Astrobiology is the relatively new science concerning the occurrence of life as we understand the concept in the Universe. How it forms, evolve, and how it is distributed. Under what circumstances does it occur and how can it thrive or perish. But why study astrobiology now? We only have data from one place in the Universe where life definitely has emerged and currently occurs.
The answer is that Astrobiology is one of the most cross-disciplinary of sciences that we have come up with and that it offers a broad understanding of ourselves. It addresses some of the most profound issues of human consideration. What is life? How did it arise on the Earth? How did it evolve? Are we alone? It connects science with philosophy and it may even have an impact on one of the big issues in human life today, i.e. climatic change.
The course will cover the following topics:
- Introduction: Life beyond the Earth; Life in the solar system versus life in the Universe as a whole. How can science help us answer the fundamental questions concerning how life originates? Where and how do we search for life outside the Earth? Astrobiology is a new science – how does it establish itself as a discipline?
- Background and history: the ancient ideas (e.g. Plato), the Copernican revolution, Enlightenment vs religion, the modern ideas; Astrobiology turns into a science.
- The astronomical context (“Astronomy 101”): this topic is intended for both those who come to the course with little or no knowledge of the astronomical context. But it is also intended to be useful for students who have studied astronomy because it provides another perspective.
- Habitable planets: why is the Earth an abode for life, i.e. why is it ‘habitable’? History of the life on Earth; How did the Earth get an atmosphere and oceans? Early life and geology; Climate changes (natural) and its impact on life; Extinctions. What do we think will be the most interesting places to look for life outside the Earth? Could habitable planets be orbiting red dwarf stars? How do we find planets orbiting stars other than the Sun? And why do we think we need planets in order to have life at all? What have we discovered so far?
- Life on the Earth as a reference: What is life? Cells and the chemistry of life; RNA and DNA life; Extremophiles – do they tell us something? Could life work in ways significantly differently from at the Earth? How likely is life? The origin and evolution of life on the Earth.
- How does habitable planet form? How do you find out if a planet is habitable in principle, and how do you detect the presence of life at interstellar distances?
- Life in the solar system: How do you search for it on Mars, Jupiter’s or Saturn’s moons?; Search for ExtraTerrestrial Intelligence (SETI); Interplanetary and Interstellar travel in this context.
The course is intended to give a (relatively) complete overview of the basics of Astrobiology, as well as some idea about future developments.
In this course, students will be trained in the following behaviour-oriented skills:
- Problem solving (recognizing and analyzing problems, solution-oriented thinking)
- Analytical skills (analytical thinking, abstraction, evidence)
- Structured thinking (structure, modulated thinking, computational thinking, programming)
- Written communication (writing skills, reporting, summarizing)
- Flexibility (adaptability, dealing with change, teachability, eagerness to learn)
- Critical thinking (asking questions, check assumptions)
- Creative thinking (resourcefulness, curiosity, thinking out of the box)
Mode of instruction
- Exercise classes
- Homework assignments: 30%
- Written exam: 70%, see Examination schedules Astronomy bachelor
Blackboard will be used to communicate with students and to share lecture slides, homework assignments, and any extra materials. You must enroll on Blackboard before the first lecture. To have access, you need a student ULCN account.
Lecture notes will be made available through Blackboard on the day the lecture is given.
Register via uSis. More information about signing up for classes and exams can be found here. Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Prospective students website for information on how to register. For a la carte and contract registration, please see the dedicated section on the Prospective students website.