Further information: Joel Weisberg, Modern Scientific Cosmology


Cosmology: The Science of the Universe, 2nd edition (2000) by Edward Harrison.  Although many cosmology books for intelligent laypeople have been published since Harrison’s 2nd edition, chapter-ending “Reflections” make this book shine.  They provide multiple sets of questions that can engage readers in broader questions and provide many perfect opportunities for class discussion.  New copies of the book cost $150, but used copies may be found online for $30 or less (see bookfinder.com and alibris.com; be sure to get the 2nd edition (2000) only). Several students from the 2021 offering are willing to sell their copies. Joel will release a list of such persons to all registered students as soon as the class list is finalized.

Students will also read some Scientific American-level articles to cover cosmological advances made since the Harrison book’s publication.  These will be emailed to class members as pdf’s, so as to not accrue printing costs.  I estimate ~6 articles × ~ 6 pages/article ≈ 36 pages.


Reading Assignments from Harrison, 2nd edition:

Note: Each chapter concludes with a “Reflections” section, which is optional. These Reflections are frequently very thought-provoking and fascinating; though their level varies widely.  We will discuss some of them in our in-class Breakout Groups, and of course you are free to look at them beforehand if you wish!

Reading            Pages      Assignment (Subject to change up to midnight the Friday before class)

Class 1                       8pp        Chapt. 1: “What is Cosmology?” Then skip Chapts. 2&3!
                                    15pp        Chapt. 4: “Cosmology after Newton and before Einstein.”

Class 2                    18pp        Chapt. 5: “Stars.”
                                       4pp        Chapt. 6 through p.117.3: A little more on stars.

Class 3                    12pp        Finish Chapt. 6: Normal and Active Galaxies.
                                       8pp        Chapt. 7: “Location and the Cosmic Center.”
                                       3pp        Begin Chapt. 8 through p. 149.6: Containment.

Class 4                    13pp        Finish Chapt. 8: “Containment and the Cosmic Edge.”
                                    11pp        Chapt. 9: “Space & Time.”

Class 5                       5pp        Chapt. 10: “Curved Space” through p. 194.3 and Fig. 10.8
                                       4pp        Chapt. 11: “Special Relativity” through p.209.8. Then skip Chapts. 12&13
                                       1pg        Chapt. 12: General relativity and curved space: p.224.5-225.2 and fig.12.7.
                                    13pp        Chapt. 14 “Expansion of the Universe” through p.282.55. Skip the equations in Chapt. 14 except                                                        Eq. 14.6, but please wrestle hard with the material. (See more below on Chapt. 14 .)
                                   10pp        Scientific American: “Misconceptions About the Big Bang” (pdf)

Class 6                      2pp        Jump to two later small chunks of Chapt. 14: First, pp.285.9 – 286.6; and
                                                       second, Figs. 14.18 – 14.22 on pp. 290 – 291. These figures are graphs of the past, present, and future                                                        fates of possible kinds of universes. Note that the vertical axis, R, can be thought of as the distance                                                        between two clusters of galaxies. Then skip Chapts. 15-17.
                                      5pp         Chapt. 18: “The Many Universes” through p.355.8 and 357.3-357.6, then Figs. 18.3, .4, .5, .10, .12,                                                        .13; all with the above-mentioned and above-defined vertical axis, R.
                                      7pp         Handouts: Accel.pdf & American Scientist, “Tearing Apart the Universe [with Dark Energy].

Class 7                      4pp        Chapt. 19: “Observational Cosmology” through p.391.5 except right half of p. 389.
                                      1pp        Jump to pp. 394.6-395.8 and figs. 19.7-19.9 of Chapt. 19.
                                      8pp       “The dark side of the universe,”  a 2017 American Scientist pdf, principally on dark matter.
                                      3pp        Chapt. 20: “The early universe” through p.415.8.

Class 8                      5pp         Black Holes: First, notes from Joel; then various readings from Chapt. 13 (TBA).
                                   15pp         Planets beyond the Solar System; life beyond Earth: First, Harrison Chapter 26, “Life in the                                                         Universe”: p. 535.0-540.7; then other recent external readings

Note: The meaning of the fractional pages is as follows: Harrison divides each page into two columns, so 117.3 implies 0.3 (or 30%) of page 117, which means a little over halfway down the first column. (And 117.6 means a little way past the start of the second column.)