Department of Astronomy and Theoretical Physics

Faculty of Science | Lund University

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Astrobiology. Conditions and Possibilities for Life in the Universe, ASTC01, 7.5 hp

The course is given each fall term.

The course is given in English


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.