It's been quite a few weeks since I did a talk at NASTRO. Real life stuff and travelling to Malaysia and Singapore got in the way. The astronomy part of me never switches off though. Standing at the top of Marina Bay Sands with the stunning vista of the Singapore skyline around me....I was the only idiot looking up at the sky for my first view of alpha Centauri and hoping the cloud in front of the Southern Cross would hurry up and shift. And all the while wishing they'd switch the bloody laser show off. They really haven't heard of light pollution in Singapore.
Next Thursday (July 10th) I'm back at NASTRO and doing another part of my introduction to astronomy course. This time it's cosmology. Much of modern cosmology is entirely uncontroversial: that the universe has a finite age and that the Big Bang model accounts for the expansion, composition and structure we see today. Detailed analysis of the cosmological data suggests that much of the mass in the universe is in a form which doesn't shine or interact with normal matter (so-called dark matter) and that the universe expansion is actually accelerating, driven by a so-called dark energy whose origin and precise nature is not understood. A minority of scientists think the problems of not yet finding direct evidence of dark matter or having to introduce dark energy into cosmological equations can be resolved if we accept that gravity begins to behave differently on the largest scales imaginable.
I hope to touch on all of these issues during the lecture on Thursday. I'm going with the evocative title "In the beginning..." because religious texts often try to explain the origin of the universe (or the world) but fail because their authors didn't have access to the full range of evidence that modern day scientists do. Most people I've met - religious and secular - want to know about why the universe looks the way it does. Maybe it comes down to a basic human curiosity to know the answer or a deeper need to understand one's place in the universe during the short span of our lives. Either way, we are all fortunate to be living in a golden age of cosmology where not only can we ask the big questions, but there is hope we can finally learn the answers.
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Dr Adrian Jannetta. Amateur astronomer, maths teacher and science enthusiast.