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Habitable Worlds: Possible Places for Life in the Solar System and Beyond

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Course DatesWeeksMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRN
July 07, 2014 - July 11, 20141M-F 9A-11:50AWaitlistedStephanie Quintana, Ronald Daly10561

Course Description

Does life exist anywhere else in the Solar System or galaxy? If you have ever looked at the sky and wondered if habitable worlds like (or unlike) ours exist elsewhere, then this is the class for you. This week-long course explores possible habitats for life on Mars, the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and exoplanets (planets around other stars). Along the way, you will learn about the latest NASA missions, like the Curiosity rover studying Mars, the Cassini spacecraft studying Saturn, the Kepler telescope that hunted for planets around other stars, and the soon-to-be launched James Webb Space Telescope.

This course focuses on the places where life might exist elsewhere in the Solar System or on exoplanets. We will learn about the habitable zone around stars and discuss the factors that make a planet (or moon) habitable: a possible refuge for life. We will examine some of the extreme places where life lives on Earth, explore other places where life might exist in our Solar System, and study the planets being discovered around other stars. Could one of these newly discovered exoplanets be habitable? After this class, you will be able to answer that question for yourself.
For this course's final project, you will study an exoplanet, applying what you have learned to decide whether it might be habitable. You will present your findings to your fellow classmates.

This interdisciplinary course combines elements of planetary science, astrobiology, astronomy, geology, biology, physics, and chemistry. It provides a foundation for further study in any of these fields.

By the end of this course, students will be able to critically analyze the habitability of a planet or moon orbiting the Sun or another star. They will know the factors that influence habitability and understand some of the ways scientists study potentially habitable worlds in our Solar System and beyond. And, students will be familiar with the fascinating questions that are currently unanswered.

The prerequisites for this course are algebra II and a year of earth and space science, physics, chemistry, or biology.