This course treats front-line research, and its contents are continuously updated. here are some topics that the course intends to cover:
- Introduction. Astrobiology as a current cross- and multidisciplinary subject.
- The evolution of the terrestrial surface and atmosphere; The Earth seen as a planet. The influence of life on atmospheric chemistry.
- The evolution of other planets and of their atmospheres. Atmospheres as a protection against solar ultraviolet and corpuscular radiation.
- Small bodies in the solar system. Impacts by meteorites and asteroids; biological effects, such as the extinction or modification of species.
- The planet Mars: Its past evolution and properties; climatic and seasonal changes, and their mechanisms; differences against the Earth.
- Terrestrial life under extreme conditions: deep underground; in radioactive environments; inside cold lakes, and in permafrost. Life at great ocean depths and next to volcanoes; geothermal mechanisms in maintaining conditions benign to life.
- Search for traces of extraterrestrial life in meteorites (e.g., from Mars) and in extraterrestrial soil samples.
- Transfer of microorganisms between planets in the solar system. Needs for quarantine on Earth in handling extraterrestrial samples. Protection of other celestial bodies against contamination from Earth.
- The Jupiter moons Europa and Io. Mechanisms of tidal forcing in maintaining possibly benign climates. Ice-covered oceans on Europa.
- The Saturn moon Titan. Chemical processes in cold atmospheres. Water geysers on the Saturn moon Enceladus.
- The dependence of organisms on gravity. Effects of weightlessness on plants, animals, and humans. Different gravity conditions in various locations.
- Planets around other stars: methods for finding and analyzing them. Statistical and individual properties of exoplanets. Physical conditions and zones of habitability around different stars. Stability of planetary orbits and of planetary systems.
- Future ground- and space-based experiments to analyze exoplanets and their atmospheres. Searches for biomarkers; direct imaging with large telescopes; interferometers in space; spectroscopy of exoplanet atmospheres.
- Mechanisms for global climate change. The Earth some billion years in the past, and in the future. Hypothetical artificial climate changes on Mars and other planets.
- The concept of "life" and its utmost limits. Possible and impossible creatures in space. Can life be based also on other principles than those on Earth?
- SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Interstellar communication; possibilities for interstellar spaceflight. * Conceivable sociological, legal, philosophical and other consequences from the discovery of extraterrestrial life and/or extraterrestrial intelligence.