David C. Catling
COURSE TITLE: "PLANETARY SCIENCES AND ASTROBIOLOGY"
"Planetary sciences" combines astronomy, geology, geophysics & atmospheric sciences for understanding our solar system. "Astrobiology" is concerned with the history of life and the question of life elsewhere. This course reviews evolutionary processes on celestial bodies relevant to astrobiology, including Earth, Mars, Venus, outer planet satellites (the Galilean satellites, Titan and Triton, in particular), and extrasolar planets. Students will learn about how planetary surfaces and atmospheres have evolved and what makes a planet habitable.
Student learning goals
General method of instruction
This class is primarily a lecture course. But it's meant to be pretty informal with plenty of discussion. Sometimes, we'll examine hand samples/ specimens where relevant (e.g., early rocks from Earth containing signs of life, maps/globes of Venus/Mars/Earth, etc.).
(**WARNING**: This class contains discussions of scientific knowledge that may lead to decreased ignorance and even sensations of awe and wonder sometimes.)
If you have questions about the course, please feel free to e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org). It is not especially important whether you've done ASTR 101/150 or not. The main thing is that you're a science/eng major and very curious about fundamental science. Astrobiology seeks to understand the origin of the building blocks of life, how these biogenic compounds combine to create life, and how life affects - and is affected by - the environment from which it arose. Another issue is whether and how life expands beyond its planet of origin. If you're interested in what modern science has to say about these basic questions, that's what I'm hoping for. One prerequisite is a knowledge of calculus. This is an upper level course and so we use calculus in aspects of geophysics/astronomy to understand planetary evolution.
Class assignments and grading
Assessment is via homeworks with problem sets, a midterm, and a final.