Jason Kendall
William Paterson University
Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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Introductory Cosmology: an Intensive Reading Course

July 12, 19, 26 and August 2, 9, 17, 23 and 30.

The Final Results from WMAP:
NASA's premiere Cosmic Microwave Background satellite.
A Discussion with Dr. David Spergel, WMAP lead project scientist
August 30, 2010, 7:00 PM.

As part of the Cosmology class I am teaching, I asked someone from the WMAP (Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe) team to come talk to us via conference call about the amazing science results of this incredible mission. Dr. David Spergel of Princeton, one of the project leads, has agreed to talk for about 45 minutes and take questions about the WMAP mission and its results on Monday, August 30 at 7:30 PM. Our class is free, but we ask that all attendees help pay for the room, which works out to be about $5. Seating is limited, on a first-come basis, except for class-members, who have reserved seats. Non-class-members are welcome to stay after Dr. Spergel's talk to participate in our final class, where we'll talk about Inflation and Structure Formation. The whole event lasts from 7:30 PM to about 9:30 PM.

Ripley Grier Studios, 520 8th Avenue, 16th floor, room 16T. Subway 1, 2, 3, A, C or E to 34th Street, Penn Station. Walk to 520 Eighth Avenue, between 36th & 37th Street.

Dr. David Spergel
Dr. Spergel is a theoretical astrophysicist, with interests ranging from the search for planets around nearby stars to the shape of the universe. Over the last few years, the WMAP Satellite has been the main focus of his research. WMAP was successfully launched on June 30, 2001, and is winding down operations this month. He has taken an hour out of his busy schedule to talk to us about the major results of the WMAP mission.

The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe
The Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) is a NASA Explorer mission that launched June 2001 to make fundamental measurements of cosmology -- the study of the properties of our universe as a whole. WMAP has been stunningly successful, producing our new Standard Model of Cosmology.

Stargazing in Inwood Hill Park on August 28!
It's an excellent night for stargazing! Come join us at the hilltop for wonderful views of the Moon, Jupiter (and its moons), Uranus, wispy star clusters and colorful double stars. This is the darkest location in the City, and its just a few blocks from the subway.

Cosmology is the study of the origin and evolution of the Universe. As such, it is a big topic, employing a wide range of physics, both theoretical and experimental. Cosmology has deep ties both to astrophysics, as many cosmologically important observations of celestial objects must be interpreted through the prism of astrophysics, and to fundamental physics, since the form our Universe displays is determined by gravitation, particle physics, nuclear physics, and thermodynamics. These various physical processes have come together into a simple "concordance (or standard) model" of cosmology which makes detailed predictions of a wide range of observable phenomena.

This is an exciting time in cosmology. Technological advances over the past decade have made possible an array of observations which strongly constrains the properties of the Universe. The discovery that the expansion of the Universe is accelerating presents a great challenge to high-energy physicists to explain the source and nature of the mysterious "dark energy" which is likely driving this expansion. The Sloan Digital Sky Survey has observed more than a quarter of the sky, detecting nearly 200 million celestial objects and measuring spectra of more than 675,000 galaxies, 90,000 quasars, and 185,000 stars. Wide-coverage gravitational-lensing surveys are probing the distribution of mass in the Universe. And last, but not least, measurements of the Cosmic Microwave Background, notably the results from the WMAP satellite, have yielded values for cosmological parameters with an accuracy of several percent. After spending decades in what cynics called "an attempt to measure two numbers" (the Hubble constant the deceleration constant), we are now in the age of "precision cosmology". The two main goals of this class will be to develop an understanding of the standard model and to show how most of the deluge of observational data are nicely consistent with that model.

As time permits, we will also examine a few possible trouble spots and also how cosmology can be used as a tool for probing fundamental physics and astrophysics.

Class Structure

The structure of the class will be a reading-based course, with students expected to do extensive at-home reading. The class time will be one hour discussion of readings, and one hour of lecture, based on the week's required reading. It is more important to use the classtime to answering questions about the week's reading than any lecture I might give, so I will break off lecture in order to answer all questions, and to moderate discussion of the topics in the reading. This discussion is critical to a reading course, and builds new intellectual relationships with people. That is ultimately the goal, to have a group of people bear down on a topic in a week knowing that they might not "get it" but that others might, where they don't. That being said, I will always start with a recap of the reading, highlighting the salient points. The first class will have required reading prior to the first class. So, please see the links to the textbook below and get it now.

Introduction to Cosmology, B. Ryden, 2003, Addison Wesley. This book is a good, up-to-date undergraduate cosmology text. It includes material on the accelerating universe, but not the results from WMAP, which will be added reading. The text does have lots of math and equations, and yes even problems for you to do or try.

