An infinity of worlds: planets and the search for life in the universe Winter 2024

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Less than a generation ago, we wondered, as we had for millions of years before, whether there were any other planets at all. Now, we are privileged to be in the first generation of humans to know that many of the points of light dusting our night sky are host to orbiting worlds, some of which may be like our Earth. In this course, we will explore the techniques that are being used to discover these new worlds. We will make our own contributions to this great age of discovery, by using NASA spacecraft data to search for new planets. This course, aimed at non-majors, will deal with the science of planet hunting, the astounding diversity of planets known to exist, the emerging science of astrobiology, and the enduring question of “are we alone?” through works of science fiction and cutting-edge research. Coursework will consist of readings from popular science books aimed at a general audience, science-fiction short stories, and excerpts from science-fiction novels, in addition to 1-2 relevant feature films. The primary mode of instruction will be 6 hours per week of in-person class meetings including lectures, small-group activities, and optional evening observing sessions at the rooftop telescope (weather permitting). Evaluation will be based on a final 10-page paper, the topic and format of which is extremely broad.
The Class: Format: lecture
Limit: 20
Expected: NA
Class#: 1067
Grading: pass/fail only
Requirements/Evaluation: Paper(s) or report(s)
Prerequisites: None
Enrollment Preferences: If overenrolled, preference will be given to first years and sophomores. I am willing to open a second section if enrollment numbers permit.
Unit Notes: Rob Wittenmyer '98 is Professor of astrophysics at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia. He is a veteran planet hunter with more than 100 published planet discoveries.
Attributes: STUX Winter Study Student Exploration

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