June 17 -- July 3        1:00 PM  - 4:00 PM

Instructor: Chris Taylor                                                                                                  Office: 438 Sequoia Hall

      Phone: 278-6480                                                                                                
E-mail: ctaylor (at)                                                             


Astrobiology: The Science of Astronomy and Biology

Are we alone in the Universe? The science of astrobiology combines work at the forefront of both astronomy and biology to try to answer this question.  Students will discuss the most basic definition of “life” and what it means to be a living creature.  Examples of life found in extreme conditions here on the Earth will be used to think about the possibility of life being found in hostile environments in space, on Mars or the moons of Jupiter, for example.  What sorts of locations exist in our Solar System that might be capable of harboring life?  Students will also learn about the most recent discoveries of planets around other stars, and discuss the prospects of life being able to survive there, and our chances of being able to actually see it.  They will calculate the odds of intelligent life existing elsewhere in the universe using the Drake equation.  Students will also employ critical thinking skills to distinguish science from pseudoscience in the case of UFOs. Students who complete course requirements at the A and B levels will be recommended for 1 unit of high school credit.

Material Covered
Monday, June 17
Properties of Life --   What is Life?   How to Identify Life 
Wednesday, June 19
Extremes of Life -- Extreme Conditions on Earth   Habitability --    Habitability of Earth
Monday, June 24
Habitability --   Life in the Solar System?  
Where Did Life Come From --  The Origin of Life in Space?
Wednesday, June 26
Extrasolar Planets --
How to Detect Extrasolar Planets    Properties of Extrasolar Planets
Extraterrestrial Intelligence -- UFOs 
Monday, July 1
Extraterrestrial Intelligence --   SETI
Wednesday, July 3
Extraterrestrial Intelligence -- The Fermi Paradox
What Would Aliens Look Like?  -- The Design-an-Alien Project

          In this class students will learn about the definition of life and what kinds of environments are capable of sustaining life.
          Students will also learn how astronomers discover planets around stars other than the Sun, and discuss the likelihood
          of those planets being habitable. Students will also discuss the possibility of intelligent life outside the Earth, and whether
          or not we could communicate with it.

Required Text:

          Readings from various web sites will be assigned in class.

Grades will be assigned on the basis of:

Participation in class discussions
Homework assignmentts
Two quizzes
Design an alien group project

Letter grades will be assigned as follows:

80% - 89%
70% - 79%
60% - 69%

Outside sources for additional reading (optional)

Astrobiology magazine:

Astrobiology, A Brief Introduction – Plaxco & Gross (2006)
Life in the Universe: A Beginner's Guide – Dartnell (2007)
Life in the Universe – Bennett & Shostak (2007)
Lonely Planets: the Natural Philosophy of Alien Life – Grinspoon (2004)
The Living Cosmos: Our Search for Life in the Universe – Impey (2007)

Chris Taylor :  ctaylor (at)