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Introduction to Astrobiology


Module description

This course is designed to provide a basic introduction to the exciting new field of astrobiology - the study of the astronomical and planetary context within which life on Earth has evolved, and the implications for the prevalence of life elsewhere in the Universe.

It will:

  • introduce you to the astronomical background of the origin of life, including the origin of the necessary chemical elements and the origin and evolution of the Solar System
  • introduce the concept of pre-biological chemical evolution, and familiarise you with the key theories and experimental results in this area
  • provide you with an overview of the history of life on Earth and its relevance for life elsewhere, with special reference to extremophilic life
  • outline the prospects for life elsewhere in the Universe, both in our own Solar System and on the newly discovered planets around other stars
  • introduce you to the scientific and philosophical issues concerning the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence.

Indicative module content

  • Origin and distribution of biologically important chemical elements
  • Conditions in the early solar system
  • Earliest evidence for life on Earth - some biological basics
  • Pre-biological chemical evolution
  • Astrobiological implications of the history of life on Earth
  • Requirements for life
  • Prospects for life on Mars
  • Life elsewhere in the Solar System
  • Planets around other stars
  • The search for extraterrestrial intelligence

    Learning objectives

    By the end of the module, you will have developed:

    • an understanding of scientific hypothesis development and testing
    • the ability to relate specific knowledge to a broader context
    • the ability to integrate a wide range of knowledge, from several different scientific disciplines
    • general/transferable skills (including key skills)
    • familiarity with basic scientific concepts
    • writing and presentation skills
    • the ability to interpret numerical and graphical data.