COAS | The Search for Habitable Planets
S105 | 0120 | Durisen

Seminar 0120 1:25p-2:15p MWF

Is there life, possibly intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe? Are there other planets in our Solar System or in planetary systems around other stars where life can evolve and survive? How much like Earth do planets have to be in order to support life? Are they common or rare? In this seminar, we will consider these and related questions from a variety of perspectives, with an emphasis on evidence supplied by astronomical observations and theories. Seminar content will include: the overall scale and organization of structure in the Universe, the formation of stars and planets, the physical processes that affect the habitability of planets, and current and future efforts to detect planets around other stars. Because the question of life in the Universe outside the Earth does not yet have a definitive scientific answer, part of the seminar will be devoted to sharing the ideas and opinions of the seminar participants. We will also explore portrayals of alien life in literature and other media, both popular and obscure.

There will be a textbook and required readings, plus some lectures and demonstrations concerning essential background material. However, the seminar will emphasize individual and group student-based learning through projects, discussions, and activities, including computer-based and Web-based exercises. A semester-long project will involve thinking through the colonization and exploration of an alien planet. The course is designed to be completely accessible to non-science majors, but freshman science majors are certainly welcome to participate.