12 March 1999
for immediate release
The quest to solve the greatest mystery of the Universe is at the heart of a new book, The Birth of Time, by Sussex astronomer Dr John Gribbin. And in a twist to the cosmic tale, the mystery - the age of the Universe itself - was solved with the help of Dr Gribbin's own astronomical discovery.
The astronomy world was rocked for years by embarrassing evidence which seemed to show that the Universe was younger by billions of years than the stars it contains. The Birth of Time chronicles the race to solve this puzzle.
Hopes of a resolution had been shattered by 1994 evidence from the Hubble telescope which pinpointed the age of the Universe to be about 10 billion years old. At the time, estimates of the ages of the stars put their age at up to 16 billion. In a breakthrough which reunited the rival camps of cosmology, John Gribbin - with colleagues Dr Simon Goodwin and Dr Martin Hendry - developed a technique which firmly established the age of the Universe to be over 13 billion years old. At the same time, other researchers used the Hipparcos satellite to discover that the stars were much younger than had previously been estimated. As Dr Gribbin points out, "Partly thanks to work done at Sussex, the crisis has been solved - and I've got a fantastic story to tell in my book!"
As The Birth of Time reveals, the quest for the age of the Universe goes back to the late 1920s when Hubble first discovered that the Universe was expanding. At the time it was thought that the Universe was only around 2 billion years old. In a precusor of the 1990s debate, a paradox emerged in the 1930s when geologists claimed that the Earth was at least 4 billion years old. This was solved by the construction of a new telescope in the 1940s which doubled the estimated age of the Universe itself.
As Dr Gribbin points out, "Debates over the age of the Universe, the earth and the stars have been a constant since the 1920s. Astronomers didn't go tearing their hair out over such anomalies, they bided their time until the technology developed to the point where it could solve the puzzle. With the new Hubble space telescope we've discovered so many new things already. What we know is always advancing."
The Birth of Time is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson on 17 March, priced £18.99. John Gribbin will tell the story of The Birth of Time at The Royal Institution, London on March 17 at 7.30pm (Tel. 0171 670 2986)
For further information please contact Sally Hall, Information Office, University of Sussex, Tel. 01273 678888, Fax 01273 678335, email email@example.com, or Dr John Gribbin, School of Chemistry, Physics and the Environment, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or Annabel Huxley, Weidenfeld & Nicolson, Tel. 0171 586 0932.