Here’s what I wrote about the book on goodreads:

“I think the author was trying to do too much with this book. He covers a very large number of topics, but unfortunately the book is not easy to read because he covers in a few pages topics which other authors write entire books about. If he’d covered fewer topics in greater detail I think the end result would have been better. Despite having watched a large number of lectures on related topics and read academic texts about some of the topics covered in the book, I found the book far from easy to read, certainly compared to other physics books in this series (the books about nuclear physics and particle physics are both significantly easier to read, in my opinion). The author sometimes seemed to me to have difficulties understanding how large the potential knowledge gap between him and the reader of the book might be.

Worth reading if you know some stuff already and you’re willing to put in a bit of work, but don’t expect too much from the coverage.”

I gave the book two stars on goodreads.

I decided early on while reading the book that the only way I was going to cover this book at all here would be by posting a link-heavy post. I have added some quotes as well, but most of what’s going on in this book I’ll only cover by adding some relevant links to wiki articles dealing with these topics – as the link collection below should illustrate, although the subtitle of the book is ‘A Very Short Introduction’ it actually covers a great deal of ground (…too much ground, that’s part of the problem, as indicated above…). There are a lot of links because it’s just that kind of book.

First, a few quotes from the book:

“In thinking about the structure of an accretion disc it is helpful to imagine that it comprises a large number of solid rings, each of which spins as if each of its particles were in orbit around the central mass […] The speed of a circular orbit of radius r around a compact mass such as the Sun or a black hole is proportional to 1/r, so the speed increases inwards. It follows that there is shear within an accretion disc: each rotating ring slides past the ring just outside it, and, in the presence of any friction or viscosity within the fluid, each ring twists or torques the ring just outside it in the direction of rotation, trying to get it to rotate faster.

Torque is to angular momentum what force is to linear momentum: the quantity that sets its rate of change. Just as Newton’s laws yield that force is equal to rate of change of momentum, the rate of change of a body’s angular momentum is equal to the torque on the body. Hence the existence of the torque from smaller rings to bigger rings implies an outward transport of angular momentum through the accretion disc. When the disc is in a steady state this outward transport of angular momentum by viscosity is balanced by an inward transport of angular momentum by gas as it spirals inwards through the disc, carrying its angular momentum with it.”

“The differential equations that govern the motion of the planets are easily written down, and astronomical observations furnish the initial conditions to great precision. But with this precision we can predict the configuration of the planets only up to ∼ 40 Myr into the future — if the initial conditions are varied within the observational uncertainties, the predictions for 50 or 60 Myr later differ quite significantly. If you want to obtain predictions for 60 Myr that are comparable in precision to those we have for 40 Myr in the future, you require initial conditions that are 100 times more precise: for example, you require the current positions of the planets to within an error of 15m. If you want comparable predictions 60.15Myr in the future, you have to know the current positions to within 15mm.”

“An important feature of the solutions to the differential equations of the solar system is that after some variable, say the eccentricity of Mercury’s orbit, has fluctuated in a narrow range for millions of years, it will suddenly shift to a completely different range. This behaviour reflects the importance of resonances for the dynamics of the system: at some moment a resonant condition becomes satisfied and the flow of energy within the system changes because a small disturbance can accumulate over thousands or millions of cycles into a large effect. If we start the integrations from a configuration that differs ever so little from the previous configuration, the resonant condition will fail to be satisfied, or be satisfied much earlier or later, and the solutions will look quite different.”

“In Chapter 4 we saw that the physics of accretion discs around stars and black holes is all about the outward transport of angular momentum, and that moving angular momentum outwards heats a disc. Outward transport of angular momentum is similarly important for galactic discs. […] in a gaseous accretion disc angular momentum is primarily transported by the magnetic field. In a stellar disc, this job has to be done by the gravitational field because stars only interact gravitationally. Spiral structure provides the gravitational field needed to transport angular momentum outwards.

In addition to carrying angular momentum out through the stellar disc, spiral arms regularly shock interstellar gas, causing it to become denser, and a fraction of it to collapse into new stars. For this reason, spiral structure is most easily traced in the distribution of young stars, especially massive, luminous stars, because all massive stars are young. […] Spiral arms are waves of enhanced star density that propagate through a stellar disc rather as sound waves propagate through air. Like sound waves they carry energy, and this energy is eventually converted from the ordered form it takes in the wave to the kinetic energy of randomly moving stars. That is, spiral arms heat the stellar disc.”

“[I]f you take any reasonably representative group of galaxies, from the group’s luminosity, you can deduce the quantity of ordinary matter it should contain. This quantity proves to be roughly ten times the amount of ordinary matter that’s in the galaxies. So most ordinary matter must lie between the galaxies rather than within them.”

“The nature of a galaxy is largely determined by three numbers: its luminosity, its bulge-to-disc ratio, and the ratio of its mass of cold gas to the mass in stars. Since stars form from cold gas, this last ratio determines how youthful the galaxy’s stellar population is.

A youthful stellar population contains massive stars, which are short-lived, luminous, and blue […] An old stellar population contains only low-mass, faint, and red stars. Moreover, the spatial distribution of young stars can be very lumpy because the stars have not had time to be spread around the system […] a galaxy with a young stellar population looks very different from one with an old population: it is more lumpy/streaky, bluer, and has a higher luminosity than a galaxy of similar stellar mass with an old stellar population.”


Accretion disk.
Supermassive black hole.
Magnetorotational instability.
Astrophysical jet.
Herbig–Haro object.
SS 433.
Cygnus A.
Collimated light.
Light curve.
Lyman-alpha line.
Balmer series.
Star formation.
Stellar evolution.
Black-body radiation.
Helium flash.
White dwarf (featured article).
Planetary nebula.
Solar transition region.
Carbon detonation.
X-ray binary.
Inverse Compton scattering.
Quasi-periodic oscillation.
Urbain Le Verrier.
Perturbation theory.
Elliptic orbit.
Axial precession.
Orbital resonance.
Jupiter trojan (featured article).
Late Heavy Bombardment.
Lorentz factor.
Radio galaxy.
Gamma-ray burst (featured article).
Cosmic ray.
Hulse–Taylor binary.
Special relativity.
Lorentz covariance.
Lorentz transformation.
Relativistic Doppler effect.
Superluminal motion.
Fermi acceleration.
Shock waves in astrophysics.
Ram pressure.
Synchrotron radiation.
General relativity (featured article).
Gravitational redshift.
Gravitational lens.
Fermat’s principle.
SBS 0957+561.
Strong gravitational lensing/Weak gravitational lensing.
Gravitational microlensing.
Shapiro delay.
Gravitational wave.
Dark matter.
Dwarf spheroidal galaxy.
Luminosity function.
Lenticular galaxy.
Spiral galaxy.
Disc galaxy.
Elliptical galaxy.
Stellar dynamics.
Constant of motion.
Bulge (astronomy).
Interacting galaxy.
Coma cluster.
Galaxy cluster.
Anemic galaxy.
Decoupling (cosmology).


June 20, 2017 - Posted by | Astronomy, Books, Physics

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