New Horizons for Observational Cosmology

This school comes at a unique time in cosmology. Our understanding of the Universe has been revolutionized by observations of the cosmic microwave background (in particular Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe), the large-scale structure of the universe (Two-degree-Field Galaxy Redshift Survey and Sloan Digital Sky Survey), and distant supernovae. These studies have conclusively shown that we are living in a strange Universe: 96% of the present-day energy density of the universe is dominated by the so-called dark matter and dark energy. However, we do not know what dark matter and dark energy actually are. The data also suggest that it is likely that the Universe underwent a rapid accelerating expansion phase in the very early universe called the inflationary phase. However, we still do not know how inflation happened.

Now, we are about to have another revolution in cosmology because, during the next couple of years, we expect to see a further qualitative jump in our knowledge of the Universe. The Planck satellite collaboration, mostly funded by ESA, in particular, will publish the first cosmological results by early 2013 (post). Planck will provide an essentially complete view of temperature anisotropy of the Cosmic Microwave Background. A host of ground-based experiments measuring polarization of the cosmic microwave background (e.g., ACTpol, SPTpol, Polarbear, BICEP) will report their results soon. The next-generation galaxy surveys (BOSS, DES, HSC, HETDEX) will begin to yield data. These new data will undoubtedly address fundamental questions about the Universe: what is the nature of dark energy and dark matter? What powered the Big Bang? Did inflation occur? If it did, how did it occur? What is the mass of neutrinos? When and how were the first stars and galaxies formed? Now is an ideal time to organize a school focused on these subjects, as we enter a new revolution in cosmology.