Covering topics in Nature, Technology and Culture
Note: interestingly there is a distinction between physical cosmology and cosmology in general.
Physical cosmology is the scientific study of the largest-scale structures and dynamics of the Universe and is concerned with fundamental questions about its formation, evolution, and ultimate fate. Often the subject is considered related to astronomy but more on a larger fundamental scale.
For most of human history, it was a branch of metaphysics and religion. Cosmology as a science originated with the Copernican principle, which implies that celestial bodies obey identical physical laws to those on Earth, and Newtonian mechanics, which first allowed us to understand those physical laws.
The detailed, all-sky picture of the infant universe created from nine years of WMAP data. The image reveals 13.77 billion year old temperature fluctuations (shown as color differences) that correspond to the seeds that grew to become the galaxies. image: wikipedia
Physical cosmology, as it is now understood, began with the development in 1915 of Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, followed by major astronomical observational discoveries in the 1920s:
- first, Edwin Hubble discovered that the Universe contains a huge number of external galaxies beyond our own Milky Way; then,
- work by Vesto Slipher and others showed that the universe is expanding.
These advances made it possible to speculate about the origin of the Universe, and allowed the establishment of the Big Bang Theory, by Fr. Georges Lemaitre, as the leading cosmological model. A few researchers still advocate a handful of alternative cosmologies; however, most cosmologists agree that the Big Bang theory best explains observations.
Dramatic advances in observational cosmology since the 1990s, including the cosmic microwave background, distant supernovae and galaxy redshift surveys, have led to the development of a standard model of cosmology. This model requires the universe to contain large amounts of dark matter and dark energy whose nature is currently not well understood, but the model gives detailed predictions which are in excellent agreement with many diverse observations.
Cosmology draws heavily on the work of many disparate areas of research in theoretical and applied physics. Areas relevant to cosmology include:
- particle physics experiments and theory ( such the fundamental forces of nature),
- theoretical and observational astrophysics,
- general relativity,
- quantum mechanics, and
- plasma physics.
The study of physical cosmology is roughly divided into:
- Very early universe
- Big Bang Theory
- Cosmic microwave background radiation
- Formation of the first stars and galaxies
- Dark matter
- Dark energy
- Gravitational waves