Astro 4C, Section 1, Tu/Th 1:30 - 2:45

Professor: Chris Taylor                                                                                            Office: 438 Sequoia Hall

 Phone: 278-6480                                                                      Office Hours: M/F: 1:00 - 1:50, F: 3:00 - 3:50
E-mail: ctaylor (at)                                                                                            also by appointment 

Class announcements

Aug. 29
First Day of Class! A printable copy of the syllabus is available in PDF format.
Oct. 16
The answer key for Exam 1 is available.


Week of
Material Covered
Aug 29,  31
Chapter 1 -- A Universe of Life       What is Astrobiology?
Sept. 5, 7
Chapter 2 -- The Science of Life in the Universe  Ancient Science 
Greek Astronomy     Copernicus To Newton      What Is Science?      Gravity
Sept 12, 14
Chapter 3 -- The Universal Context of Life   The Size of the Universe
What's In the Universe?     The History of the Universe     Solar Systems    
Matter and Energy    The Formation of Solar Systems
Sept 19, 21
Chapter 4 -- The Habitability of Earth    Geology and Life     
History of Earth and Life
Sept. 26, 28
Chapter 4 (continued)  Radiometric Dating     The Geological Record
The Hadean Eon
Oct. 3, 5
Chapter 4 (continued) The Earth's Interior     Plate Tectonics    
Earth's Magnetic Field
  Climate and The Greenhouse Effect    
Long Term Climate Change
Chapter 5 -- The Nature of Life on Earth  The Definition of Life
Evolution and Life
Oct. 10, 12
Chapter 5 (continued) Cells    Metabolism     DNA and Heredity
Oct. 17, 19
Chapter 6 -- The Origin and Evolution of Life on Earth    When Did Life Begin?
How Did Life Begin?   Panspermia  The Early Evolution of Life
Oct. 24, 26
Chapter 7 -- Searching for Life in Our Solar System    The Cambrian Explosion 
The Rise of Oxygen     Impacts and Extinctions  
The Environmental Requirements for Life
Oct. 31, Nov. 2

Life and the Inner Solar System     Life and the Outer Solar System     
Solar System Exploration.
Chapter 8 -- Mars    Mars and Pop Culture   Mars' Atmosphere and Surface
Nov. 7, 9
Mars' Water      Climate Change on Mars     Searching for Life on Mars
The Martian Meteroite
Chapter 9 -- Life on Jovian Moons
An Overview of the Jovian Moons    Habitability of the Jovian Moons
Nov. 14, 16
Life on Europa    Life on Titan
Chapter 10 -- The Nature and Evolution of Habitability

The Habitability Zone    Venus and Habitability 
Habitability and Planet Characteristics
Nov. 21

The Sun's Habitable Zone   Earth's Future Habitability
Chapter 11 -- Habitability Outside the Solar System
Stars and Habitability       Detecting Extrasolar Planets    
 Types of Extrasolar Planets
Nov. 28, 30
Chapter 12 -- The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence
Dec. 5, 7
Chapter 13 -- Interstellar Travel and the Fermi Paradox

Final Exam: Thursday Dec. 14,  12:45 PM - 2:45 PM

Course Goals:
  1. Students will understand the place of life in the physical Universe.

  2. Students will be able to explain how scientists use knowledge of physics, chemistry and biology to evaluate the likelihood of life evolving in locations outside the Earth.

  3. Students will be able to describe how the physical conditions of locations in our Solar System make these locations either suitable or unsuitable for life.

  4. Students will be able to describe how the physical conditions of extra solar planets make them either suitable or unsuitable for life.

  5. Students will be able to use scientific inquiry and the scientific method to evaluate controversial ideas, e.g. the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence, the Drake Equation, the Fermi Paradox.

Required Text:

Life in the Universe, 4th edition, by Bennett and Shostak. 

Required Equipment:
         We will be using the Top Hat ( classroom response system in class. You will be able to submit answers to in-class                      
         questions using Apple or Android smartphones and tablets, laptops, or through text message.

You can visit the Top Hat Overview ( within the Top Hat Success Center which outlines how you will register for a Top Hat account, as well as providing a brief overview to get you up and running on the system.

An email invitation will be sent to you by email, but if donít receive this email, you can register by simply visiting our course website:
Note: our Course Join Code is: 700862

Top Hat will require a paid subscription, and a full breakdown of all subscription options available can be found here:

Should you require assistance with Top Hat at any time, due to the fact that they require specific user information to troubleshoot these issues, please contact their Support Team directly by way of email (, the in app support button, or by calling 1-888-663-5491.

Final course grades will be based upon homework, the average of  3 exams, a cumulative final exam, and class participation during in-class exercises.  Students who successfully complete the Commit to Study contract will be able to drop the lowest midterm exam and the three lowest homework scores.

Homework  SacCT
Exam 1
Exam 2
Class participation
Final Exam

Homework will be assigned on SacCT by Friday each week, and will be due before class the next Tuesday.  You will always have the weekend to work on the homework assignments.  All homework assignments are done using SacCT!!

Exams will be mulitple choice, and you will need to bring a General Purpose Pearson NCS Answer Sheet, form no. 4521 (available from the bookstore), and a number 2 pencil. You will also have to bring photo ID to all exams!

Letter grades will be assigned as follows:

less than 55%

Contacting Me
The best way is by e-mail, since I don't check my voice mail very often.  Coming to office hours is also good, and any time my door is open, please come in.

Attendance is not mandatory, but is highly encouraged.  If you miss an in-class exercise, then you will receive zero points for it, which will be reflected in your grade.  Class participation is 15%  of your final course grade, and you can't earn any class participation points if you aren't here!  Each class participation question is worth two points:  you get one point for being here and answering the question, and an additional point for getting the answer right.

Make up Exams:
I will announce exam dates at least 2 weeks in advance of the exam.  If you have a conflicting activity that cannot be rescheduled, you must see me at least 2 days before the exam. If you don't, there will be no opportunity to make it up. You must bring me documentation of your conflicting activity (i.e. if you have jury duty that day, show me the form they sent you.  If you have a brain transplant scheduled, bring me a note from the surgeon).

Algebra is required in this course.  I plan the exams so that you cannot get an A if you get all the math problems wrong.  However, if you get every math problem wrong, but get everything else right, you can still get a B

Calculators are allowed on the exams.  Cell phones or any other devices with calculator apps are not allowed.

Cell phone:
Please turn your cell phone to vibrate before class starts.  Cell phones that ring in the middle of class are disrespectful to your fellow students, and to me.  If your cell phone goes off in class and it is a call you must take, please go into the hallway to answer it.

The faculty of the Department of Physics and Astronomy do not tolerate academic dishonesty. Falsification of data,
copying, unauthorized collaborations, plagiarism,
alteration of graded materials or other actions (as described in,
but not necessarily
limited to the CSUS Policy Manual) will be promptly reported to the Office of Student
Affairs. The offending student will be penalized on the assignment in question.  Serious infractions will result in course
failure and a recommendation for administrative

Students with disabilities:
Please see me before the end of the first week of class.

Chris Taylor :  ctaylor (at)