Cornell University

ASTRO 2299: The Search for Life in the Universe

Spring 2018


We are in the thick of a revolution in our understanding of our place in the Universe. The physical and chemical underpinnings of our biology are now understood. Every planet in our solar system has been visited (if briefly), and our robotic explorers are roving and orbiting our planetary neighbors. In the last twenty five years, we have gone from 9 planets around our Sun to thousands of planets in our Galaxy, including several that may have liquid water on their surface. We are building the next generation of telescopes on the ground and in space that will provide a census of Earth-like planets, the first spectra of extra-solar planets, and a survey of emission signatures of possible alien technological civilizations from gamma-rays to radio waves.

In this context, the "Fermi paradox" takes on particular resonance. Where is everyone? Are we alone? If so, what does that mean for our future? Or are we on the verge of discovering a Galaxy teeming with life?



  1. Sullivan & Baross (Editors), Planets and Life: The Emerging Science of Astrobiology (2007).
  2. Ward & Brownlee, Rare Earth (2000).
  3. Domagal-Goldman, Wright, et al. (2016), The Astrobiology Primer v2.0 (Local PDF version; HTML version).


Syllabus (PDF) - last revised 2018 Jan 24.
  1. Origins of Everything: The Universe, the first elements, galaxies, and the Cosmic Web.
  2. Stars, elements, and stellar graveyards.
  3. Formation of planetary systems: Our solar system, structure, planets, and debris.
  4. Life on Earth: Requirements, timelines, hazards, extinctions.
  5. Life in the solar system: Exploration of the usual suspects. (Who are they?)
  6. Exoplanets and the number of Earths in the Galaxy.
  7. Remote sensing of exoplanet atmospheres and the Galaxy: Biomarkers and technomarkers.
  8. Future prospects for terrestrial life: whither Homo Sapiens?

Lecture Notes

Lecture notes will be posted here as PDF files — please check regularly.


Sullivan & Baross (Eds) (per syllabus).
Ward & Brownlee (per syllabus).
Astrobiology Primer (per syllabus).

Other articles:

Homework Assignments


Midterm: In class, 2018 March 15th.

Final Exam: Monday, 2018 May 14th, 2:00-4:00 PM, in SSB 105.

Last Modified: S. Chatterjee, 2018 May 10   Valid CSS!