Physical cosmology, as a branch of astronomy, is the study of the largest-scale structures and dynamics of the universe and is concerned with fundamental questions about its formation and evolution. For most of human history, it was a branch of metaphysics and religion. Cosmology as a science originated with the Copernican principle, which implies that celestial bodies obey identical physical lawsto those on earth, and Newtonian mechanics, which first allowed us to understand those laws.
Physical cosmology, as it is now understood, began with the twentieth century development of Albert Einstein's general relativity|general theory of relativity and better astronomical observations of extremely distant objects. These advances made it possible to speculate about the origin of the universe, and allowed scientists to establish the Big Bang as the leading cosmological model. Few researchers still advocate any of a handful of alternative cosmologies, and professional cosmologists generally agree that the Big Bang best explains observations.
Cosmology draws heavily on the work of many disparate areas of research in physics. Areas relevant to cosmology include particle physics experiments and particle physics phenomenology|theory, including string theory, astrophysics, general relativity, and plasma physics. Thus, cosmology unites the physics of the largest structures in the universe with the physics of the smallest structures in the universe.
- For an overview, Issues in the Philosophy of Cosmology, Pages 1183, 2006, George FR Ellis, http://arxiv.org/abs/astro-ph/0602280v2}