ASTR340: Origin of the Universe
Meeting Place and Time: CSS2400 TTh, 11:00-12:15
Instructor: Prof. Andrew Harris
Phone: (301) 405-7531
email: harris @ astro.umd.edu (do not include spaces when
you type this!)
Office: PSC 1164
Office Hours: W 3-4 PM and by appointment
of Modern Cosmology, 2nd edition
J. Hawley and
Oxford, c. 2005
A standard phrase these days is that we live in
a Golden Age of cosmology. This is an enthusiastic statement
of the remarkable progress that we have made recently in
understanding the shape, age, and other properties of the
Universe. This course is an introduction to cosmology -- our
perception and study of the Universe on the largest scales
-- designed primarily for non-science majors.
Course work includes twice-weekly
lectures, approximately weekly take-home problem sets, a midterm,
a cumulative final exam, and a term paper or project with topic to
be decided by mutual agreement with class members and the
We will begin with a historical view of the human race's beliefs
about the Universe, starting with the belief that the Earth itself
was the Universe and discussing how scientific observations forced
us to acknowledge that human beings are not the center of a static
Universe designed to accommodate us. This was a big
adjustment! We continue with exploring other adjustments to
human thought as we can see larger sections of the Universe,
understanding that our familiar notions of time and space are a
special case of more general notions that become important on
large scales. On large scales time and space are not
separate, and, even less intuitively, are affected by the mass of
nearby objects. We will explore these topics by looking at
Einstein's beautiful work on special and general relativity.
One of Einstein's predictions was that some parts of space would
be so severely curved that no light could escape, and we'll look
at the "black holes" that satisfy these properties.
With an understanding of the general properties of the Universe,
we will then tackle the fundamental questions of how (and when)
the Universe started and how (and when) it will finish.
These topics take us through the discovery of the Universe's
expansion, the Big Bang theory of its start, and the very recent
results that provide information on its shape and
fate. We take a personal interest in the time between
the start and finish -- we live in that era! -- so we will also
look at how the matter in the Universe changed with time,
eventually becoming galaxies, stars, planets, and us.
Lecture attendance: Lectures meet in CSS 2400 on TTh from
11:00-12:15. Prof. Harris will lead the lectures but you will
be expected to raise questions and participate in discussions.
In order to do best in this course, you will need to attend ALL
lectures. This is very important! The material on the homeworks and
exams are based upon the material covered in the lectures and the
textbook. If you have to miss a lecture, be sure to look at another
student's notes and make sure that you understand what was
covered. Please ask Prof. Harris or the TA if you have
questions. You should read over the material before lecture
and be prepared to discuss it. A more careful reading is
recommended after lecture. You should study your class notes
sometime before the next lecture to make sure that everything is
clear. You are encouraged to ask questions in class -- any
question you have is certain to be one others have -- or during
office hours, or over email.
Study wisely and ask for help if you need it. If you just cram the
night before the exam, you probably will not do very well. It is
better (and easier) if you keep up with the material on a daily
basis. If you have questions, please see Prof. Harris. I am here to help you learn.
Grading is on a point scale with different assignments weighted as
shown in the table. A description of each of these components is
contained in this syllabus.
The Midterm and Final Exams are Major Scheduled Grading events
defined in the University's policy on attendance (see http://www.ugst.umd.edu/courserelatedpolicies.html).
least 75%. Letter grades will be assigned based upon your
cumulative score. Here is how your grade will be determined from
your point total in the class.
Plus/minus grades will be given within each letter grade for
scores near the top and bottom of the percentage ranges.
This point scale makes it possible for everyone in the class to
do well. For example, if everyone scores above 75% in the course,
everyone would receive either an A or a B letter grade. Any
adjustments to the scores will make it easier to get a given
grade, never more difficult.
There will be approximately weekly homework problem sets in this
course. All homeworks and solutions will be available from the
Assignments link on the class ELMS page.
All homeworks must be turned in,
neatly written or typed, on 8.5x11 inch paper in class on the
assignment due date. If for whatever reason,
the University is officially closed on the due date, the
due date shifts to the next lecture date. Homework is due in hard copy,
and except by prior special arrangement with Prof. Harris;
electronically mailed versions of your homework will not be
accepted. Homeworks turned in after the lecture ends will
be considered late and will receive 20% of the credit at most
until 24 hours after the end of lecture, and 50% credit at most
for homework turned in at the next lecture; no credit will be
given for homework handed in more than one lecture late. If
you have an excused absence that prevents you from handing your
homework in on time, you must document it in writing (see Attendance and Absences,
below) and arrange to have the homework turned in as soon as
possible, but no later than during the next lecture.
I encourage discussions with your fellow students on how to best
tackle the problems, but I will not tolerate copying or other
forms of cheating. Such activities will be promptly reported to
the UMD Student Honor Council. Please review the Honor Code of the
University (see Academic
Integrity below). Although you may discuss the homework
problems with your friends, the final writeup must be your own work, formulated in
the way you best understand it, and in your own words. If
you consult a reference other than the course text, please
acknowledge it in your homework - this includes websites!
