Cosmology: Past, Present, and Future of the Universe

Honors 301-003, Spring 2005


Watch this space for class announcements (also check your Drexel email!).

General Information

Welcome to the home page for Cosmology: Past, Present, and Future of the Universe. This web page is the syllabus for the course. If you're reading a printed copy, you can go to to see the web page. Follow the links below for details.

Instructor:  Prof. Michael S. Vogeley, Department of Physics
Office:         811 Disque Hall
Phone:        (215)895-2710
Fax:             (215)895-5934

Course meetings are Tuesday and Thursday 9:30-10:50 a.m. in the Honors seminar room on the 5th floor of McAlister.
Office hours are Tuesday and Thursday 2:30-3:30 p.m. in Disque 811.






Required Reading

Cosmology: The Science of the Universe, 2nd edition, by Edward Harrison, 2000, (Cambridge University Press: Cambridge)
ISBN 0-521-66148-X (hardcover). This book is available from the Drexel bookstore.(The 2001 "corrected" edition may be the most current one available.)

Selected Readings

In addition to the primary text, you will choose a book or scientific paper(s) that is related to cosmology to read, analyze, and discuss. Before starting, write a brief proposal (one paragraph) describing why you chose this text and how you plan to use this reading in fulfilling the ``Independent Study'' portion of the course (see below). In certain cases (e.g., the first listing) I recommend reading only selected chapters. Following are a few suggestions:

The Anthropic Cosmological Principle, by John D. Barrow, Frank J. Tipler (Oxford University Press) ISBN 0192821474

A Brief History of Time, 10th anniversary edition, by Stephen Hawking (Bantam Doubleday) ISBN 0553380168

Quintessence: The Mystery of the Missing Mass in the Universe, by Lawrence Krauss (Basic Books) ISBN 0465037402

The Accelerating Universe : Infinite Expansion, the Cosmological Constant, and the Beauty of the Cosmos}, by Mario Livio and Allan Sandage (John Wiley \& Sons) ISBN 047132969X

Just Six Numbers : The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe, by Martin J. Rees (Basic Books) ISBN 0465036724

The Fabric of the Cosmos: Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality , by Brian Greene (Knopf) ISBN 0375412883

The Elegant Universe: Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate Theory , by Brian Greene (Vintage) ISBN 0375708111

The Extravagant Universe: Exploding Stars, Dark Energy, and the Accelerating Cosmos , by Robert P. Kirshner (Princeton University Press) ISBN 0691058628

Hyperspace : A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps, and the 10th Dimension , by Michio Kaku (Anchor) ISBN 0385477058

Our Cosmic Habitat , by Martin Rees (Princeton University Press) ISBN 0691114773

Selected papers from The Astrophysical Journal, Astronomical Journal, or Scientific American.

For more suggestions, also see ``Further Reading'' at the end of each chapter of Cosmology.

Course Philosophy and Goals

We will begin with an historical introduction, discussing the early ideas of Aristotle, the impact of Copernicus and Galileo, the philosophical world view of Descartes, and the scientific revolution begun by Newton. Then we will examine the theoretical structure introduced by Einstein and the observational results of Hubble and others that led to the view that our universe is expanding. Concepts in astrophysics will be introduced as they are needed to follow these discoveries. We will critically discuss the evidence for the ``Big Bang'' model of cosmology and compare with alternative models. We will discuss the impact of ideas in scientific cosmology on both philosophy and culture. Toward the end of the course, we will examine recent observations from the Hubble Space Telescope, from galaxy surveys, and from other experiments that provide evidence for the evolution of the universe. The last week of the course will include some more speculative topics, including the future of our universe and prospects for life within it.

Throughout the course, you will be challenged to examine assumptions and evidence, to gain insight into how science progresses. I consider this to be an important part of the course. Many scientific and technologically complex issues face society today. An understanding of the standards and methods for evaluating scientific evidence will be invaluable to you as voters (you did vote, didn't you?) and citizens of the 21st century.

This course will be taught at a level appropriate for students of any year or major. Both sides of your brain will be challenged with both quantitative problems and written ``thought problems'' and short essays. Mathematics will be limited to algebra.

Please note that this course is not the same as Physics 432 Astrophysics II (Cosmology) and does not satisfy any requirements for a Physics major or minor.

