ASTR 390 [Spring 2010]

Selected Topics in Astronomy: Astrobiology
with Professor Dr. Harold Geller
Subject to change and revisions throughout semester

Astrocast.TV :: Astrocast.TV Blog :: 2001 Mars Odyssey slides for NASM
History of the Universe :: The Astrobiology Web :: Astrobiology Newsletter :: Astrobiology Magazine :: Ad Astra Astrobio Special Issue
Astronomy Picture of the Day :: Earth Picture of the Day :: Space Calendar :: NASA Image Sites
Space related news (at NASA and others): NASA Watch :: SPACEREF :: :: Universe Today
NASA Astrobiology :: Astrobiology Institute :: Center for Computational Astrobiology :: UW Astrobiology
Mars/life/meteors :: Society of Amateur Radio Astronomers :: Bad Astronomy
Help the Analemma Society establish an observatory in Fairfax County :: Learn about The Barns at Franklin Park in Loudoun County
SETI at Home Project :: Astrobiology Index


This course will study the scientific concepts associated with the science of astrobiology. This includes the origin and development of life on the planet Earth within the context of an evolving universe. We begin with an overview of the origins of the universe from the "Big Bang" to our own solar system. We then integrate the principles of physics, chemistry, geology and biology to study the origins of life on Earth. We also address the fate of life in the universe based upon our understanding of thermodynamics and the expansion of the universe. The essential features of all living systems are discussed as they relate to what we might expect in terms of life elsewhere in the universe. The labs for the course include computer simulations to demonstrate essential features of the (i) origins of the universe, (ii) life on the planet Earth, (iii) search for life on Earth and elsewhere in the universe, and (iv) space travel and exploration. Labs and lectures are intertwined in this course.
Other Spring 2010 Semester Information
Classes begin							19 January 2010
Last day to drop with no tuition liability			2 February 2010
Last day to add classes						2 February 2010
Last day to drop						19 February 2010
Spring Break						8 March to 14 March 2010
Last day of classes						3 May 2010
FINAL EXAMINATION for ASTR 390					8 May 2010

Instructor: Grading Policy
The laboratory exercises will be worth 25% of your final grade. There will be homework assignments worth 25% of your final grade. Class participation will be worth 20% of your final grade. The mid-term examination will be worth 15% of your final grade. The final examination will be worth 15% of your final grade, and will be comprehensive in nature.
			Homework assignments					25 %
			Comprehensive Final					15 %
			Laboratory Exercises					25 %
			Class Participation					20 %
			Mid-Term Examination					15 %
Honor Code Adherence
Students are expected to follow the George Mason University rules of student honor. As noted in the catalog:

"George Mason University shares in the tradition of an honor system that has existed in Virginia since 1842. The Honor Code is an integral part of university life. On the application for admission, students sign a statement agreeing to conform to and uphold the Honor Code. Therefore, students are responsible for understanding the provisions of the code. In the spirit of the code, a student's word is a declaration of good faith acceptable as truth in all academic matters. Therefore, cheating and attempted cheating, plagiarism, lying, and stealing of academic work and related materials constitute Honor Code violations. To maintain an academic community according to these standards, students and faculty must report all alleged violations of the Honor Code to the Honor Committee. Any student who has knowledge of, but does not report, an Honor Code violation may be accused of lying under the Honor Code."

[Source: ]

Course Format - Studio Style (Lecture/Lab)
Lectures will consist of various forms of presentation material including videos, computer displays, demonstrations and transparencies. Questions are acceptable at any time during the lecture. Students should be alert during the lecture and prepared to answer queries posed as they arise. Labs are collaborative effort of two or three students. Laboratory exercises will consist of both computer-based laboratory exercises and hands-on exercises. Laboratory reports will be turned in at the conclusion of each session.

Entry level Competencies
The course is a conceptual-based course using a minimal amount of algebra and geometry. Students should have English composition skills at least comparable to the English 111 level or equivalent.

Course Objectives
  1. Describe the origins of life in the universe and on Earth.
  2. Explain the scientific method and the philosophy of science, as related to the study of astrobiology.
  3. Describe the physical laws that govern the interaction of matter, energy, time, and space in the cosmos.
  4. State how astrobiologists utilize electromagnetic radiation to gain the knowledge of the mechanics of the birth, life, and death of stars from the distant past.
  5. Appreciate the magnitude of the scientific problem of the search for extraterrestrial life in the universe.
  6. Exploration of biochemical properties of living systems that are essential to all life.
  7. The physical, chemical and biological constraints underlying the exploration of the universe and the habitation of other planets.
Major Topics to be Included
  1. The origins of the universe.
  2. The origins of solar and planetary systems.
  3. The physics of light, gravity, matter, energy, magnetism, radioactivity, nuclear energy, and relativity.
  4. The geology of volcanism, plate tectonics, and erosion as applied to all planets.
  5. The birth and death of stars and galaxies.
  6. The H-R diagram for stars including the location of the main sequence, red giants and white dwarfs.
  7. The "Big Bang" theory of universal creation, pulsars, neutron stars, and black holes.
  8. Stellar and galactic evolution.
  9. Cosmology and life in the universe.
  10. The biochemical principles of all living systems.
  11. The evolution of life on Earth and its biochemical principles.
  12. The physical, chemical and biological aspects of space exploration and the habitation of extraterrestrial planets.
  13. Laboratory work dealing with measuring instruments of the astrobiologist, and drawing conclusions from astrobiological data.

Additional Topics Regarding Classwork
As deemed appropriate, the course may be supplemented with homework, guest speakers and discussions of new discoveries.