by Adams, Fred C.
There's a reason "astronomically large" means "larger than the scale of ordinary life": normal scales of time and space for astronomers involve millions of years and anywhere from thousands to quadrillions of kilometers. Even for astronomers, University of Michigan professor Fred Adams and his former student Greg Laughlin think big--really, really big--and their planning is really, really long-term.
In The Five Ages of the Universe, Adams and Laughlin present their vision of the history of the universe, from the big bang on. They've had to come up with a new unit of measure to make this timescape intellectually tractable: the "cosmological decade." When the universe is 10 to the n years old, it is in the nth cosmological decade; we are now in the 10th, for instance. Each decade is thus 10 times as long as the one before.
All the stars will have stopped shining in the 14th cosmological decade, about 100 trillion years from now--which is a mind-bendingly long period of time by most standards. But Adams and Laughlin are just getting their speculations warmed up. They go on to fold, spindle, and mutilate your time sense as they discuss the Degenerate Era (out to decade 39), the Black Hole Era (to decade 100), and the possible creation of new universes in the Dark Era (after decade 101 or so). It's the most fascinating, mind-expanding trip inside eternity you can read. --Mary Ellen Curtin
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