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Cosmology is the science of the whole Universe: its past history, present structure and future evolution. In this module we discuss how our understanding of cosmology has developed over time, and study how the observed properties of the universe, particularly the rate of expansion, the chemical composition, and the nature of cosmic microwave background, can be used to constrain theoretical models and obtain values for the parameters of the now-standard Hot Big Bang cosmological model.


Part 1: Historical Introduction

This starts with a brief introduction to the basic ideas of cosmology, and then moves on to consider the beginnings of modern scientific ideas in the Renaissance. We then discuss the principles of Special and General Relativity and their impact on cosmological theories.

Part 2: Relativistic Cosmology

We consider the history and future of a universe described by General Relativity in the cases where it is dominated by radiation, matter, the curvature of spacetime or a cosmological constant. This is the most mathematical section of the course.

Part 3: 20th Century Cosmology

A "short" 20th century, i.e. between 1915 (the publication of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity) and the late 1990s (the birth of "precision" cosmology). We look at the expansion of the universe, the Big Bang and Steady State cosmological models, the cosmic microwave background, and the inflationary scenario.

Part 4: Case Studies in Modern Cosmology

Some highlights from the modern era of "precision" cosmology: the use of computer simulations in the study of structure formation, the determination of the Hubble constant from the HST Key Project, the use of Type Ia supernovae in studying the variation in the Hubble parameter, and the detailed study of the microwave background anisotropies.

Recommended textbooks

The following three books are all useful for this course.

Andrew Liddle, An Introduction to Modern Cosmology
More or less what it says on the can: a short, theory-orientated, up-to-date introductory book. Covers most of what's in the course at the right sort of level. Not the most exciting textbook you'll ever read, I have to admit, but it will do the job. Currently in its second edition.
Michael Rowan-Robinson, Cosmology
Much more observationally oriented than Liddle, and pitched at a slightly higher level, though there's not much in it. The current edition is the fourth. To be preferred to Liddle if you want to see the observational evidence for our model building.
Barbara Ryden, Introduction to Cosmology
The newest book of the three, first published in 2003 (though admittedly the newest edition is Rowan-Robinson). At a similar level to Rowan-Robinson, but a little more theory-oriented (it does present the data, but less centrally). I must admit this is my favourite of the three - I think she writes exceptionally well - but it's probably the hardest by a fraction and (because it's a hardback) the most expensive by some distance.

The one I made most use of when writing the course is Ryden, but any one of these should be useful as a course text. All are in print and available from bookshops or the Internet; they cost 19, 29 and 39 pounds respectively. The IC has four copies of each of them, and access to an electronic version of Liddle. The sections of each text relevant to each lecture are listed on the coursework page of this website.


The assessment for this module has two parts:

The end of semester exam

This accounts for 80% of the total. The rubric is
Answer ALL questions in Section A (compulsory) and TWO questions in Section B.
Section A consists of four short questions marked out of 5 (a total of 40% of the exam); Section B will include four questions marked out of 15 (choose any two; each is worth 30% of the exam).

Class tests

These account for 20% of the total. There will be two class tests, one before Easter and one after Easter.

The aim of the class tests is to develop your skills in solving problems relating to the taught material, in preparation for the exam. To help you with these, I have provided a set of practice problems relating to all aspects of the course. You can try these at any time. They are of varying difficulty: a couple which are particularly challenging have been marked as such.