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From the Solar System to the Universe: An Introduction to Astrophysics and Cosmology

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Course Description

The Solar System. Black holes. Galaxy clusters. Quasars. The closer we look at these and other astrophysical objects, the more mysteries we uncover. This course will provide an introduction to topics of active research in astrophysics and cosmology, travelling from our galaxy to furthest reaches of the Universe. Along the way, we will explore objects like black holes, quasars, neutron stars, galaxy clusters, and pulsars.

Astrophysics is sometimes described as "the science of everything that isn't nailed down." Indeed, astrophysics must draw on fields as diverse as geology and pure mathematics to explain the dizzying number of physical systems that fall under its purview. From this jumble emerges a coherent explanation of the Universe and all its beautiful, fascinating workings.

Topics of investigation will include: star formation and evolution, the birth of planetary systems, galaxies as evolving systems, galaxies as the building blocks of large-scale structure, and the astrophysical "monsters of the deep," like quasars, black holes, and pulsars. The course will also explore the most fundamental questions of modern cosmology: the Universe's first fifteen minutes, how large-scale structure came about from primeval chaos, and the Universe's ultimate fate. We will also discuss the astrophysical techniques scientists past and present have used to build our current understanding.

The course will feature guest talks by members of the Department of Physics. To elucidate concepts we will encounter in the course, staff from the Department of Physics' instructional laboratory courses will provide in-class demonstrations. Time and weather permitting, we will also visit on-campus observatories.

At the completion of the three weeks, students will have gained familiarity with many of the major topics currently under investigation by astrophysicists. We hope that through this course, students can develop an interest in a particular subject area of astrophysics, and moreover, have acquired the background necessary to pursue that interest independently.

By the end of the course, students will have:
• Gained familiarity with the formation, dynamics, and evolution of planets, stars, galaxies, and clusters.
• An introduction to the thermal history of the Universe and major cosmological models.
• A basic understanding of observational and experimental methods of astrophysics.

This course requires a working knowledge of Algebra I & II, geometry, and basic trigonometry. Previous exposure to biology, chemistry, or physics classes with laboratory components will be useful but is not required.

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