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Field of study that brings together the natural sciences, especially astronomy and physics, in an effort to understand the physical universe as a unified whole. The first great age of scientific cosmology began in Greece in the 6th century BC, when the Pythagoreans introduced the concept of a spherical Earth and, unlike the Babylonians and Egyptians, hypothesized that the heavenly bodies moved according to the harmonious relations of natural laws. Their thought culminated in the Ptolemaic model (seePtolemy) of the universe (2nd century AD). The Copernican revolution (seeCopernican system) of the 16th century ushered in the second great age. The third began in the early 20th century, with the formulation of special relativity and its development into general relativity by Albert Einstein. The basic assumptions of modern cosmology are that the universe is homogeneous in space (on the average, all places are alike at any time) and that the laws of physics are the same everywhere.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on cosmology, visit Britannica.com.