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Introduction to Astrobiology


  • Credit value: 15 credits at Level 5
  • Convenor: Dr Andrew Rushby
  • Assessment: a 2000-word essay (50%) and 2.5-hour examination (50%)

Module description

In this module we introduce you 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.

You will learn about 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. We will also introduce you to the concept of pre-biological chemical evolution, and familiarise you with the key theories and experimental results in this area. You will gain an overview of the history of life on Earth and its relevance for life elsewhere, with special reference to extremophilic life, and of the prospects for life elsewhere in the universe, both in our own solar system and on the newly discovered planets around other stars. Finally we introduce you to the scientific and philosophical issues concerning the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligence.

Indicative syllabus

  • 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.