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?
- Prof. James M. Cordes, Dr. Shami Chatterjee
- Class meets: T,R 11:40-12:55 PM, SSB 105.
- Office hours by appointment after class.
- Sullivan & Baross (Editors), Planets and Life: The Emerging Science of Astrobiology (2007).
- Ward & Brownlee, Rare Earth (2000).
- Domagal-Goldman, Wright, et al. (2016), The Astrobiology Primer v2.0 (Local PDF version; HTML version).
TopicsSyllabus (PDF) - last revised 2018 Jan 24.
- Origins of Everything: The Universe, the first elements, galaxies, and the Cosmic Web.
- Stars, elements, and stellar graveyards.
- Formation of planetary systems: Our solar system, structure, planets, and debris.
- Life on Earth: Requirements, timelines, hazards, extinctions.
- Life in the solar system: Exploration of the usual suspects. (Who are they?)
- Exoplanets and the number of Earths in the Galaxy.
- Remote sensing of exoplanet atmospheres and the Galaxy: Biomarkers and technomarkers.
- Future prospects for terrestrial life: whither Homo Sapiens?
Lecture notes will be posted here as PDF files — please check regularly.
- Lecture 1: Introduction (PDF)
- Lecture 2: Drake Equation and Cosmology (PDF)
- Lecture 3: Cosmology, Galaxies, Olbers Paradox (PDF)
- Lecture 4: The Expansion of the Universe (PDF)
- Lecture 5: The Cosmic Microwave Background, the Elements (PDF)
- Lecture 6: Stars and Nucleosynthesis (PDF)
- Lecture 7: Stellar Evolution (PDF)
- Lecture 8: The Sun, Fusion in Stars, Star Formation (PDF)
- Lecture 9: Star Formation and Angular Momentum (PDF)
- Lecture 10: Magnetic Fields, Disks, Planets (PDF)
- Lecture 11: Solar System Earth, Moon (PDF)
- Lecture 12: Asteroids, Comets, Hills radius, Lagrange points, 'Oumuamua (PDF)
- Lecture 13: Impacts, Extinctions, the K-T Extinction Event (PDF)
- Lecture 14: Water and Life (PDF)
- Lecture 15: Habitable Zones (PDF)
- Lecture 16: Life and Evolution (PDF)
- Lecture 17: Origin of Life, Life on Mars (PDF)
- Lecture 18: Europa and Enceladus (PDF)
- Lecture 19: Titan and the Methane HZ (PDF)
- Lecture 20: Exoplanet Detection Methods 1 (PDF)
- Lecture 21: Exoplanet Detection Methods 2 (PDF)
- Lecture 22: Exoplanet Statistics (PDF)
- Lecture 23: Biomarkers, Technomarkers, the Drake Equation (PDF)
- Lecture 24: The Fermi Paradox, the Drake Equation, and SETI (PDF)
- Lecture 25: The Future of Human Civilization (PDF)
- Notes on cosmology.
- Synthesis of the Elements in the Stars - you are NOT expected to read the whole thing! Just skim it to get a sense for the depth of our understanding.
- The basics of stars.
- How to Characterize Habitable Worlds and Signs of Life, Annual Review by Kaltenegger (2018).
- Assignment 1, due Thursday Feb 15.
- Assignment 2, due Tuesday Mar 6.
- Topic selection, due Thursday Mar 22. Hand in a sheet of paper with your selection (longer paper, presentation and shorter paper, or debate and shorter paper) and chosen topic for review / comment.
- Assignment 3, due Thursday Mar 29. Also: Solutions to Assignment 3.
- Final paper draft or outline with references, due Thursday Apr 26.
- Assignment 4, due Thursday May 3.
- Final paper due by 4:00 PM on Friday May 11 - at Astronomy Department office, SSB 616.
Midterm: In class, 2018 March 15th.
Final Exam: Monday, 2018 May 14th, 2:00-4:00 PM, in SSB 105.