Sunday, August 17, 2014

Charles D. Bailyn

Charles D. Bailyn is the author of What Does a Black Hole Look Like?.

From a Q & A with the author at the Princeton University Press website:

What is the biggest misunderstanding that people have about astronomy?

Well, I'm always a bit amused and dismayed when I tell someone that I'm an astronomer, and they ask "what's your sign?" -- as if astronomy and astrology are the same thing. I used to tell people very seriously that I'm an Orion -- this is puzzling, since most people know it's a constellation but not part of the zodiac. At one point I had an elaborate fake explanation worked out about how this could be.

Why did you write this book? Who do you see as its audience?

There seem to be two kinds of books on black holes and relativity -- books addressing a popular audience that use no math at all, and textbooks that focus on developing the relevant physical theory. This book was designed to sit in the middle. It assumes a basic knowledge of college physics, but instead of deriving the theory, its primary concerns are the observations and their interpretation. I'm basically talking to myself as a sophomore or junior in college.

How did you come up with the title?

The Frontiers in Physics (Princeton) series like to have questions in the title, and this one is particularly provocative. Black holes by definition cannot be seen directly, so asking what they "look like" is a bit of an oxymoron. But a lot of modern astrophysics is like that -- we have powerful empirical evidence for all sorts of things we can't see, from planets around distant stars to the Dark Matter and Dark Energy that make up most of the stuff in the Universe. The...[read on]
--Marshal Zeringue