ASTR S-80 Planets, Moons and Their Stars: the Search for Life in the Cosmos
Astrobiology is a new discipline born out of the convergence of all scientific inquiry currently under way on the question of the origin and development of life here on Earth, and potentially elsewhere in the universe. Recent advances in planetary exploration, astronomy, geochemistry, and biochemistry are leading to a revolution in our ideas on the emergence of life on our own planet and the likelihood of finding life outside the Earth. In particular, much is being learned about Mars and Venus because of the many recent and ongoing space missions. Spectacular data from Jupiter's and Saturn's moons, like Titan, Europa, and Enceladus, show that these moons may become possible targets of future searches for life. Geochemists are finding more and more intriguing clues about the Earth's past by analyzing rocks dating from the very first period after the Earth's formation, thus providing a fundamentally new context for research on the transition between chemistry and primordial life. And the search for extra-solar planets is leading to the discovery of Earth-like planets around solar-type stars. In this course, students are introduced to current and planned telescopic space missions aimed at finding and characterizing exoplanets and robotic missions, such as the Mars rovers. The course also covers current ideas about the role of stars and their evolution in the habitability of planets and in the chemistry of galaxies.