be absorbed in a matter of seconds.

The book, 30-Second Universe: 50 most significant ideas, theories, principles and events that sum up the field, was co-authored by Professor Charles Liu (College of Staten Island, The Graduate Center), along with Karen Masters and Sevil Salur.

The book, designed for curious readers of all ages, has chapters on the origins of the universe, the observable universe, the quantum universe, the physical universe, the metaphysical universe, the fate of the universe, and the potential for multiple universes. Each section offers a glossary of words like photons (particles of light) and neutrinos (electrically neutral particles), followed by 200-word entries on topics ranging from gravity to the Higgs boson (a hard-to-detect particle that determines mass in the universe).

The book also profiles seven scientists and thinkers, from household names like Stephen Hawking and Marie Curie, to less well-known individuals like Henrietta Swan Leavitt. Leavitt’s work at Harvard as a human “computer” measuring the brightness of stars led to “Leavitt’s Law,” a way of measuring  vast distances across the cosmos. 

Four video segments, 30 seconds each, explaining Schrodinger’s cat, the big bang, black holes, and gravity, featuring 30-Second Universe co-editor Professor Charles Liu.

Another profile, of the Nobel-winning physicist Erwin Schrödinger, sums up the famous “Schrödinger’s Cat” puzzle like this: “Schrödinger imagined a cat in a steel box, which would be poisoned only if a particular nuclear decay occurs – until the box is opened, the animal could actually be both alive and dead at the same time.” The two possible outcomes represent the potential for parallel universes. 

The authors address climate change in a sobering entry called “End of life on Earth.” They note that “scientists generally agree that an ongoing mass extinction” caused by human activity is already underway. Another dire scenario: Life could be snuffed out by a cosmic event like a collision with an asteroid. And if humankind somehow survives the next billion years, the sun will have become so much brighter that Earth’s surface will be uninhabitable.

“Knowing the Unknowable” addresses the split between faith-based views and evidence-based science. While some see our incomplete understanding of the universe as proof of supernatural design or a divine creator, others believe “that all the gaps in our knowledge will eventually be filled and attributed to natural processes.” Regardless of who’s right, say the authors, what really matters is the earnest and thoughtful search for the answer – because that’s the true driver of discovery.