Foundations of Modern Cosmology

Foundations of Modern Cosmology

Foundations of Modern Cosmology

Foundations of Modern Cosmology

Synopsis

Recent discoveries in astronomy, especially those made with data collected by satellites such as the Cosmic Background Explorer and the Hubble Space Telescope, have brought the science of cosmology to the forefront of public interest. These new observations suggest the tantalizing possibility that the solutions to some of history's most elusive mysteries might be found in the near future, making modern cosmology a topic that holds special interest for scientists and nonscientists alike. Foundations of Modern Cosmology provides a highly accessible, thorough, and descriptive introduction to the historical development of and the physical basis for the modern big bang theory. This new textbook is ideal for electives that follow traditional introductory astronomy courses. It is intended to fill the gap between the many popular-level books, which can generally provide only a superficial treatment of the subject, and the advanced texts intended for students with strong backgrounds in physics and mathematics. The text is self-contained, appropriate for a one-semester course, and designed to be understandable to students with a grasp of elementary algebra. Emphasis is given to the scientific framework for cosmology, particularly the basic concepts of physics that underlie modern theories of relativity and cosmology; the importance of data and observations is stressed throughout. The text is divided into five major sections: historical background, a review of basic physics and astronomy, relativity, fundamental big bang theory, and current research areas, including structure formation, inflation, and quantum cosmology. Review questions, key terms, and an extensive glossary provide students with helpful study aids. In addition, the authors' website (http://astsun.astro.virginia.edu/~jh8h/Foundations) offers a wealth of supplemental information, including additional questions, references to other sources, and color NASA photographs.

Excerpt

Recent discoveries in astronomy, especially those made with data collected by satellites such as the Cosmic Background Explorer and the Hubble Space Telescope, have brought cosmology to the forefront of science. New observations hold out the tantalizing possibility that the solutions to some especially elusive mysteries might be found in the near future. Despite an increase in public interest in black holes and the origins of the universe, however, the unavoidable lack of context with which discoveries are reported prevents most people from understanding the issues or appreciating the true significance of the new data. Popular books on cosmology abound, but often they present the subject as a series of "just so" stories, since some basic physics is a prerequisite for comprehending how cosmology fits into modern science. The lay reader may well have trouble distinguishing knowledge from speculation, and science from mythology. Furthermore, the popular literature often emphasizes the more exotic aspects of the field, often at the expense of the firmly grounded achievements of modern cosmology.

Cosmology holds an intrinsic interest for many college students, who are granted, as part of their general education, the time and opportunity to learn more about the scientific discoveries they see described in newspapers and magazines. Most colleges and universities offer a comprehensive introductory astronomy course, with the primary objective of offering science to as broad a population of students as possible. Topics such as relativity, black holes, and the expanding universe are typically of particular interest, but they are covered in a cursory fashion in most introductory courses and texts. In our experience, there is always a sizable number of students who find astronomy sufficiently interesting that they wish to continue their study of the subject at a comparable technical level but with greater depth. With little but astronomy-major or graduate-level courses available, however, such students often have no such opportunities. These students, who are genuinely interested in learning more about these topics, deserve the opportunity to further their learning and to do so in a serious way.

The course from which this book grew is intended for upper-division liberal arts students at the University of Virginia. Most of the students who take it have some basic science background, such as would be provided by a general introductory astronomy course; however, well-prepared students can and do take the course in lieu of general astronomy. Students from wide-ranging areas of study have taken this course. Their relative success is not necessarily correlated with their major. Some exceptionally strong students have come from the ranks of history and philosophy majors, while occasionally an engineering or astronomy major has floundered. Extensive experience with math and science are not prerequisites; interest and willingness to think are.

This text is intended to fill the gap between the many popular-level books that present cosmology in a superficial manner, or that emphasize the esoteric at the expense . . .

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