Books in brief

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Barbara Kiser reviews five of the week's best science picks.

The Red Atlas: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World

John Davies and Alexander J. Kent University of Chicago Press (2017) ISBN: 9780226389578

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It stands as one of the most astounding feats of twentieth-century cartography. From 1950 to 1990, Soviet spies and satellites surveyed most of the planet to create what may be more than one million military maps, so detailed they show the composition of bridges and species of trees. As John Davies and Alexander Kent reveal in this glorious homage embellished with 350 map extracts, the gargantuan project might have been groundwork for a cold-war coup. Ironically, its near-comprehensive coverage has proved a boon for Western surveyors working in otherwise uncharted territory.

The Little Book of Black Holes

Steven S. Gubser and Frans Pretorius Princeton University Press (2017) ISBN: 9780691163727

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The first faint chirp recorded by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in September 2015 marked the momentous merger of two black holes. And it's to these astrophysical regions of no return that physicists Steven Gubser and Frans Pretorius devote their slim primer. After extolling black holes as theoretical laboratories, they trek through relativity, Schwarzschild black holes and beyond. The thrills come thick and fast, not least when a hypothetical probe nearing a singularity is “squished and stretched into an infinitesimally thin line”.

Firestorm: How Wildfire Will Shape Our Future

Edward Struzik Island (2017) ISBN: 9781610918183

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Starting in May 2016, a huge wildfire devastated Fort McMurray, Canada. Dubbed the Beast, it burnt more than 566,000 hectares and displaced 88,000 people. And it is a sign of heated times: a new wildfire paradigm is emerging in North America's boreal forests, already pressured by fracking, logging and insect infestations. Edward Struzik's deft account interweaves reportage, science and policy to show how fires that are normally key to ecological resilience are growing bigger and faster, thawing permafrost, degrading watersheds and disrupting habitats of species from grizzly bears to fungi.

Planet of Microbes

Ted Anton University of Chicago Press (2017) ISBN: 9780226353944

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Collectively, Earth's microbial hordes are its dominant life form. A realm that spans the mammalian gut, the ocean floor and the International Space Station is a rich one, and discoveries in it continue to rattle and revivify biology. Ted Anton's captivating narrative follows the field's evolution through key findings in symbiosis, archaea and the microbiome by inspired scientists such as Lynn Margulis, Carl Woese, Margaret McFall-Ngai and Elaine Hsiao. Anton dips, too, into how the findings are influencing diet, agriculture, medicine and environmental sustainability.

Why We Sleep: The New Science of Sleep and Dreams

Matthew Walker Allen Lane (2017) ISBN: 9781501144318

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If your nightly snooze lasts less than seven hours, you risk weakening your immune system, messing with your metabolism and depriving yourself of a “consoling neurochemical bath”. So argues neuroscientist Matthew Walker, who draws on current research to demystify sleep, traverse the wild world of dreams and disentangle sleep disorders. From an infant's polyphasic snippets of slumber to the “hyper-associative problem-solving benefits” of REM dreaming, Walker's investigation is anything but soporific.


  1. Report this comment #70821

    allan lindh said:

    The review of the "Red Atlas" is intriguing. Any chance those maps are online? Or are there plans to put them there???

  2. Report this comment #70861

    Xinhang Shen said:

    Please be aware that the theory LIGO uses to make its calculations is completely wrong! Therefore, the book "The Little Book of Black Holes" should not be sold because it carries completely wrong content.

    Einstein's relativity theory has already been disproved both logically and experimentally (see "Challenge to the special theory of relativity", March 1, 2016 on Physics Essays and a press release "Special Theory of Relativity Has Been Disproved Theoretically" on Eurekalert website: ). The problem of Einstein's relativity is that it has redefined time and space through Lorentz Transformation. The newly defined time is no longer the physical time measured with physical clocks, which can be easily demonstrated by the following thought experiment of candle clocks:

