Skip to main content

30% Off New Releases: Explore the List

Harvard University Press - home

The Elephant in the Universe

Our Hundred-Year Search for Dark Matter

Govert Schilling

ISBN 9780674248991

Publication date: 05/31/2022

Request exam copy

An award-winning science journalist details the quest to isolate and understand dark matter—and shows how that search has helped us to understand the universe we inhabit.

When you train a telescope on outer space, you can see luminous galaxies, nebulae, stars, and planets. But if you add all that together, it constitutes only 15 percent of the matter in the universe. Despite decades of research, the nature of the remaining 85 percent is unknown. We call it dark matter.

In The Elephant in the Universe, Govert Schilling explores the fascinating history of the search for dark matter. Evidence for its existence comes from a wealth of astronomical observations. Theories and computer simulations of the evolution of the universe are also suggestive: they can be reconciled with astronomical measurements only if dark matter is a dominant component of nature. Physicists have devised huge, sensitive instruments to search for dark matter, which may be unlike anything else in the cosmos—some unknown elementary particle. Yet so far dark matter has escaped every experiment. Indeed, dark matter is so elusive that some scientists are beginning to suspect there might be something wrong with our theories about gravity or with the current paradigms of cosmology. Schilling interviews both believers and heretics and paints a colorful picture of the history and current status of dark matter research, with astronomers and physicists alike trying to make sense of theory and observation.

Taking a holistic view of dark matter as a problem, an opportunity, and an example of science in action, The Elephant in the Universe is a vivid tale of scientists puzzling their way toward the true nature of the universe.

Praise

  • An impressively comprehensive bird’s-eye view of a research topic that is both many decades established and yet still at the very cutting edge of astronomy and physics. Along the course of this whirlwind tour, we catch glimpses of the lives and motivations of many of the key thinkers and builders who have defined the dark matter problem, as well as those who hope, sooner or later, to solve it.

    —Katie Mack, Wall Street Journal

Authors

  • Govert Schilling is the author of dozens of popular astronomy books, including Ripples in Spacetime: Einstein, Gravitational Waves, and the Future of Astronomy. He received the Eureka Prize from the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research and the David N. Schramm Award from the American Astronomical Society. In 2007 the International Astronomical Union named an asteroid, 10986 Govert, in his honor.
  • Avi Loeb is Frank B. Baird, Jr., Professor of Science at Harvard University. He is Founding Director of Harvard’s Black Hole Initiative, chair of the Board on Physics and Astronomy of the National Academies, and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Book Details

  • 376 pages
  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Belknap Press
  • Foreword by Avi Loeb

From this author

Recommendations