What Is Cosmology?

From its roots in philosophical speculation to a mature science

Citation Information

Allan, Leslie 2015. What Is Cosmology?, URL = <>.

Composite image of the Cartwheel galaxy

Cosmology is the scientific study of the origin and evolution of the universe as a whole. Cosmologists use a variety of theoretical approaches and experimental tools in their research on the beginning and fate of all that there is.

They draw upon the fields of particle physics, string theory and Einsteinian relativity to fashion new cosmological hypotheses and test existing theories. They also use the full gamut of astronomical observational apparatus to peer into the furthest stretches of our immense universe.

From tentative beginnings, cosmology has matured into a strong experimental discipline. It wasn't always so as the new science had to deal with three challenges to being taken seriously as a new area of empirical research. These challenges were commonly expressed as three questions:

  1. Given that the universe at its beginning was mind-boggling different to the universe we see today, how can we reasonably extrapolate from our currently accepted physical constants and laws to the physics of the early universe?
  2. Seeing that scientists test their theories by repeated experimentation on similar samples in a variety of circumstances, how can scientists verify their cosmological theories when they have only one universe to observe?
  3. How can cosmologists generalize their theories to the entire universe when the fixed speed of light limits what we can see to our local region in space?

How would you answer these methodological challenges? Do you feel these problems prevent or constrain progress in cosmological research?

Copyright © 2015

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