ASTR E-80 Planets, Moons, and the Search for Alien Life
Fall term 2017 CRN 15072
Astrobiology, the subject of this course, is a new discipline born out of the convergence of all scientific inquiry currently under way on the question of the origin and development of life here on Earth and potentially elsewhere in the Universe. Recent advances in planetary exploration, astronomy, geochemistry, and biochemistry are leading to a revolution in our ideas on the emergence of life on our own planet and the likelihood of finding life outside the Earth. In particular, much is being learned about Mars and Venus because of the many recent and ongoing space missions. Spectacular data from Jupiter's and Saturn's moons, like Titan, Europa, and Enceladus, show that these moons may become possible targets of future searches for life in our solar system. Geochemists are finding more and more intriguing clues about the Earth's past by analyzing rocks dating from the very first period after the Earth's formation, thus providing a fundamentally new context for research on the transition between chemistry and primordial life. And astronomers have been recently successful in searching for planets around other stars. Searches for extra-solar planets are currently under way and are leading to the discovery of Earth-like planets around solar-type stars.