AST f309L: Extraterrestrial Life


First Summer Session 2014
1:00 - 2:30 pm
Classroom: RLM 15.216B

Instructor: Michael Endl

e-mail: mike [at]

phone: 512-471-8312

office: RLM 17.328

Office hours: Thu, 11:00am - 12:30pm

Teaching Assistant: Wenbin Lu

e-mail: wenbinlu [at]

phone: 512-471-8275

office: RLM 16.312

Office hours: Mon, 4:00-5:00pm

Did you ever wonder about one (or several) of the following questions?

- are we alone in the Universe?
- do other stars have planets too?
- is there current or past life on Mars?
- how many Earth-like planets do we know?
- what are the basic requirements for life as we know it?
- what kind of stars have planets?
- can we communicate with alien civilizations?
- how do we search for planets orbiting other stars?
- is there a liquid subsurface ocean on Jupiter's moon Europa?
- when did life first emerge on Earth?
- is our Solar System special?
- how can we probe atmospheres of planets in other star systems?
- can we detect life on other planets?

If the answer is "YES" than this summer course is for YOU! The course will discuss the current answers from modern astronomy, astrophysics and astrobiology. It is split roughly into two parts: part one will review the history of life on Earth, and the potential of life somewhere else in our Solar System (Mars, Europa, Titan, etc.), in the second part we will leave the Solar System and discuss the search for exoplanets, planets orbiting other stars than the Sun. We conclude the course with a discussion about SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Much of what is covered in this course has been discovered over the past few years.

The course level is designed for non-science majors. Basic mathematical and astronomical (AST 301 course) knowledge are required.

radio dish

At the end of the course you will have a basic understanding of the astronomical techniques to detect and characterize exoplanets. You will also have an overview of the properties and statistics of exoplanets and their host stars. And you will have knowledge about astrobiological topics like what life is, how life works, what habitats of alien life we can imagine, and about the Search For Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI).

The lecture slides represent the basis of this course (there will also be handouts). The slides for each class will become availabe to download from UT Blackboard We have an optional textbook: "Life in The Universe" 3rd edition by Bennett and Shostak

There will be a written exam at the end of each week (5 in total) about the previous classes. Dates for the exams are: Jun 13 (exam 1), Jun 20 (exam 2), Jun 27 (exam 3), Jul 3 (exam 4, this is a Thursday) and Jul 10 (exam 5, last day of class, this is a Thursday). Students can drop (or miss) one of the 5 exams. (This means that if you are happy with your grade from the first 4 exams that you don't need to come to exam 5. However, you DO need to come to all lectures in the last week to finish the course.) There will be four homework assignments. Final grade will be based on the 4 written exams, the 4 homeworks and attendance & participation (70% exams, 20% homework and 10% participation & attendance).
Grading Scheme:
90-100: A+,A,A-
80-89: B+,B,B-
70-79: C+,C,C-
60-69: D+,D,D-
<60: F

COURSE SCHEDULE: (subject to change)

Week 1: (Jun 5 - 13)
Scientific Method, Habitability of Earth, Life on Earth
Week 2: (Jun 16 - 20)
Life in the Solar System: Mars, Europa, Titan, Enceladus
Week 3: (Jun 23 - 27)
Planets around other stars I
Week 4: (Jun 30 - Jul 3)
Extrasolar Planets II: Kepler
Week 5: (Jul 7 - 10)

Course Conduct:
Please turn off cell phones before you enter the classroom. Also, please do not leave class early unless you have talked to me in advance, as consideration for your fellow students. The usage of laptops to follow the lecture slides and to take notes is permitted, but any other activity (e-mail, facebook, etc) is not allowed in the classroom. Academic dishonesty, including cheating, plagiarism, and fabrication, as defined in the U of Texas Honor Code ( - Sec-11-802-Scholastic-Dishonesty), is serious offense for which a disciplinary proceeding may be initiated. This includes copying any homework assignments or exams. If very similar work is submitted, all parties involved will receive a zero for their assignment.

e-mail: mike [at]

artist's conception

Artist's conception [NASA]


Michael Endl

RLM 17.328 · (512) 471-8312 · email

Office Hours



Wenbin Lu