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Cosmology: what we do and don’t know about our peculiar Universe.

Cosmology, the study of the evolution of the Universe, only really existed in the realm of philosophy until the start of the 20th century. However, since then, technological advances in telescopes and the development of general relativity, nuclear physics and particle physics have revolutionised our understanding of the history of our Universe. While we have made massive progress using these powerful tools, the Universe seems to have thrown up some very strange mysteries:

  • Why does 96% of the stuff in the Universe appear to be dark – completely different to any kind of matter we have ever seen or created at particle accelerators?
  • What happened at the beginning of the Universe and why does it look exactly the same in all directions?
  • Why has the Universe recently started to accelerate in its expansion?
  • What was the big bang and was there anything before it, or are there other Universes? Are we part of a multi universe?
  • Why is there more matter than antimatter in the Universe?

We don’t know the answer to any of these questions but we have theories to explain all of them! We don’t know if the theories are correct and the cosmology community is today testing them out.

Prof Malcolm Fairbairn of King’s College London will try to explain how cosmologists try to answer these questions. The course will introduce topics such as general relativity and explain why and how, without Einstein intending it to, it predicted the expansion of the Universe. He will explain how studying tiny ripples in the cosmic microwave radiation can help us to measure the shape of the Universe as well as telling us about its content. The course will explain how observations of supernovae explosions have told us tat the Universe is accelerating. Malcolm will explain what dark energy is, what dark matter is, why (although they are both dark) they are fundamentally different to each other and how researchers are trying to learn more about them, both in space and on earth in laboratories.

The level of the course will be aimed at committed non – experts and no particular level of mathematics will be assumed. The course will run for five, 90 minute sessions as follows, Tuesday 22nd January, Tuesday 29th January, Tuesday 5th February, Tuesday 12th February, Tuesday 19th February, Tuesday 26th February.

The course includes all course materials and refreshments. The course if for interest only, with no qualification, examination, or certificate of attendance as its conclusion.