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 topics class, we will consider these and related questions from a variety of perspectives, with an emphasis on evidence supplied by astronomical observations and theories.
Course content will include – the overall scale and organization of structure in the Universe, the formation of stars and planets, the nature and history of life on Earth, 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 course will be devoted to sharing student ideas and opinions. We will also explore portrayals of alien life in literature and other entertainment media. There will be a textbook and required readings, plus lectures and demonstrations concerning essential background material.
However, a significant component of the course will involve individual and group student- based learning through projects, discussions, and activities, including computer-based and Web-based exercises. A semester-long group project will involve the creation and exploration of a hypothetical alien planet. The course is designed to be completely accessible to nonscience majors, but science majors are certainly welcome to participate.