AST 309L

Extraterrestrial Life

Fall 1999

TTH 11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
WEL 3.502
Unique No. 44970

INSTRUCTOR: Dr. Paul Harvey
Office: RLM 16.230
Phone: 471-3452
Office Hours: TTH 10:00 - 11:00 a.m., or anytime by appointment


REQUIRED TEXT: Extraterrestrial Life, 4th Ed, by Evans
OTHER REFERENCES: The Universe and Life, by Kutter; The Search for Life in the Universe, by Goldsmith and Owen
GRADES: There will be 5 tests. The lowest of the test scores will be dropped. There will be absolutely no make-up tests, no matter how good your reason is for missing the test. (If you have an excused absence, talk to me BEFORE the test about taking it early.) If you contact me about your problem after the test has taken place or have simply not had time to study because your best friend just broke up with his girlfriend and you had to spend all night drinking with him, you clearly have to plan on dropping that test! Dropping the lowest test score will cover the situation where a test is missed due to illness. Tests will be a combination of multiple choice, true-false, and essay questions. Cheating will be dealt with very harshly; don't do it!
TENTATIVE SCHEDULE: Readings in Evans' Text (subject to small changes)

Date Chapter Viewgraph Harvey on travel * Date Chapter Viewgraph Harvey on travel
Aug 26 1 1A, 1B * Oct 14 6A  
Aug 31 2 2A, 2B, 2C * Oct 19 Test 3? X
Sep 2 3 A-B 3A, 3B, 3C, 3D * Oct 21 Test 3? X
Sep 7 3 C-D 3E, 3F, 3G 3H, 3I * Oct 26 6B
Sep 9 Test 1 * Oct 28 7 A-B
Sep 14 3 E-F 3J, 3K, 3L, 3M, 3N, 3O * Nov 2 7 C-D  
Sep 16 5A * Nov 4 8
Sep 21 5B * Nov 9 Test 4
Sep 23 5C * Nov 11 9 A-D
Sep 28 Test 2? X * Nov 16 9E, 10A
Sep 30 Test 2? * Nov 18 10A
Oct 5 4 A-B 4A, 4B * Nov 23 10 B,C
Oct 7 4 C-D 4C * Nov 30 Film: CI Survey
Oct 12 4 E-G * Dec 2 Test 5

Introductory Remarks to AST 309L
and Answers to Typical Questions

As I say on the course syllabus, this course will basically follow the Evans text from start to finish. I will, however, be passing out fairly regularly handouts of copies of newspaper articles and, perhaps, a few short magazine articles which present new results related to the class. I find this class a great deal of fun to teach because it combines so many different topics together. The course revolves around an equation (discussed in Chapter 1) called the "Drake Equation" which looks on the surface as an attempt to calculate how many intelligent extra-terrestrial civilizations exist with whom we might be able to communicate. In fact, the main point of this equation is to illuminate the various issues worth thinking about when we ask the question, "Is there anyone else out there?" After some introductory material to get us thinking about what we mean by life, we start out reviewing some basic astronomy which I'm hoping you will remember most of from your introductory astronomy classes. (If, in spite of the course prerequisite, you choose to take this class without having had some intro Astronomy course, I will leave it up to you to decide if that is the best choice!). After that, we cover topics in: planetary and solar system astronomy; biology and biochemistry; geology, paleontology, and evolution; some more detailed planetary astronomy; history (!) and the future of man on the Earth; and finally, interstellar communication and travel, including UFO's.

My tests typically consist of 25 - 30 multiple choice questions and a few essay questions of which you can usually skip one. Your final grades will be curved based on the raw average of your best 4 grades. After each test, I will tell you what the curve would be if I were forced to give you a letter grade based on that one test. This should help you have a feeling for how you are doing. In general, I find that the final curve at the end of the course is a few points more forgiving than the raw scores, but not more than that.

I am quite open to questions and suggestions for topics to cover if there is time. I will have a small box available each class for you to drop questions or comments into after each class (anonymously if you prefer). Although I have listed some official office hours on the syllabus, in general I am happy to see you in my office any time you can catch me. Typically I am in my office or lab between 9:00 a.m. and late afternoon with the exception of my exercise times (lunch time MWF, and late afternoon TTh) and times of meetings and seminars in the Astronomy Department. By far the best thing to do if you want to see me is to arrange a meeting time by phone or just ask me at the end of some class what a good time would be to meet.

Every few times that I teach this class I receive a question about reconciling the material in this class with someone's religious beliefs. This class takes a scientific look at the issues related to the possible existence of life elsewhere in the universe than just Earth. I will assume that if you are taking this class, you will consider the possibility that life does, indeed, exist in other places, possibly even life as intelligent as we are. (In fact, the material presented, will make it very hard to believe that we are alone in the universe). In the course of our discussions, we will also be reviewing how intelligent life came to be on the Earth, based on geological, paleontological, and archeological evidence.