May 21, 2024  
2022-2023 College Catalog 
2022-2023 College Catalog [ARCHIVED CATALOG]

AST 105IN - Life in the Universe

4 Credits, 6 Contact Hours
3 lecture periods 3 lab periods

The science of astronomy focusing on the formation of the universe, the solar system, and life. Includes Earth’s location in space and time, nature of life, light and the spectrum, origin of the universe, galaxies and stars, origin of the solar system, planetary atmospheres, origin of life on Earth, life on other solar system planets, and life around other stars. Also includes observations, experiments, image analysis, scientific and photogeology laboratory exercise, group telescopic observation projects, and personal observation projects.

Prerequisite(s): ICS 081  with a grade of B or better, or MAT 086 with a grade of C or better, or satisfactory score on the mathematics assessment.
Gen-Ed: Meets AGEC - SCI; Meets CTE - M&S.

Course Learning Outcomes
  1. Discuss how astronomical observations contributed to the scientific revolution of the 17th century and explain the evidence for a heliocentric model for our solar system.
  2. Describe current theories of planet formation and relate these to the present-day structure of our own solar system.
  3. Predict orbital parameters for gravitating systems by applying Kepler’s laws of planetary motion and Newton’s laws of motion and Universal Gravitation.
  4. Define habitability of a planet and apply astronomical concepts and techniques to the search for extrasolar planets and extraterrestrial life.
  5. Identify the main evolutionary stages of a star’s life on an HR diagram and describe the role of massive stars in the synthesis of heavy elements present on Earth today

Performance Objectives:
  1. Name and locate the planets of the solar system and briefly describe their nature.
  2. Describe the basis of life as we know it.
  3. Describe the electromagnetic spectrum and its use in determining the nature of astronomical objects.
  4. Describe current theories for the origin of the universe.
  5. Explain the processes involved in the birth and evolution of galaxies and stars.
  6. Describe current theories for the origin of the solar system including planets, comets, and meteorites.
  7. Explain the processes involved in the origin and evolution of planetary atmospheres.
  8. Describe current theories for the origin of life on earth.
  9. Discuss the evidence for life on Mars and elsewhere.
  10. Discuss factors determining the existence of life around other stars, and its detection.
  11. Use a variety of scientific techniques.
  12. Compare impact and volcanic features on several planets in the solar system.
  13. Describe the electromagnetic spectrum and its use in determining the chemical and physical properties of astronomical objects.
  14. Explain how radioactive decay can be used to obtain an absolute age for an object.
  15. Discuss the similarities and differences between various kinds of meteorites and terrestrial rocks.
  16. Discuss the climatological processes that have shaped the surfaces of Earth and Mars and how ice cores can be used to examine variations in the Earth’s climate.
  17. Describe the prominent features on the Moon and the formation and morphology of craters and their use in determining relative ages.
  18. Discuss planetary features observable through a telescope.
  19. Explain the phases and motion of the moon.
  20. Explain the motions of the stars and planets in the sky.

  1. Earth’s Location in Space and Time
    1. Scientific notation
    2. Distance scale
    3. Terminology
      1. Planet
      2. Solar system
      3. Galaxy
      4. Universe
  2. Nature of Life
    1. Carbon-based
    2. Organic compounds
      1. Proteins
      2. Amino acids
      3. DNA and RNA
      4. Cells
  3. Light and the Spectrum
    1. Composition of matter
      1. Molecules
      2. Atoms
      3. Sub-atomic particles
    2. Electromagnetic spectrum
    3. Physics - what light tells us
      1. Wien’s law
      2. Stefan-Boltzmann law
      3. Doppler shift
  4. Origin of the Universe
    1. Origin of matter
      1. Inflationary Big Bang model
      2. 3K background radiation
      3. Origin of light elements
    2. Evolution of matter
  5. Galaxies and Stars
    1. Formation of galaxies
    2. Birth and evolution of starts
      1. Interstellar medium
      2. Stellar energy sources
      3. Nucleosynthnesis of heavier elements
      4. Deaths of stars
  6. Origin of the Solar System
    1. Structure of the solar system
    2. Origin of planets
    3. Comets/asteroids/meteorites
  7. Planetary Atmospheres
    1. Planetary differentiation and evolution
      1. Plate tectonics on Earth
      2. Geologic processes on terrestrial planets
    2. Primary and secondary atmospheres
  8. Origin and Evolution of Life on Earth
    1. Miller-Urey experiments
    2. Polymerization in clays
    3. Imported organics (meteorites/comets)
    4. Impacts and extinctions
  9. Life on Other Solar System Planets
    1. Mars
      1. Evidence for ancient liquid water
      2. Viking lander biology experiments
    2. Outer solar system
      1. Pre-biotic conditions on Titan
      2. Speculation on water on Europa
  10. Intelligent Life Around Other Stars
    1. Habitable zones
    2. Drake equation
    3. Detection
    4. Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO’s) as pseudoscience
  11. In-Class Laboratory Exercises
    1. Scientific techniques
      1. Metric system and scientific notation
      2. How to use an x-y graph
      3. Angular measurement and the horizon system
    2. Photogeology
      1. Impact features on Mercury, the Earth, the Moon, Mars, Galilean Satellites
      2. Volcanic features on Venus, the Earth, the Moon, Mars, Galilean Satellites
    3. Spectroscopy
      1. Gas spectra (using gas discharge tubes)
      2. Asteroid spectra vs. meteorite spectra
      3. Organic molecules in interstellar medium
    4. Radioactivity
      1. Construct a three-isotope diagram
      2. Determine the age of a rock sample
    5. Meteorite and terrestrial rock samples
      1. Characterization of terrestrial minerals and rocks
      2. Fossils
      3. Characterization of meteorite types
      4. Criteria used to recognize a meteorite
    6. Climate of Earth and Mars
      1. Compare fluvial and glacial features
      2. Stable isotopes and ice cores
  12. Group Telescopic Observation Projects
    1. Moon
      1. Locate and describe prominent features on the Moon
      2. Examine and discuss lunar crater morphology
      3. Examine and discuss crater statistics and determine relative ages of regions on the moon
    2. Planets
      1. This exercise will vary depending on which planets are available for observation during the semester in which the lab in taught, but may include:
      2. Phases of Venus
      3. Belts and moons of Jupiter
      4. Rings, belts and moons of Saturn
      5. Albedo features and polar caps of Mars
  13. Personal Observation Projects
    1. Moon
      1. Two-week observation – lunar phases and revolution
      2. Twelve-hour observation – Earth’s rotation
    2. Constellations
      1. Once-a-week observations for ten weeks – Earth’s revolution
      2. One evening observation – Earth’s rotation
    3. Planets – Motion compared to constellations over ten week period