Understanding Modern Cosmology
As one of the most fascinating branches of astronomy, cosmology got its origins in the observation and investigation of the universe. Defined as the study of the large-scale attributes of the cosmos, NASA and other global space exploring entities typically head this enthralling discipline which includes the study of things such as dark matter, string theory, the multi-universe concept, and various mind-bending scientific philosophies. Generally speaking, cosmology concentrates mainly on the life span of the known universe, as opposed to astronomy which typically deals with cosmic objects and the phenomena therein.
The History of the Discipline of Cosmology
Mankind’s interest in space goes back much farther than written history does, but it wasn’t until the late 1400’s that humanity had the knowledge to begin properly examining it. Notable mathematician, Nicolaus Copernicus, was among the first to propose a heliocentric model instead of a geocentric one. This shift in understanding drastically changed the face of science, leading to even more discoveries including Isaac Newton’s gravitational theory later in the 17th century.
At the turn of the century, a vast influx of scientists began exploring the possibilities of the origins of the universe, setting the stage for the discoveries which now define how we comprehend the world in which we live. The popular physicist, Albert Einstein, later theorized the unification of space and time with this famous equation: E=MC2 (or the General Theory of Relativity). Since then, the modern scientific boom has set a precedence for long-distance space travel as well as provided a keen understanding of the universe itself.
It was Edwin Hubble who first calculated the distance to the Milky Way, thereby illustrating how our planet was but a small speck in an enormous span of space. Using Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, which is still without perfection, Hubble and his colleagues built the framework for modern-day cosmology. By measuring other visible galaxies, he determined the expansion of the universe, thus supporting the theory of the Big Bang.
The Hubble Space Telescope mission was largely cosmological and is today known as the best source for universe imagery. This revolutionary piece of high-tech equipment was able to refine various measurements on its journey, thereby refining modern-day understanding of the cosmos. However, new tools are still being developed to help scientists better understand the nature of dark matter, dark energy, and the like.
Most recently, cosmologists such as Stephen Hawking have used the same scientific principles to discover that the universe is of definite size, not of infinite capacity as was once believed. Like the Earth, however, the universe is without definite boundaries, further leading cosmologists to believe that the universe is a sphere which reflects the shape of the planets in it. Through continued research, Hawking also proposed that the universe would not exist forever, but would eventually come to an indeterminate end.
The Future of Cosmology
In 2013, based solely on information discovered by the Planck crew, the known universe is theorized to be as much as 13-14 billion years old. While numerous doubts about the accuracy of existing measurements has existed for decades, previously developed instruments and the improvements therein have helped to substantiate several theories which paint an ever-clearer picture of the known universe. For example, the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) that was operational between 2001 and 2010 tracked the cosmic fluctuations of microwave waves in space. This new discovery helped cosmologists determine that dark matter accounts for nearly a quarter of the universe as we know it. Meanwhile, the European Space Administration is working to develop the Euclid mission – a study which will help to further refine our understanding while tracing the distribution of dark matter and its affects on evolution throughout the cosmos.