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Cosmology: The Origin, Evolution & Ultimate Fate of the Universe

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An Introductory Resource Guide For College Instructors

Version 2.0, November 2011

Produced by the NASA Astrophysics Forum, with input from the NASA Astrophysics E/PO community and the astronomy higher education community.

NASA missions, educational programs, and cosmologists themselves have produced a wide range of materials that astronomy instructors (and their students) can use to learn about the latest developments in modern cosmology. Too often, however, these materials go unused because instructors are not familiar with them or don’t have them accessible at the time they need them. This annotated guide, the first in a series, is designed to highlight useful materials on the web and in print. It was produced in consultation with a selection of Astronomy 101 instructors, who were interviewed about their teaching, and NASA education specialists, who suggested resources that may not have been well known.

Cosmology is an enormous field, and the number of introductory resources is a bit overwhelming. Here we include only a sampling of non-technical materials that instructors around the U.S. have been using and are likely to have access to. Additions to and comments about the usefulness of this list are more than welcome and can be directed to: Andrew Fraknoi: fraknoi {at} and Greg Schultz: gschultz {at}

Table of Contents

Web Sites
Selected Web Sites on Modern Cosmology
Animations and Simulations on the Web
Selected Web Sites on the History of Cosmology
Selected Talks on Cosmology Available on the Web
Some Cosmology Lab Activities on the Web

Selected Books about Modern Cosmology
Selected Books about the History of Cosmology

Overview Articles
Articles about Dark Energy and Acceleration
Articles about Inflation
Articles about the Study of the Cosmic Microwave Background
Articles about Dark Matter
Articles about Other Specific Topics in Modern Cosmology
Articles about New Ideas in Cosmology
Articles about Understanding Cosmological Distances
A Few Articles about the History of Cosmology

Papers and Articles on Teaching Cosmology


Selected Web Sites on Modern Cosmology

NASA Resources

NASA Universe Forum Big Bang Pages (Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics): (brief, basic introduction to some of the key ideas)

Planck Mission Education and Outreach Materials (Caltech): (some basic, some more advanced, information, focusing on the cosmic microwave background radiation)

Universe 101: WMAP Mission Introduction to the Universe (NASA): (Concise primer on cosmological ideas from the WMAP mission team)

Dark Energy (Part of the Hubble Discoveries Series): (Flash-based multimedia tutorial on the discovery and meaning of dark energy; includes information on the origin and fate of universe)

Resources from Other Sources

Sean Carroll’s Cosmology Primer (Caltech): (Astrophysicists Carroll offers a non-technical site with brief overviews of many key topics in modern cosmology.)

Ned Wright’s Cosmology Tutorial (UCLA): (Astronomer Wright keeps a rich web site where he explains many ideas in cosmology using basic algebra and geometry.)

The Universe Adventure (Lawrence Berkeley Labs): (A flashy introduction to cosmology, designed for the public, but probably best read by those who already know a bit.)

Everyday Cosmology: (An educational website from the Carnegie Observatories with a timeline of cosmological discovery, background materials, and activities.)

Great Debates in Astronomy: (Between 1995 and 1998, astronomers Robert Nemiroff & Jerry Bonnell put together some cosmological debates in the same hall at the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History (and along the same lines) as the Shapley-Curtis debate, with some of the leading cosmologists of our day; sometimes technical)

Runaway Universe (2000 NOVA TV series episode web site): (Focuses on the discovery of the acceleration of the expansion of the universe, using supernovae as distance indicators)

Brent Tully’s “How Big is the Universe?”: (This clear essay by a noted astronomer summarizes some key ideas in cosmologist and introduces the notion of the acceleration of the universe; it was written for the Runaway Universe program)

table of contents

If the Universe is expanding, why can't I find a parking space?

Animations and Simulations on the Web

NASA Resources

Jellybean Visual Analogy for the Fraction of Ordinary Matter in the Universe (Chandra animation):

The Chemical Universe (NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory page with an "astronomer's version" of the periodic table, showing the cosmic abundances of elements): (Click on "Periodic table for astronomy")

Cosmology Visualizations from the NASA Universe Forum: (A series of computer visualizations of the evolution and structure of the universe, available in a number of formats.)

WMAP Mission Concept Animations: (Brief animation showing evolution of the early universe and ideas associated with studying the cosmic microwave background)

The Cosmic Microwave Background on a Beach Ball (An inflatable globe with the full-sky image of the microwave background from the WMAP Mission):

Resources from Other Sources

stampOrigin of the Elements (Flash movie from Don York’s group at the U. of Chicago):

Supercomputer simulations of the formation of structure in the universe by Andrey Kravstov:

Making Galaxies: (8-min movie on evolution and large-scale structure of galaxies from the Adler Planetarium Visualization Lab)

Dark Matter, First Stars: (Some beautiful short visualizations by Stanford’s Ralf Kaehler)

table of contents


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