What Is Cosmology?

Cosmology is a branch of astronomy that involves the origin and evolution of the universe, from the Big Bang to today and on into the future. According to NASA, the definition of cosmology is “the scientific study of the large scale properties of the universe as a whole”.

Cosmologists puzzle over exotic concepts like string theory, dark matter, and dark energy and whether there is one universe or many (sometimes called the multiverse). While other aspects of astronomy deal with individual objects and phenomena or collections of objects, cosmology spans the entire universe from birth to death, with a wealth of mysteries at every stage.

History of cosmology & astronomy

Humanity’s understanding of the universe has evolved significantly over time. In the early history of astronomy, Earth was regarded as the center of all things, with planets and stars orbiting it. In the 16th century, Polish scientist Nicolaus Copernicus suggested that Earth and the other planets in the solar system orbited the sun, creating a profound shift in the understanding of the cosmos. In the late 17th century, Isaac Newton calculated how the forces between planets — specifically the gravitational forces — interacted.

The dawn of the 20th century brought further insights into comprehending the vast universe. Albert Einstein proposed the unification of space and time in his General Theory of Relativity. In the early 1900s, scientists were debating whether the Milky Way contained the whole universe within its span, or whether it was simply one of many collections of stars. Edwin Hubble calculated the distance to a fuzzy nebulous object in the sky and determined that it lay outside of the Milky Way, proving our galaxy to be a small drop in the enormous universe. Using General Relativity to lay the framework, Hubble measured other galaxies and determined that they were rushing away from us, leading him to conclude that the universe was not static but expanding.

In recent decades, cosmologist Stephen Hawking determined that the universe itself is not infinite but has a definite size. However, it lacks a definite boundary. This is similar to Earth; although the planet is finite, a person traveling around it would never find the “end” but would instead constantly circle the globe. Hawking also proposed that the universe would not continue forever but would eventually end.

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