Astronomy 340: Fall 2007

"Origin of the Universe"

The course is an introduction to modern Cosmology designed primarily for non-science majors. A study of our progression of knowledge about the origin and evolution of the universe as a whole. Topics include: early cosmological models, geocentric vs. heliocentric theory, curvature of space, Hubble's Law, Big Bang Theory, microwave background radiation, evolution of stars and galaxies, dark matter, active galaxies, quasars and the future of the universe. Cosmologists typically use known physical laws to construct empirical models of the universe describing how it evolved from simple initial conditions. The current cosmological model has been quite successful in explaining many of the amazing aspects of the Universe around us. However, in order to do so cosmologist had to introduce mysterious new physics such as the ``dark matter'' and ``dark energy''. Weather such "inventions" actually exist and what is their real nature remains an unsolved mystery.

Course Prerequisite

The course is intended for non-science majors and assumes high-school-level algebra, and either ASTR 100 or 101 as a prerequisite. See also the official UMD info on this course.


    Instructor:   Massimo Ricotti
    Class:        room CSS 2400
    Lectures:     Tuesday and Thursday from 11:00am to 12:15pm
    First class:  Th Aug 30 
    Last  class:  Tu Dec 11
    Midterm exam: Th Oct 18 from 11:00am to 12:15pm
    Final exam:   Th Dec 13 from 8am to 10am

Contact info and Notes

Instructor: Massimo Ricotti

Teaching assistant/Grader: Hao Gong


Required Textbook:
Foundations of Modern Cosmology 2/e, by John F. Hawley and Katherine A. Holcomb. Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-853096-X
Authors' web site for the textbook

Course Outline

The Syllabus is available in HTML and PDF format.

DateLectureReading (Textbook)Lecture Notes
Part I: History of Cosmology
#1Aug 30Introduction to the courseCh.1lect01.pdf
#2Sep 04Geocentric cosmology and astronomyCh.2lect02.pdf
#3Sep 06Renaissance empiricism and the heliocentric modelCh.2lect03.pdf
#4Sep 11The Universe of physical lawCh.3lect04.pdf
#5Sep 13The age of the Earth and the CosmosCh.3lect05.pdf
Part II: Relativity
#6Sep 18Principles of space and timeCh.6lect06.pdf
#7Sep 20Special relativityCh.7lect07.pdf
#8Sep 25Special relativityCh.7lect08.pdf
#9Sep 27Special relativityCh.7lect09.pdf
#10Oct 02General relativityCh.8lect10.pdf
#11Oct 04General relativity Ch.8lect11.pdf
#12Oct 09Black HolesCh.9lect12.pdf
Part III: Modern Cosmology
#13Oct 11The Universe beyond our GalaxyCh.10lect13.pdf
#14Oct 16Cosmological expansion Ch.10lect14.pdf
- Oct 18Midterm Exam--
#15Oct 23Geometry and evolution of the UniverseCh.11lect15.pdf
#16Oct 25Geometry and evolution of the UniverseCh.11lect16.pdf
#17Oct 30The Big Bang and early UniverseCh.12lect17.pdf
#18Nov 01The Big Bang and early UniverseCh.12lect18.pdf
#19Nov 06The Big Bang and early UniverseCh.12lect18.pdf
Part IV: Contemporary Cosmology
#20Nov 08Measurement of cosmological parametersCh.13lect19.pdf
#21Nov 13Measurement of cosmological parametersCh.13lect20.pdf
#22Nov 15Cosmic background radiationCh.14lect21.pdf
#23Nov 20Cosmic background radiationCh.14lect22.pdf
- Nov 22No lect: Thanksgiving--
#24Nov 27Dark matter and cosmic structure formationCh.15lect23.pdf
#25Nov 29Dark matter and cosmic structure formationCh.15lect24.pdf
#26Dec 04Cosmological inflationCh.16lect25.pdf
#27Dec 06Cosmological inflationCh.16lect26.pdf
#28Dec 11Last class/review--
- Dec 13Final Exam: 8am-10am--

Course Grading

Final grades for this course will be computed based on cumulative points (out of 100 total) in the areas below, according to the weights listed: Final letter grades will be curved, based on the total points received. The minimum letter grade that you can obtain is You can get a better grade depending on the average performance of the class.

Homework will typically be assigned once a week, due the following week, and must be turned in at the beginning of class. You should expect about 10 assignments during the semester.

Midterm exam: There will be one in-class examination on the 18th October 2007. This exam will be closed book. The exam will consist of a section of short answer questions, followed by longer essay and problem solving questions.

Final exam: As per the University rules, the final exam for this course will be held on Thursday the 13th December 2007 between 8.00am-10.00am in CSS2400. The final exam will cover all material discussed in this course. The format of the final exam will be the same as the midterm exam, with a section of short answer questions and a section of longer essay or problem solving questions.

Points will not be given for any ``extra credit projects.'' It is important to complete all the regular assignments to get the most you can out of the class!

Students with Special Needs

Students with a documented disability who wish to discuss academic accommodations should contact the professor as soon as possible.

Academic Integrity and excused absence

University regulations will apply regarding academic honesty and excused absences.

Students who are ill or have another valid excuse must explain the circumstances to the instructor before the due date of an assignment or exam, and then complete the work within the following week, in order to get full credit. Any illnesses or emergencies need to be properly documented.

The University of Maryland, College Park has a nationally recognized Code of Academic Integrity, administered by the Student Honor Council. University standards regarding academic integrity apply to all work performed for credit in this course, and as a student you are responsible for upholding these standards. Particulars of the University's Code are printed in the Undergraduate Catalog, and a description of what constitutes academic dishonesty is also given in the on-line Schedule of Classes. In brief, the Code requires that you must never engage in acts of academic dishonesty at any time. Acts of academic dishonesty include cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, or helping another person to do any of these things. Violation of the Code carries very serious consequences; for more information, please visit the Student Honor Council web site.

The rules regarding academic integrity apply to homework as well as to exams. As a part of these rules, you must give credit to any book, published article, or web page that you have used to help you with a particular assignment. These rules also apply to unpublished sources of information. In particular, students are encouraged to discuss assignments and other class material with each other, but every student must personally think through and write up his or her own answers to the homework questions. To further exhibit your commitment to academic integrity, remember to sign the Honor Pledge on all examinations and assignments:

"I pledge on my honor that I have not given or received any unauthorized assistance on this assignment/examination."


Homework will typically be assigned once a week, due the following week, and must be turned in at the beginning of class. You should expect about 10 assignments during the semester.

Homework will be considered late by the end of class and will no longer be accepted. If for some reason you cannot make it to class, you should either ask a friend/classmate to hand in your assignment for you, or make sure that it gets to the instructor beforehand.

If, for whatever reason, the University is officially closed on the due date for an assignment, the due date will be moved to the next lecture.

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