11/01/1993 at 01:00 AM EST
by Michael D. Lemonick
With more than 90 percent of the universe invisible and therefore undiscovered, astrophysicists had reason to marvel at the sighting last year of an enormous formation of gas lying trillions of light-years out in space. One scientist, convinced that the gas was sufficient evidence to support the Big Bang theory of the universe's origin, said it was like seeing God. Others were not so sure.
Michael D. Lemonick is interested in listening to both. A science writer for TIME, he has put together an entertaining collection of stories concerning scientists exploring new ideas about the beginning, structure and age of the universe. Using his reporter's eye to bring astrophysics down to earth, Lemonick writes of the men and women who spend their nights staring at computer-generated pictures of the sky. He takes us from the top of the Andes to the deserts of New Mexico, from MIT to Princeton. He tells us why ice cream is a poor snack at high altitudes (it lends to expand), and why the universe is like rising raisin bread (raisins move apart in the dough the way that galaxies move apart in space).
Lemonick sometimes lets the scientists speak too much; as a result their discussions lack the focus that would make their work more comprehensible. His portrayal of their lives, however, is fascinating. They come across as ordinary people studying extraordinary things in a quest of revolutionary proportions, and Lemonick never fails to convey their enthusiasm as they ask questions as profound as the answers they hope to find. (Villard, $24)