Wesley Andrés Watters / Courses

Titan (left), Namacalathus hermanastes (center), Mars (right)

ASTR 100: Life in the Universe / Fall-Spring 2011-12

In this course we'll explore some of the biggest questions that anyone has ever posed. How did life come about? What are the conditions for life elsewhere, and where else might we find life in the cosmos? What has been the history of life on Earth, and what will be its future? Are there other intelligent civilizations in the universe? Although ``life'' is in the title, this is an astronomy course: we will focus on environments for life in the universe, and the larger context in which life emerged. We will explore the fields of planetary science (the study of planets in our solar system), exoplanetary astronomy (the study of planets around other stars), and astrobiology (the study of life in extreme environments and the search for extra-terrestrial life). I will pepper the course with current events from all three of these fields, such as recent finds of ancient fossils, newly-discovered planets, and frequent updates from the Opportunity rover on Mars. This is an unusual kind of science course because it integrates material from many different disciplines, including geology, biology, physics, and astronomy. This is also what makes it a lot of fun: we have the chance to explore the connections between these fields and begin to see how science works as an integrated system of knowledge about the natural world.

ASTR/GEOS 223: Planetary Climates / Spring 2012

We've all heard about recent and ongoing climate change on Earth. What about the climate 100 million years ago, or weather patterns on Venus and climate change on Mars? In this course, we'll explore the evolution of the climate system on four worlds in our solar system: the Earth, Mars, Venus, and Saturn's moon Titan. We'll examine how geologists learn about the history of Earth's climate and how it has changed over time, as well as the sources of modern climate change and its impact on life. The course will also explore the techniques that planetary scientists use to learn about the atmospheres and surface environments on other worlds. We'll investigate the nature and origin of Venus' runaway greenhouse effect and examine the huge climatic changes that have happened on Mars, taking lessons from both worlds about possible futures of the Earth. The course also covers the exciting new field of "Titan climatology": the climate of Saturn's mysterious haze-enshrouded moon, where liquid hydrocarbons rain out of the atmosphere to form seasonal lakes and streams of methane and ethane.

Last updated 2011.08.31+09.16.