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Semester 1

Astrobiology (PHYS08051)


Physics and Astronomy





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It is recommended that students have Higher or GCSE maths, or equivalent.

Course Summary

Astrobiology is an interdisciplinary science that examines the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the Universe. Areas that fall within its boundaries include the formation of planets and stars, the development of habitable conditions on planets, the origin of life, the evolution of life, life's limits in extreme environments and the potential for life on other planets. The course provides a framework for introducing a wide range of topics in astronomy, physics, earth sciences, chemistry, biology at introductory level. Lectures study the structure of life, the origin of life, past and present conditions on Mars and icy worlds such as Europa, the search for extrasolar planets and the possibility of detecting signatures of life elsewhere.

Course Description

Basic Properties of Matter:- Behaviour of gases, liquids and solidsProperties and relationships of life:- Biological molecules, cells- Energy acquisition by life- The tree of life (phylogenetics)Planets and star formation: Exoplanets- Planet and star formation- Solar System dynamics- Detection of extrasolar planets, methods to find them and detect biosignaturesOrigin of life - Conditions during the first billion years of Earth history (Hadean)- Hypotheses for the origin of lifeLife in Extremes:- Thermodynamics of life in extremes- Biophysical adaptations to extremes- Physical properties of extreme environmentsHistory of Earth and Life and their co-evolution:- Major geological periods in Earth history- Radiometric and relative age dating of rocks (e.g. isochron method)- Isotopic and other methods to find preserved life.- The reasons for the rise of oxygen- Mechanisms and significance of mass extinctionsHabitability of planets- The habitable zone and conditions for liquid water- Carbonate-silicate cycle and other factors that control habitability- Conditions, past and present, on Mars and icy moons of the Solar System- Methods to search for life beyond Earth- Possibility of intelligence elsewhere.Astrobiology is an interdisciplinary science that examines the origin, evolution, distribution and future of life in the Universe.

Assessment Information

Written Exam 75%, Coursework 25%, Practical Exam 0%

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