There will be one in-class 75-minute midterm examination,
which will be held in CSS 2400 on Thursday, March 9.
This exam is closed book with one page of notes allowed, and do
bring a calculator. The schedule of lectures included in this
syllabus shows what material will be covered on the midterm
exam. The midterm exam is a Major Grading Event (see policy on
attendances and absences).
If for whatever reason, the University is officially
closed on the exam date, the exam date shifts to the next lecture
According to University rules, the final exam for this
course will be held on Saturday May 13, from 8:00 AM to 10:00 AM
in CSS 2400. This final exam is cumulative, that is, it
will cover all material discussed in this course.
Material not covered by the midterm exam (see Lecture Schedule) will be somewhat
emphasized in the final exam. This exam is closed book with
one page of notes, and do bring a calculator. The final exam
is a Major Grading Event (see policy on attendances and
Problem Set and Exam Corrections
If you would like to ask for problem set or exam markings to be
reevaluated, you must bring it to Prof. Harris within one month of
the original due date. There is no time limit on errors in
addition for scores, however.
There will be no extra credit assignments in this class.
Attendance and Absences
Please review the University's Attendance and Assessment Policy and
the University policy on medically-necessitated absences
points for this class:
The academic community at the University abides by a Code of
Academic Integrity. Acts of academic dishonesty include cheating,
fabrication, facilitating academic dishonesty, and plagiarism.
Activities such as cheating on exams or quizzes, copying homework
from a friend or book, allowing your homework or paper to be copied,
and submitting forged excuses for absences from exams are violations
of this code. If we suspect that an incident of academic dishonesty
has occurred, we will turn the case over to the Student Honor
Council to investigate and resolve. If the suspected party is judged
`responsible' for the act(s) of academic dishonesty, the normal
sanction is a course grade of `XF' which denotes failure due to
academic dishonesty. This grade is recorded onto the student's
academic transcript. The Code of Academic Integrity can be found in
the Academic Info section of the Schedule of Classes. It is printed
in full in the Undergraduate catalog and information is available at
Please refer to this Code if you have further questions about what
is construed as academic dishonesty. We are very serious
- If you wish to claim an excused absence, you must do so in
writing and furnish supporting documentation.
- You must notify Prof. Harris of the reason for an excused
absence as soon as possible. This will include sending
Prof. Harris email or leaving a voicemail message as long as possible before absences
from exams or homework deadlines. For absences known far
in advance (for instance, religious observance or participation
in activities at the request of University authorities), you
must notify Prof. Harris by the end of the schedule adjustment
- The Midterm, Final exam, and Projects are Major Scheduled
Grading Events for this class.
- A prolonged absence in the sense of the University's policies
on attendance and absence is two or more consecutive lectures.
- If you will be absent on a day homework is due you may hand in
homework assignments early, either to Prof. Harris or in his
mailbox in the Department office. A classmate may turn in
your homework for you if you are able to attend the class in
which it is due (but please understand the University's policies
on Academic Integrity and its potential implications before you
- If you have a medical or other excused absence for a single
lecture that coincides with a homework deadline, and wish to
turn in the homework up to one class meeting later, the policy
in the Absences section of http://www.ugst.umd.edu/courserelatedpolicies.html.
- Exams on alternative dates or for make-up are possible only in
cases of excused absences. When possible, exams will be
given before the
regularly-scheduled exams. For unexpected absences from
the Midterm or Final Exams, it is your responsibility to contact
Prof. Harris to discuss make-up work within 48 hours of the
The World Wide Web is a very useful resource that
we will make use of in this class (e.g., students will be asked to
use the internet for some of the questions on the problem sets).
The primary web connection for enrolled students is the
University's ELMS page found by logging into https://elms.umd.edu. If you
have difficulty accessing the internet, please discuss this with
Prof. Harris before the end of the schedule adjustment period.
In addition, the class site is also a gateway to many other
astronomy links, including sites with up-to-date astronomical images
that are made available to the public from telescopes in space and
on the ground.
Laptop, Tablet, and Mobile Device Policy
In principle, laptops and tablets can allow you to take notes faster
and access the class website. In practice, they are frequently
distracting and used for non-class purposes. Displays showing
non-class material can be very distracting for other students who
have a view of your screen.
If the use of laptops and tablets turns out to be too distracting
for the class as a whole, Prof. Harris may need to ban them
entirely. Let's hope that doesn't happen.
There is no need to use phones or other mobile devices during class,
even for texting. Please refrain.
Students with a documented disability should inform Prof. Harris as
soon as possible (preferably on the first day of class, and
certainly by the end of the schedule adjustment period) so that
appropriate academic accommodations can be made.