ASTR 340: Origin of the Universe

ASTR 340 is a wild ride! This 60-student, non-major undergrad class provides an overview of cosmology, the study of the cosmos. Broadly speaking, we try to answer the question of our place in the Universe, how the Universe evolved to create places like the Solar system, and how we acquired our current (and evolving!) knowledge of cosmology. The syllabus has all the details.

We begin with a historical survey of cosmological thought from the ancients to Newton and Galileo. After this brief stint in the Solar system, we branch out to our galaxy and to the Universe as a whole: how it started in a hot Big Bang, how it has evolved over 14 billion years of cosmic history, and how it will end in a cold death.

The graphic below shows a schematic overview of the physical processes that led us from the Big Bang to our existence on Earth, but that’s only a fraction of the topics we cover in 340! Along the way, we also encounter phenomena such as spacetime, relativity, the expanding Universe, dark matter, dark energy, and gravitational waves. In the end, we return to the central question: what is our place in the Universe? In this context, we discuss the anthropic principle and the limits of modern cosmology, such as multiverses.