    There are a series of vertically standing candles with the same burning rate and moving at different constant horizontal velocities in an inertial reference frame of (x, y, z, t) where x, y, z, t are relativistic positions and time. At any moment t of relativistic time, all candles have the same height H in the reference frame of (x, y, z, t) and the height has been calibrated to physical time as physical clocks. Therefore, we have the simultaneous events of the observation measured in both relativistic time and physical time in the frame of (x, y, z, t): (Candle1, x1, y1, H, t), (candle2, x2, y2, H, t), ?, (CandleN, xN, yN, H, t). When these events are observed on anther horizontally moving inertial reference frame (x', y', z', t'), according to special relativity, these events in the reference frame of (x', y', z', t') can be obtained through Lorentz Transformation: (Candle1, x'1, y'1, H, t'1), (Candle2, x'2, y'2, H, t'2), ? , (CandleN, x'N, y'N, H, t'N) where t'1, t'2, ?, and t'N are relativistic times of the events in the frame of (x', y', z', t'). It is seen that these events have different relativistic times after Lorentz Transformation in the frame of (x', y', z', t'), i.e., they are no longer simultaneous measured with relativistic time in the frame of (x', y', z', t'), but the heights of the candles remain the same because the vertical heights here do not experience any Lorentz contraction. Since the heights of the candles are the measures of the physical time, we can see these events still have the same physical time, i.e., they are still simultaneous measured with the physical time. Therefore, the physical time is invariant of inertial reference frames, which is different from relativistic time. As relativistic time is no longer the physical time we measure with physical devices, the des cription of special relativity is irrelevant to the physical world.

    Now let's have a look at the symmetric twin paradox. Two twins made separate space travels in the same velocity and acceleration relative to the earth all the time during their entire trips but in opposite directions. According to special relativity, each twin should find the other twin?s clock ticking more slowly than his own clock during the entire trip due to the relative velocity between them because acceleration did not have any effect on kinematic time dilation in special relativity. But when they came back to the earth, they found their clocks had exact the same time because of symmetry. Thus, there is a contradiction which has disproved special relativity. This thought experiment demonstrates that relativistic time is not our physical time and can never be materialized on physical clocks.

    Now let's look at clocks on the GPS satellites which is thought as one of the strong evidences of Einstein's relativity. Many physicists claim that clocks on the GPS satellites are corrected according to both special relativity and general relativity. This is not true because the corrections of the atomic clocks on the GPS satellites are absolute changes of the clocks (i.e. the same observed in all reference frames), none of which is relative to a specific observer as claimed by special relativity. After all corrections, the clocks are synchronized not only relative to the ground clocks but also relative to each other, i.e., time is absolute and special relativity is wrong.

    This is a fact as shown on Wikipedia. But some people still argue that the clocks on the GPS satellites are only synchronized in the earth centered inertial reference frame, and are not synchronized in the reference frames of the GPS satellites. If it were true, then the time difference between a clock on a GPS satellite and a clock on the ground observed in the satellite reference frame would monotonically grow due to their relative velocity while the same clocks observed on the earth centered reference frame were still synchronized. If you corrected the clock on the satellite when the difference became significant, the correction would break the synchronization of the clocks observed in the earth centered frame. That is, there is no way to make such a correction without breaking the synchronization of the clocks observed in the earth centered frame. Therefore, it is wrong to think that the clocks are not synchronized in the satellite frame.

    Hefele-Keating experiment is also considered as another evidence of relativistic effects. It is clear that all the differences of the clocks after flights in Hefele-Keating experiment were absolute (i.e., they were the same no matter whether you observe them on the earth, on the moon or on the space station). But according to relativity, if the clocks were observed on the earth, the two clocks after flights had experienced the equivalent paths of same velocity and same distance in same elevation, and thus should generate the same kinematic time dilation and the same gravitational time dilation, directly contradicting the experimental result. Therefore, the differences of the clocks were nothing to do with the velocities relative to each other or relative to the earth as claimed by relativists, but were the result of the velocities relative to one medium which seems fully dragged by the earth on its surface but partially dragged on the altitude of the airplanes. It is wrong to interpret the differences of the displayed times of the clocks as the results of relativistic effects.

    Experiments show that electrons will emit photons when they are "moving", but ?moving? is relative. All electrons on the earth can be considered "moving" when you observe them on a rocket. According to special relativity, you should see them emit photons. Why in a rocket frame don't you see the electrons emit photons? It is because special relativity is wrong. It is not the velocity relative to the observer which makes an electron emit photons, but it is the velocity relative to ?something? makes an electron emit photons. This ?something? is aether, the existence of which has been proved in the above paper. Photons are waves of aether which is a compressible viscous fluid filling up the entire visible part of the universe, though its viscosity is very very small. It is the velocity relative to aether makes an electron emit photons, just as a boat on a water generates waves only when it moves relative to the water.

    The increase of the lives of muons in particle accelerators or going through the atmosphere are the effects of aether caused by their velocities relative to aether, which are absolute changes and the same observed in all reference frames, nothing to do with relativity.

    All so-called proofs of relativistic effects are just misinterpretations of experiments and observations without exception, and all what relativity describes is irrelevant to physical phenomena, including the speed of light which in special relativity is constant in all inertial reference frames, but which in real physical world still follows Newton's velocity addition formula (see the paper).

    That is, time is absolute and space is 3D Euclidean. There is nothing called spacetime continuum in nature, not to mention the ripples of spacetime.

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