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AST 309L · Search for Extraterrestrial Life    1   2   3   4   5  

I. Habitable planets
11.1 Overview in terms of the "Drake equation" (11.1)
Ch. 1 Review of astronomy, origin of elements, disk and planet formation (covered in much more detail in class and outside readings).
Ch. 2 You are only required to read 41-48.
Ch. 9 (Evolution and) Habitability
9.1 Habitable zone, 9.2 Venus as example, 9.3 Surface habitability, 9.4 Sun's habitable zone, 9.5 Future of life on Earth
Ch. 10 The Search for Habitable Worlds
10.1 Brief intro, 10.2 Stellar habitability, 10.3 Methods and discoveries of extrasolar planets (covered in much detail in class + outside reading).
10.4 Signatures of habitable planets (+ outside readings)
10.5 Earth-like planets - rare or common?
[Depending on time available, we may have to postpone 10.4 and 10.5 to the 2nd exam material.]
Outside reading: Two chapters from Koerner & LeVay's book (one on disks, the other on planet detection). These will be put at the web site so you can download them as pdf files.
.....Our first exam will occur here (Friday, Feb. 11).....

II. Origin of life by chemical evolution
Ch. 3 The nature of life on earth - characteristics of life, cells, metabolism, genomes, extremophiles. Topics I will cover in more depth in class are:
Elementary background on molecular bonds, chemical reactions and cell biology.
Why carbon? Why water? Alternative biochemistries.
Molecular basis of life - prebiotic organic molecules; amino acids, nucleotides, proteins, nucleic acids.
Ch. 5 Origin and Evolution of Life on Earth - We will only cover the "Origin" part of this chapter here, which means only subsections 5.1 and 5.2, especially 5.2. I will fill in more detail in class, especially concerning origin of life scenarios and problems. There will also be outside reading.
Alternate biochemistries again; strange life forms, artificial (digital) life (if time permits).
Panspermia (esp. from Mars) revisited.
Some outside reading possible.
.....Second exam here (Friday, March 4).....

III. Life in the Solar System?
Chapters 6 through 8
Ch. 6 Searching for life in our solar system
Ch. 7 Mars (+ additional readings on Mars missions)
Ch. 8 Jovian moons (+ additional readings on Titan mission)
.....Third exam here (Wednesday, March 30).....

IV. Terrestrial biological evolution and intelligence; extraterrestrial intelligence?
Ch. 4 Geological history of the earth - ages from radiometric dating, formation of Earth and Moon, Hadean Earth, climate change.
Outside reading: Snowball earth episodes?
Evolution - class lectures on the standard view of mutation, diversity, and natural selection; more recent developments; concept and importance of evolutionary convergence. We are mostly trying to understand the most important developments in evolution, and whether they would occur elsewhere, leading to "intelligence," at least as we know it.
Back to Ch. 5 (sections on evolution):
5.3 Early evolution and rise of oxygen ("oxygen catastrophe")
5.4 Development of eukaryotes
Class lecture: significance of photosynthesis, meiosis, ...
Outside reading on "Cambrian explosion"
5.5 Impacts and extinctions
5.6 Human evolution (discussion of human uniqueness and problems)
11.2 Intelligence - This will be supplemented with outside readings from cognitive science, cross-cultural and animal studies, artificial intelligence research. We will discuss in detail in class lectures. This is crucially important in designing strategies for signal detection (see below).
If time: postbiological evolution; artificial intelligence.
.....Fourth exam here (Friday, April 22).....

V. Modes of contact
Ch. 11 The search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI) - listening strategies
11.1 Drake equation (again). Emphasis on importance of lifetime of a technological civilization - how could L be large enough to allow contact?
11.3 SETI experiments (proposed encoding and signaling techniques, "magic frequencies," ongoing SETI programs)
11.4 SETI today
If time: The nature of language and its possible alternatives
Ch. 12 Interstellar Travel -- limiting factors, proposed designs. Possiblity of exotic physics
Ch. 13 The Fermi Paradox -- Galactic colonization and the "Where are they?" conundrum.
Ch. 14 Contact - Implications of search and discovery
In class lecture (time permitting):
UFO's, artifacts, abduction phenomena,...
.....Fifth (last) exam here, on last class day (Friday, May 6).

There is no comprehensive final. You should be able to compute your final average score (we will give you a formula to help) and so you will know your letter grade in the course after receiving the results of the 5th exam. The only exceptions would be borderline cases.

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8 February 2005
Astronomy Program · The University of Texas at Austin · Austin, Texas 78712
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