Astronomy 340: Fall 2008

"Origin of the Universe"

Cosmic Web (Ricotti 2002) 

The course is an introduction to modern Cosmology intended primarily for non-science majors. We will study the progression of our knowledge about the origin and evolution of the universe through history, with particular emphasis on modern cosmological results. 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. Modern Cosmology uses the laws of Physics to construct models of the universe that describe how it evolved from simple initial conditions. The current cosmological paradigm has been quite successful at explaining many of the amazing aspects of the Universe around us. In order to do so, however, cosmologists introduced new concepts such as ``dark matter'' and ``dark energy''. What physics are behind these concepts, and whether such hypotheses will stand the test of time, is the subject of much current research.

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. However, expect the homework and exams to be challenging if you have little practice or you are rusty at problem solving. 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:  Tu Sept 2 
    Last  class:  Th Dec 11
    Midterm exam: Th Oct 23 from 11:00am to 12:15pm
    Final exam:   Monday Dec 15th from 8:00am to 10:00am

Contact info and Notes

Instructor: Massimo Ricotti

Teaching assistant/Grader: Che-Yu Chen


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
#1Sept 02Introduction to the courseCh.1lect01.pdf
#2Sep 04Geocentric cosmology and astronomyCh.2lect02.pdf
#3Sep 09Renaissance empiricism and the heliocentric modelCh.2lect03.pdf
#4Sep 11The Universe of physical lawCh.3lect04.pdf
#5Sep 16The age of the Earth and the CosmosCh.3lect05.pdf
Part II: Relativity
#6Sep 18Principles of space and timeCh.6lect06.pdf
#7Sep 23Special relativityCh.7lect07.pdf
#8Sep 25Special relativityCh.7lect08.pdf
#9Sep 30Special relativityCh.7lect09.pdf
#10Oct 02General relativityCh.8lect10.pdf
#11Oct 07General relativity Ch.8lect11.pdf
#12Oct 09Black HolesCh.9lect12.pdf
Part III: Modern Cosmology
#13Oct 14The Universe beyond our GalaxyCh.10lect13.pdf
#14Oct 16Cosmological expansion Ch.10lect14.pdf
#15Oct 21Geometry and evolution of the UniverseCh.11lect15.pdf
- Oct 23Midterm Exam--
#16Oct 28Geometry and evolution of the UniverseCh.11lect16.pdf
#17Oct 30The Big Bang and early UniverseCh.12lect17.pdf
#18Nov 04The Big Bang and early UniverseCh.12lect18.pdf
#19Nov 06The Big Bang and early UniverseCh.12lect18.pdf
Part IV: Contemporary Cosmology
#20Nov 11Measurement of cosmological parametersCh.13lect19.pdf
#21Nov 13Measurement of cosmological parametersCh.13lect20.pdf
#22Nov 18Cosmic background radiationCh.14lect21.pdf
#23Nov 20Cosmic background radiationCh.14lect21.pdf
#24Nov 25Dark matter and cosmic structure formationCh.15lect22.pdf
- Nov 27No lect: Thanksgiving--
#25Dec 02Cosmic structure: observationsCh.15lect23.pdf
#26Dec 04Cosmic structure: simulationsCh.15lect24.pdf
#27Dec 09FAQs and review--
#28Dec 11Cosmological inflationCh.16lect25.pdf
- Dec 15Final 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 23rd October 2008. 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 Monday the 15th December 2008 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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