How much work is the class?
As this is a reading course, there will be no grading or tests. The homework will be reading two chapters of the text per week, which will require at least 6-8 hours each week. It is also expected that the student will use the internet to look up topics and words that are not familiar. Problems listed in the text will be covered as requested, but they are not requirements. The text-based problems are best answered in the online chat-room sessions, and students are encouraged to use this forum. It is expected that the student will begin reading prior to the first class.

Even though this is a reading class, it will take work and dedication to read this entire book in 6 weeks.

The emphasis will be on physical ideas, but we will encounter calculus and simple differential equations. No prior knowledge of cosmology will be assumed. However, you will get more out of this class if you have already taken one or two physics courses and are familiar with concepts in thermodynamics. If you have questions about the appropriate level of pre-requisites, please contact me. Remember that this is a reading course, and that the classtime will be devoted to answering questions based on the reading. It is good to be familiar with how to skim past certain sections and know how to find things on Google. It is also expected that the students will engage each other during the course using the exclusive online chatrooms that will be provided. Class Calendar:
You need to read the chapters of the text PRIOR to each class.

  1. Monday night, July 12:

    Chapters 1 and 2: Introduction to Cosmology, Fundamental Observations

  2. Monday night, July 19:

    Chapters 3 and 4: Gravity and Curvature, Cosmic Dynamics

  3. Monday night, July 26:

    Chapters 5 and 6: Simple Model Universes, Single- and Multiple-Component Universes, The Benchmark Model

  4. Monday night, August 2:

    Chapters 7 and 8: Measuring Cosmological Parameters, Dark Matter

  5. Monday night, August 9:

    Chapters 9 and 10 Cosmic Microwave Background, Nucleosynthesis

  6. Tuesday night, August 17:

    Chapters 11 and 12 Inflation and the Very Early Universe, Formation of Structure

Class Location
120 Warren Street. The classroom ended up costing us money, so we'll spread the cost out among ourselves. I will set up a toll-free conference call for participants to use who are not located in NYC. There will be a maximum number of participants on conference (25).

Class Fees
Each student must purchase their own text. People attending the location at 59th Street should realize that we might have to move the location to a new place if space becomes used. In that event, at-location attendees will be asked to contribute to an available classroom or studio rental.

Supplemental access
During the class session it is expected that attendees will have access to a live internet feed. We will try to answer questions as they arise in the text using internet-based tools.

All attendees will need to register by sending Jason their phone number and email address. There is a private Google Group in which everyone will need to be a member. The purpose is to talk about things, post internet links, and ask questions of the group. Having signed up for the private google group will constitute registration. All administrative items will be posted there, such as class locations, conference call information, and so forth.

The course is audit-only and is not being offered for academic credit.

About Jason Kendall

I am currently adjunct faculty at William Paterson University teaching astronomy. I hold a Master of Science in Astronomy from New Mexico State University. I am also a board member of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York. Since 2008, I have led the Inwood Astronomy Project which brought over 200 events of stargazing and public astronomy outreach to upper Manhattan, including the historic Inwood Star Fest, where Inwood Hill Park lights were turned off as part of the 100 Hours of Astronomy event in IYA2009. This was the first time in New York City history when park lights were turned off for an astronomy event. I've also focused on park safety due to an uptick in sexual assaults in Washington Heights and Inwood during 2011. I've worked to make our parks safer by encouraging public use of parks at night through night-time events with Park Rangers. I have led numerous "starwatching parties" and astronomy events in New York City, New Mexico, Minnesota, New Jersey, Connecticut and Texas. I am also proud to have been part of the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador Program from 2009 to 2012. It all started way back in the fourth grade by the encouragement of two noted astronomers, Charles Schweighauser and Bart Bok. I saw Saturn through Charlie's telescope at then Sangamon State University on a clear Illinois night, and Bart encouraged me under those stars to study hard to come visit him at Kitt Peak National Observatory. I finally did make it down there about a decade after Bart passed away, and I found the favorite spots in Tucson, Arizona, where Bart and his wife Priscilla would spend when they were not gazing at the stars. Bart and his wife were pioneers in the study of the Milky Way, and their studies of the starforming regions called Bok Globules. It's even in my family. My great-grandfather was a Midwestern minister who used to preach his sermons out under the dark, cloudless nights. He always believed that getting out and experiencing the wonders of the natural world was a central part of being human. My family has always been inspired by his words: "We look up to look within." I hope that you'll join me under the stars or at one of my talks.

Come see what's up in the sky!

Jason Kendall

We look up to look within

William Paterson University Department of Physics American Astronomical Society Astronomical Society of the Pacific Amateur Astronomers Association of New York

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