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).
  • 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 ~3 articles × ~ 6 pages/article ≈ 18 pages.

Reading Assignments from Harrison, 2nd edition:

Please read these selections before class so that we can meaningfully discuss them. You might find it useful to take notes as you read, in order to inform your in-class discussion.

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 Zoom Breakout Groups, and of course you are free to look at them beforehand if you wish!

The meaning of fractional pages in the schedule of readings below 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).

Reading       Approx.                           
  For                 Pages                           Assignment                                                                 

Class 1    Cosmology: A human thirst across all cultures, times, and places. Cosmology after Newton and before Einstein.
                                 8 pp.          Chap. 1: What is Cosmology. (Skip Chaps. 2&3!)
                              15 pp.          Chap. 4: Cosmology after Newton and before Einstein

Class 2    The nature of stars
                              18 pp.          Chap. 5: Stars
                                 4 pp.          Chap. 6 through p.117.3*: A little more on stars

Class 3    The natures of normal and active galaxies. Where are we in the universe? What are its overall properties? Where is its center? What is and is not inside the universe?
                               12 pp.         Finish Chap. 6: Normal and Active Galaxies
                                  8 pp.         Chap. 7: Location and the Cosmic Center
                                  3 pp.         Begin Chap. 8 through p. 149.6: Containment

Class 4    Where is the edge of the universe? Modern notions of space and time.
                               13 pp.         Finish Chap. 8: Containment and the Cosmic Edge
                               11 pp.         Chap. 9: Space & Time

Class 5    Curved space. Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity. Expansion of the universe.
                                  5 pp.         Chap. 10: Curved Space through p. 194.3 and Fig. 10.8
                                  4 pp.         Chap. 11: Special Relativity through p.209.8.  Skip Chaps. 12&13
                               13 pp.         Chap. 14 through p.282.55: Expansion of Universe.  Skip the equations in Chap. 14 except Eq. 14.6, but please wrestle hard with the material.

Class 6    Possible types of universes and their possible past, present, and future fates.  Twentieth century cosmological observations.
                                  2 pp.         Jump to two later small chunks of Chap. 14–first, pp.285.9-286.6; and second, Figs. 14.20 & 14.21 on pp.290-291.  These figures are graphs of the past, present, and fates of possible kinds of universe.  Note that the vertical axis, R, can be thought of as the distance between two galaxies.  Then skip Chaps. 15-17.
                                  5 pp.         Chap. 18 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.
                                  4 pp.         Chap. 19 through p.391.5 except right half of p. 389

Class 7    The first few minutes of the universe. Important cosmological observations and theories since Harrison was published in 2000, part 1.
                                     1 p.         Jump to pp.394-395.5 of Chap. 19.
                                   TBA         Selected readings on important cosmological observations since Harrison was published.

Class 8    Important cosmological observations and theories since Harrison was published in 2000, part 2.
                                  2 pp.         Chap. 20 through p.415.0.
                                   TBA         Selected readings on important cosmological ideas since Harrison was published.