Weekly Problems

Each week you will complete a few short problems that will challenge you to quantitatively analyze key ideas in cosmology. You will also prepare at least one short (at most a few paragraphs) answer to a ``thought problem'' that is inspired by our class discussion, the textbook, and your imagination. Problems will be due in class one week after they are assigned.

Weekly Reading

Before class each week, you should read the assigned chapters in Harrison, as well as any supplemental readings, so that you are prepared for class discussion. Please come prepared to ask questions. The reading assignments are listed below in the weekly outline.

Independent Study: Final Paper

In addition to reading assigned chapters in the required text, you will select a cosmology-related book (for a few suggestions, see above under Selected Readings) and write an essay inspired by some topic in that book. This should not be a book review. For example, a student reading Brief History of Time might discuss Hawking's conjecture about the pre-Big Bang state or the possibility of multiple universes, how that expands on the Cosmological Principle (no special place in the universe, now no special universe?), and the impact of such ideas on your personal worldview. As an alternative, if you are more comfortable with the technical details and physics behind cosmological discoveries, this paper can take the form of a review of a paper or papers (depending on their length and complexity) from one of the research journals. For example, one could review papers that report different expansion rates of the universe -- what should we believe if astronomers disagree, and why?

The list above includes a few suggestions. For others ideas, browse the section in the Drexel library or search online on the and sites for related books (the ``people who bought this book also bought these'' listings are often useful). Ask me before you buy a book if you're not certain that it would be appropriate for this course.

Before beginning your reading, please write a short (one or two paragraphs) proposal that describes the book or papers that you will read and why you chose this, and a possible paper topic (this could change after you begin reading; the point is for you to think ahead and know why you're reading this book or papers). You should turn in this proposal and begin reading by the end of week 3.

Your essay/paper should be no more than 8 pages in length (double-spaced, 12pt type) including all references, figures, etc. and will be due no later than 5:00pm, Friday, June 1 (you may certainly turn it in sooner!). Late papers will not be accepted. Important features of a good paper are originality of thought and analysis, demonstration of knowledge of the course material (factual accuracy), and clarity of presentation of your arguments. Your paper could include relevant mathematical equations and plots if they are helpful to your theme. This is not a writing course per se, but your work should be spell-checked and grammatically correct.


Evaluation will be based on your homework assignments (60%), in-class participation (15%), and final paper (25%).


There will be no midterm or final. But note that the final paper is due by Friday, June 3.



Weekly Outline of Lecture Topics and Readings

Week 1 Introduction: What is Cosmology? Early Scientific Cosmology from Aristotle to Newton
March 29, 31
Reading: Harrison, ch. 1, 2, 3

Week 2 Cosmological Models before Einstein, Concepts in Cosmology: What is the ``Universe'' and Where Are We in It?
April 5, 7
Reading: Harrison, ch. 4, 7, 8

Week 3 Contents of the Universe: Planets, Stars, and Galaxies
April 12, 14
Reading: Harrison, ch. 5, 6
All ``Independent Study'' proposals for the final paper should be handed in by Friday, April 15.

Week 4 Spacetime Physics: The Arrow of Time, Curved space
April 19, 21
Reading: Harrison, ch. 9, 10, 11, 12

Week 5 Einstein & Hubble: The Expanding Universe
April 26, 28
Reading: Harrison, ch. 14, 15

Week 6 Theoretical Cosmology: Models of the Universe, Big Bangs, Crunches, and Whimpers
May 3, 5
Reading: Harrison, ch. 16, 18

Week 7 Observational Cosmology: Mapping the universe, Telescopes and Time machines
May 10, 12
Reading: Harrison, ch. 19

Week 8 The Evolving Universe: Observations to the Edge of the Universe
May 17, 19
Reading: Harrison, ch. 19, 24

Week 9 The Early Universe: Back to the Big Bang
May 24, 26
Reading: Harrison ch. 20, 21, 22

Week 10 Cosmogenesis, The Future of the Universe, and Life in the Universe
May 31, June 2
Reading: Harrison, ch. 23, 25, 26
Final papers are due by Friday at 5:00pm.


Astrophysics Links (clicking on these links will open a new browser window)

Space Telescope Science Institute

Sloan Digital Sky Survey

Microwave  Anisotropy Probe


Last modified 04/04/05