Astronomy 6: Introductory Cosmology

0.5 credits, meets second-half of the fall 2013 semester


this is a new course being taught this fall by David Cohen


Course description:


The subject of cosmology has seen stunning advances in the precision of measurements and in theoretical understanding over the last two decades. The basic framework for understanding the properties of the Universe as a whole is general relativity, but significant understanding can be gained and quantitative detail can be put into context without doing GR calculations or derivations. We will discuss GR at the beginning, but we will not do quantitative calculations with the field equations themselves. We will use the Friedmann equation (which is a consequence of GR but can be derived classically) to understand – quantitatively – the history and fate of the Universe, in the context of the standard hot big bang model. We will focus on observational evidence for this model: the expansion of the Universe, the cosmic microwave background, and big-bang nucleosynthesis. And we will explore more recent observational measurements of the properties of dark matter and dark energy as well as the growth of structure in the Universe.


This half-credit class is designed to give students who are excited about cosmology, and comfortable with physics and math, a short introduction to the subject. The level of the class is relatively high and aimed at students who could be astronomy or astrophysics majors. We will use a textbook that is also used in Astro 16, our sophomore classes for prospective majors. The reading has some simple differential and integral calculus and a few straight-forward differential equations. Though the class has no official pre-requisites, some exposure to single-variable differential and integral calculus is required. Students concurrently taking Math 25 or higher will have an adequate mathematical background, and high-school calculus will generally be sufficient. Similarly, there are no official physics pre-requisites, but some exposure to basic physics, especially mechanics, gravity, and the properties of light, are required, even if only in high school.


No prior, specific knowledge of astronomy is presumed. The important properties of galaxies will be introduced as needed. Astro 6 is suitable for many first-year students concurrently taking Physics 5 and also for sophomores and others concurrently taking Astro 16. Those two groups are the target audience, but the class should be appropriate for other students, too.