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Recently I bought a couple of books on cosmology from a second-hand bookshop. One was published in 1993 and the other is from the 1970.

I know, from a recent book, that the inflaton theory is probably newer than both books and that the Higgs Boson has been discovered, but that is all that I know has changed recently in the field of cosmology. Has anything else changed since then?

Which topics of the books should I understand are considered outdated?


The two books are Modern Cosmology by Jagjit Singh (published 1961 and rereleased in 1970) and Afterglow of Creation by Marcus Chown (published in 1993)

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    $\begingroup$ The fate of the Universe: Before 1998, we didn't know that in fact the expansion of the Universe seems to accelerate. Also, at that time the high-redshift Universe was largely unexplored compared to today. $\endgroup$ – pela Aug 22 '17 at 13:56
  • $\begingroup$ @pela Interesting, I wouldn't have thought that was such a recent discovery $\endgroup$ – Beta Decay Aug 22 '17 at 17:36
  • $\begingroup$ The accelerated expansion of the universe was discovered in 1998. $\endgroup$ – Richard Aug 29 '17 at 9:16
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How wary should I be of old cosmology books?

It's a sliding scale. Generally the older the book, the more the chance of something being wrong. But it depends what books you're talking about. Are they text books? Or are they popscience books? Some books, even newish books, have a habit of presenting speculation as established fact. There's been a lot of trouble about inflation and the multiverse recently. Peter Woit talks about it on his Not Even Wrong blog. He says “the political campaign for the multiverse continues today with a piece by Amanda Gefter at Nautilus. It’s a full-throated salvo from the Linde-Guth side of the multiverse propaganda war they are now waging”.

I know, from a recent book, that the inflaton theory is probably newer than both books

Inflation started in circa 1980. Guth coined the phrase and generally gets the credit, but it arguably goes back to Erast Gliner in 1965 and his paper algebraic properties of the energy-momentum tensor and vacuum like states of matter. It didn’t get much attention.

and that the Higgs Boson has been discovered

When inflation was first mooted Alan Guth talked about the Higgs field and GUTs, saying magnetic monopoles were "topologically stable knots in the Higgs field expectation value”. But that was old inflation, which was replaced by new inflation, which was replaced by eternal inflation. As far as I know the Higgs field is not thought to be linked to the inflaton field.

Has anything else changed since then?

Yes, like pela said, before 1998 people thought the expanding universe was slowing down. There are other changes too. Some people used to say the universe was once the size of a grapefruit. Now since WMAP some people say the observable universe was once the size of a grapefruit, and the universe is infinite. For myself I cannot see how that fits with big bang cosmology, which I think is largely correct.

Which topics of the books should I understand are considered outdated?

It's hard to say. Dark matter, dark energy, cosmological constant, flatness of the universe, size of the universe, age of the universe. If you could name the books maybe I could look at the chapters.

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  • $\begingroup$ The books are Modern Cosmology by Jadgjit Singh (published 1961 and rereleased in 1970) and Afterglow of Creation by Marcus Chown (published in 1993) $\endgroup$ – Beta Decay Aug 22 '17 at 17:33
  • $\begingroup$ @BetaDecay : I don't know about the Jagjit Singh book, so I bought a cheap secondhand copy to add to my pile. As for Marcus Chown's book, I've got it, and there's some great stuff in there. Yes, as I've learned more about cosmology I've come to appreciate that there is some iffy stuff too. But not much, and generally speaking I'd say it isn't down to Marcus. However it would take me all day to pick through it and flag things up to you, so why don't you read it and ask a bunch of questions? $\endgroup$ – John Duffield Aug 23 '17 at 19:48
  • $\begingroup$ @JohnDuffield Okay, sure. I'll see as I go $\endgroup$ – Beta Decay Aug 23 '17 at 19:54
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Any book on Cosmology published prior to 2000 does not contain the results or discussion thereof of the WMAP and Planck surveys of the cosmic microwave background. These constitute the best constraints on cosmological theories, including the relative contributions of dark energy, dark matter and the flatness or otherwise of the universe, and the best supporting evidence for the big bang model and for inflationary ideas.

The 1994 book may not even contain the Nobel prize-winning esults on the cosmic microwave background by COBE, which was the first to see in detail the ripples that the later missions used to perform precision cosmology.

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  • $\begingroup$ Re your last paragraph, the 1994 book is specifically about COBE and its results $\endgroup$ – Beta Decay Aug 29 '17 at 12:48
  • $\begingroup$ @BetaDecay In which case it will have some info on the Sachs-Wolfe plateau, but nothing on the ripples at smaller angular scales that yied the cosmological parameters. $\endgroup$ – Rob Jeffries Aug 29 '17 at 14:59

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