Essay 3: Cosmology (10%)

Due date: Mar.28 @2PM.


Describe the cosmological story of our universe in terms of modern theoretical physics. Spend most of your discussion on the evolution of the universe (about 75%); spend the remainder (about 25%) on describing possibilities for the origin and ultimate fate of our universe. Focus on creating a coherent big picture of Big Bang Cosmology as well as focusing on individual relevant facts.

You may draw upon any facts which you learned throughout the course so far, but the most useful and relevant lecture material is from the past two weeks on Cosmology.

Note: I am deliberately allowing you some leeway in choosing which pieces of physics to emphasize in this essay. You have earned this privilege by now! If you are in any doubt about what to emphasize, please use my Cosmology lecture notes as a guide. You will also find useful the following set of cosmology links.

Sources for Essay 3

Web sites

  1. I hate to admit it, but the Wikipedia page on the Big Bang is actually really good. It's rather too detailed for our purposes, but it gets the overall gist and the most important details right, and it doesn't overemphasize speculative theories like ekpyrosis, quantum cosmology, loop quantum gravity and the like.
  2. NASA's WMAP site is very good. This is a PDF of all their Cosmology explanations in one bundle. One fun activity you can do on their web site is to Build Your Own Universe (Flash tool).
  3. The American Institute of Physics's Cosmology page gives a more historical emphasis than my lecture notes.
  4. Cambridge University in the UK has a cosmology web site.
  5. Doug Scott at UBC has some online information about the CMB.
  6. One other reasonably good web site about the big bang, which gets a lot of hat tips from other sites purporting to explain cosmology, is here. Except that I strongly recommend avoiding its descriptions of Alternative models: they are weirdly chosen, and not relevant to our course.

Magazine articles

  1. Decoding the oldest Light in the Universe; Sky & Telescope, May 2008; 18-23 pp., by Gary Hinshaw and Robert Naeye.

Cosmology books for laypeople (mostly from a list put together by WMAP)

  1. Steven Weinberg's popular book The First Three Minutes: A Modern View of the Origin of the Universe (1977) is brilliant. The only disadvantage is that it was written in the seventies and so the material is dated: there have been many important cosmological discoveries since then.
  2. A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking (1988)
  3. The Extravagant Universe: Exploding Stars, Dark Energy, and the Accelerating Cosmos by Robert P. Kirschner (2002)
  4. Quarks, Leptons and the Big Bang by Jonathan Allday
  5. The Accelerating Universe : Infinite Expansion, the Cosmological Constant, and the Beauty of the Cosmos by Mario Livio
  6. One Universe: At Home in the Cosmos by Neil De Grasse Tyson, et al
  7. The Inflationary Universe: The Quest for a New Theory of Cosmic Origins by Alan H. Guth
  8. Measuring the Universe: Our Historic Quest to Chart the Horizons of Space and Time by Kitty Ferguson
  9. Echo of the Big Bang (discusses the WMAP Mission) by Michael D. Lemonick
  10. Just Six Numbers : The Deep Forces that Shape the Universe by (Sir) Martin J. Rees
  11. How the Universe Got Its Spots: Diary of a Finite Time in a Finite Space by Janna Levin
  12. The Five Ages of the Universe : Inside the Physics of Eternity by Fred Adams, Greg Laughlin
  13. Before the Beginning : Our Universe and Others by (Sir) Martin J. Rees
  14. In Search of the Edge of Time : Black Holes, White Holes, Wormholes by John Gribbin
  15. The Sky Is Not The Limit : Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist by Neil De Grasse Tyson
  16. The Little Book of the Big Bang : A Cosmic Primer by Craig J. Hogan
  17. Astrophysical Concepts by Martin Harwit
  18. The Very First Light : The True Inside Story of the Scientific Journey Back to the Dawn of the Universe by John C. Mather, John Boslough
  19. Afterglow of Creation : From the Fireball to the Discovery of Cosmic Ripples by Marcus Chown
  20. After the First Three Minutes : The Story of Our Universe by T. Padmanabhan
  21. The Whole Shebang : A State-Of-The-Universe(s) Report by Timothy Ferris
  22. Astronomy For Dummies by Stephen Maran
  23. The Origin of the Universe by John D. Barrow
  24. The Big Bang by Joseph Silk
  25. Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein's Outrageous Legacy by Kip S. Thorne