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Frontiers of Cosmology

Cosmology was born when humans first gazed at the night skies and attempted to understand the workings of the universe. Guided only by their eyes and their imaginations, they constructed elaborate myths about the starry sky. Galileo caused a scientific revolution when, in 1609, he turned his considerable intellect and a new invention-the telescope-to the night sky.

Twentieth-century progress in cosmology has been marked by advances in technology and theory. Edwin Hubble's discovery of the expanding universe, Penzias' and Wilson's observation of cosmic background radiation, the detection of the elementar y particles that populated the very early universe-all were made possible by increasingly powerful instruments and flashes of human brilliance.

Technology continues to expand the frontiers of cosmology. The Hubble Space Telescope has revealed gas clouds in the cosmic voids and beautiful images of fledgling galaxies formed when the universe was just one billion years old. It's being employed in efforts to estimate the age of the universe. A number of powerful land-based telescopes, recently built or under construction, will help cosmologists construct a map of the universe.

The Keck Telescope in Hawaii has revealed the elusive brown dwarfs. X-ray detecting satellites-ROSAT and the soon-to-be launched AXAF-provide a wealth of data about galaxy formation. Particle accelerators and detectors continue to yield new information about the fundamental nature of matter. Supercomputers have become so powerful that theories about the evolution of the universe can be tested and realistically compared with observations.

Michael Norman, NCSA/Univ. of Illinois, on-camera
Movie/Sound Byte
QuickTime Movie (2.4 MB); Sound File (1.4 MB); Text

Yet the essential vision of cosmology remains the same; humans seem to be hard-wired with a desire to understand the universe and our place in it. The questions cosmologists we ask are so fundamental; it's almost as if they belong to the realm of theology:

How did the universe begin?

What was it like in the beginning?

How did the cosmos evolve?

Will it (and time) have an end? If so, how?

We may never answer these questions to everyone's satisfaction; they may be simply out of reach of cosmologists and theologians alike. But increasingly sophisticated technology promises to bring us closer to the answers.

Seeing the Universe with New Eyes
The Cosmos in a Box, and How the Box got Bigger
Crisis in Cosmology? Or Turning Point?
What Lies Ahead?

Return to Cosmology Goes Digital
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Copyright, (c) 1995: Board of Trustees, University of Illinois

NCSA. Last modified 10/10/95.