University of Malta

Study-Unit Description
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TITLE Introduction to Astronomy and Cosmology

LEVEL 03 - Years 2, 3, 4 in Modular Undergraduate Course



DESCRIPTION The study-unit aims to give a holistic understanding of astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology with an introduction to each topic with qualitative and quantitative aspects. In the astronomy component a width breadth of current astronomy techniques and results will be covered. In the cosmology component a history of the big bang onwards will be given which will be followed by the Friedmann interpretation of the different epochs of the Universe.

A more detailed breakdown of the study-unit is given below:


- History of the Universe: The Observable Universe, Distances within the Universe, The Copernican Principle, Olber's Paradox, The Epochs of the Big Bang and Problems, Future of the Universe;
- Gravity: Newtonian Gravity and its Problems, The Weak Equivalence Principle and its Tests, The Strong Equivalence Principle and its Applications (Light Bending, Gravitational Redshift, Gravitational Time Dilation), Basic General Relativity, The Friedmann-Lemaître-Robertson-Walker Metric, The Scale Factor and its Relation to Cosmological Redshift;
- The Accelerating Universe: Hubble's Law, Age of the Universe, The Friedmann Equations, The Fluid Equation, The Curvature Constant of the Universe, Radiation/Matter/Cosmological Constant Dominated Universe Evolution, The Density Parameter, The Deceleration Parameter, The Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation, Inflation.


- Astronomy Through the Ages: The Hellenistic view of the cosmos; Geocentricity/Ptolemaic system; the heliocentric view of the cosmos; the Copernican principle; key figures in astronomy (e.g. Ptolemy, Eratosthenes, Aristarchus, Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Herschel, Slipher, Hubble, Gamow, Eddington); important concepts & ideas, including parallax, spectroscopy, expansion of the universe, cosmological principle;
- The Solar System and Exoplanets: The sun; the planets in our solar system; planetary formation; exoplanets; tools & techniques in the search for and characterisation of exo-solar planets;
- Star Formation & Evolution: Nebulae, cloud collapse, protostars; the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram; main-sequence and phases in stars' lifecycle, including post-main-sequence (e.g. novae, supernovae, neutron stars, white dwarfs, black holes);
- The Realm of Galaxies: Our Galaxy; the Hubble tuning fork diagram; galaxy formation & evolution; rotation curves & dark matter, AGN, quasars, blazars, gamma ray bursts; galaxy clusters & superclusters; the distance ladder;
- Observational Cosmology: The early universe; the cosmic microwave background; structure formation; the intergalactic medium; reionization & its sources; the accelerating expansion of the universe; the future of the cosmos.

Study-Unit Aims

The aim of the study-unit is to give students a broad background in the qualitative and some specific quantitative features of astronomy and cosmology. Students will be exposed to many of the standard epoch history of the big bang model as well as an in-depth description of the inner working of many astrophysical bodies. The main aim of this study-unit is to expose students to the wide arena of issues that factor into astronomy and cosmology.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of the study-unit the student will be able to:

- Explain the big bang model and its predictions;
- Describe the modern explanation of how the cosmos functions;
- Calculate some of the state parameters that form part of modern cosmology;
- Describe elements of the history of astronomy;
- Explain how some astrophysical bodies form and are sustained;
- Calculate some quantities relating to issues involving making cosmological measurements.

Main Text/s:

- An Introduction to Galaxies and Cosmology, Mark H. Jones, Robert J. Lambourne, David John Adams (Cambridge University Press, 2004).


Assessment Component/s Resit Availability Weighting
Seminar Paper Yes 20%
Examination (2 Hours) Yes 80%

LECTURER/S Joseph Caruana
Jackson Said

The University makes every effort to ensure that the published Courses Plans, Programmes of Study and Study-Unit information are complete and up-to-date at the time of publication. The University reserves the right to make changes in case errors are detected after publication.
The availability of optional units may be subject to timetabling constraints.
Units not attracting a sufficient number of registrations may be withdrawn without notice.
It should be noted that all the information in the study-unit description above applies to the academic year 2017/8, if study-unit is available during this academic year, and may be subject to change in subsequent years.
MSc (Research) and PhD application deadlines
Application Deadlines for Academic Year 2017/18 
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