Honors Astronomy 163: Relativity and Cosmology

Meetings: MTWRF, 11:30-12:18, McPherson 1005
Midterm exam: in class, date TBD
Final exam: Thursday, December 12, 11:30 am -1:18 pm

Instructor: Professor David Weinberg, Dept. of Astronomy
4041 McPherson Lab (4th floor), 292-6543, dhw@astronomy.ohio-state.edu
Mailbox in 4055 McPherson Lab, phone messages can be left at 292-1773
Office hours: Tuesday 2:00-4:30, or by appointment

GTA: Chris Burke, 4011 McPherson, 292-5403, cjburke@astronomy.ohio-state.edu
Office hours: Monday, 1:00-3:00 (until November 3)

Course web page: http://www.astronomy.ohio-state.edu/~dhw/H163/h163.html

Course objectives

The first two weeks of the course will focus on the modern scientific understanding of space, time, and gravity, which emerged primarily from the work of Albert Einstein in the first two decades of this century. With these underpinnings in place, we will move on to the standard scientific model of cosmology, usually known as the big bang theory, examining the concepts of the theory, the empirical evidence that supports it, and the history of its development. The latter part of the course will focus on current issues in cosmological research, including efforts to determine the size, age, and material contents of the universe, and to understand the formation of galaxies and other cosmic structures. Roughly speaking, the first half of the course covers material that most physicists and astronomers believe to be well established and well understood, while the second half examines areas where there are many open questions. Throughout the course we will emphasize how cosmology works as a science, with particular attention to the way that technological developments, astronomical observations, and theoretical ideas interact to produce advances in our understanding of the universe.

Course requirements

The most important course requirement is to attend class, and class participation will count for 15% of the final course grade. The other essential component of the course will be problem sets, which will be handed out on Wednesdays and will be due at the beginning of class the following Wednesday. There will be six problem sets, and together they will count for 35% of the course grade. Late problem sets will be accepted, but they will be marked down 10 points (out of 100) for lateness -- 25 points if they are turned in after the beginning of class on Monday (following the Wednesday they are due). There will be one short (5-7 page) essay assignment, counting for 10% of the course grade, for which you will research a topic that you are interested in and write an account of what you find. The essay will be due on the last day of class (Friday, December 6), and I will give more details about it later in the quarter. There will be one midterm exam in week 5 or week 6, date TBD, and one final exam, date listed above. The midterm and final will each count for 20% of the course grade.

There are two required books for the course, The First Three Minutes, by Steven Weinberg, which we will read during the first half of the course, and The Light at the Edge of the Universe, by Michael Lemonick, which we will read during the second half of the course. I will announce reading assignments (i.e., when to read what) in class; if you miss a class, it is your responsibility to find out about any assignments that were announced in your absence.

The current Astronomy 161/162 textbook, Universe by Freedman and Kauffmann, is an optional book. It is a good enough text, but it does not cover cosmology in nearly as much depth or breadth as we will in this course. It will be most useful as a reference for things you may have forgotten (or may not have learned) about gravity, light, atoms, stars, and galaxies. If you have not taken H/A162 or took it a long time ago, you should certainly make use of the book. I will announce suggested readings as they become relevant.

Tentative course outline

Week 1: Special relativity and spacetime

Week 2: General relativity, curved spacetime, and gravity

Week 3: Expansion of the universe
Wednesday: Problem Set 1 due

Week 4: Big bang nucleosynthesis and the cosmic microwave background
Wednesday: Problem Set 2 due

Week 5: The early universe
Wednesday: Problem Set 3 due

Week 6: Dark matter

Week 7: Measuring cosmic expansion
Wednesday: Problem Set 4 due

Week 8: Microwave background fluctuations and large scale structure
Wednesday: Problem Set 5 due

Week 9: Galaxy formation and evolution
Wednesday: Problem Set 6 due

Week 10: Observational and theoretical frontiers
Friday: Paper due

Final exam on Thursday, December 12, 11:30-1:18, in McPherson 1005.

Go to the H163 home page
Go to David Weinberg's Home Page
Updated: 2002 September 24[dhw]