July 3, 2022

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Science and books / From quarks to galaxies

Knowledge of natural phenomena, which range from the small infinite, passing through our dimensions, to the infinitely large. As the introduction states, “We speak of science as knowledge, in particular knowing what constitutes the matter that surrounds us, what our planet is and how it was formed, how it was formed and how the universe in which we find ourselves evolves”.

Ambitious goal? Of course, but we can tell from reading, she’s pretty much accomplished.

The reader will then be able to relate to the picture of the universe in all its dimensions provided by the various branches of modern science.

The first of the four chapters is titled What is the matter? It was edited by Gianpaolo Bellini, Professor Emeritus of the University of Milan and Scientist Emeritus of Infn.

His task was certainly the most difficult, given the complex and special language of studying elementary particles. However, the ability to clearly express very complex concepts in an undefined language makes it possible to follow the discourse well. With an implicit historical path sometimes, but always present, we are guided by the elementary structure of matter, first of all ordinary: protons, neutrons, electrons. Then we learn the secrets of wave-particle duality with simple and rigorous examples. Then we talk about antiparticles and unstable particles. Finally, a historical reference on the work of scientists in the composition of matter. At first it is the work of chemistry, then physics intervenes with increasingly powerful accelerators, even classifying elementary particles according to the so-called Standard Model.

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Chapter II planet earth Edited by Enrico Bonatti, oceanographer and member of the Accademia dei Lincei. A brief description of the Earth’s structure is given first, from the atmosphere to the innermost core. Then the problem of the age of the Earth and the mechanism of its formation is addressed. For those who are not experts in this question, it may come as a surprise that until the mid-19th century the supposed age of the Earth did not exceed 6000 years.

But the study of radioactive decay made it possible to dramatically increase the age of the Earth: four and a half billion years!

Therefore, a long journey from the primordial nebula led us to the present situation: from the primordial atmosphere to the birth of the oceans and then the continents; It was possible to study the development of the latter with the birth of plate tectonics. The origin of the moon and life on Earth are also discussed. Finally, a hint to the distant future: the end of the Earth “burned” due to the expansion of the Sun becoming a red giant.

Chapter III A look at the universe Edited by Marco Bersanelli, Professor of Astrophysics. Its path travels from the solar system (from which the Copernican revolution reconstructed) to the stars and the universe as seen by modern cosmology. For stars, there is an explicit reference to the concept of stellar evolution, the study of which has made it possible to largely reconstruct the life and death of stars. We then move on to the general structure of the universe made of clusters of galaxies, and to the existence of an invisible mass, consisting of something different from ordinary matter, which is dark matter. Finally, we turn to cosmological issues: the expansion and age of the universe, the Big Bang model and inflationary expansion. The conclusion is a bit paradoxical: we have a convincing model of the universe, but 95% of it consists, dark matter and energy, something we know almost nothing: solving this mystery is the task of future cosmology.

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the fourth chapter Neutrinos reveal how and why the sun and stars riseagain by Gianpaolo Bellini, is in some way an accessory, but in no way secondary.

While in the rest of the book the results of the research are cited, here we have an important example of the concept of “experiment under controlled conditions” first introduced by Galileo.

We can then see how the empirical side turns out to be as complex as the theoretical side, albeit in a different way. The theory says that the sun produces energy with the pp (proton-proton) reaction and the CNO (carbon, nitrogen, oxygen) cycle in which these elements act as catalysts. This can be demonstrated by the detection of neutrinos generated in these interactions, with well-defined energies. The experiment conducted in the Gran Sasso laboratory, called Borexino, made it possible to detect neutrinos of the expected energies, which gave experimental confirmation of the reactions that produce solar energy.

Gianpaolo Bellini, Marco Bersanelli, Enrico Bonatti

From quarks to galaxies

Ulrico Hoepli Publisher, Milan 2022

Pages 188 € 18.90

Lorenzo Mazzoni review

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