Thousands of planets have been discovered orbiting nearby stars. How many of these worlds can we expect to be Earth-like? We explore this question from the perspective of astronomers, geologists, and historians. We look back at Earth’s geologic history to periods when our planet itself would appear very alien to us today. We study the nearby planets Venus and Mars, which were once more Earth-like than today. We discuss not only the evolution of Earth, Venus, and Mars as habitable worlds but also how human understanding of these planets has evolved. Finally, we apply these perspectives to the search for alien Earths in our galaxy. This interdisciplinary treatment of Earth, its neighboring planets, and planets being discovered around nearby stars allows us to consider the potentially unique position of Earth as a habitable world not only in space but in time.
Fall 2023 Undergraduate Courses
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Universe and Humanity: Exploring Our Place in Space (3)
This course places the Earth and humanity in a broad cosmic context and seeks to answer fundamental questions about our surroundings. Where are we and where do we come from? What is matter made of and what processes created it? What are different types of stars like and where does our Sun fit in? What is the role of stars in shaping the cosmos and the planets orbiting them? How did the Sun, the Earth, and the other planets in the solar system form? What are the planets in the solar system like and are there other planetary systems like ours? In addition to exploring these questions, this course will help students to understand how we have arrived at our current view of the universe, with a focus on the scientific method and the history of astronomy.
Exploring Our Solar System (3)
Our Solar System is filled with an incredible diversity of objects. These include the sun and planets, of course, but also many hundreds of moons—some with exotic oceans, erupting volcanoes, or dynamic atmospheres. Billions of asteroids and comets inhabit the space between and beyond the planets. Each body is unique, and has followed its own evolutionary history. This class will explore our current understanding of the Solar System and emphasize similarities that unite the different bodies as well as the differences between them. We will develop an understanding of physical processes that occur on these bodies, including tectonics, impact cratering, volcanism, and processes operating in their interiors, oceans, and atmospheres. We will also discuss planets around nearby stars and the potential for life beyond Earth. Throughout the class, we will highlight the leading role that the University of Arizona has played in exploring our Solar System.
Course Objectives: Students who engage with this course will develop a broad understanding of many fundamental concepts in planetary science and gain an appreciation for the discoveries and reasoning that leads to this understanding. They will learn to collect their own data as well as gather relevant supporting information from a variety of outside sources. Throughout the semester students will be demonstrating their grasp of course material by composing written assignments at a level their peers outside of the class will understand (a.k.a., Students on the Street, or SOS). During the term project students will be assisted in working with telescopes to obtain astronomical images using their own smart phone cameras. Students will learn during in-class workshops how to use their own images to then construct a time-lapse animation. Expected Learning Outcomes: Upon successful completion of this course students will be able to (1) access and use information and data from a variety of sources, including their own activities, (2) critically evaluate this information and data for reliability in supporting fundamental concepts, (3) effectively communicate an understanding of these concepts to their SOS peers by synthesizing the information and data they have gathered, (4) demonstrate practical skills with a variety of software, including Word, Excel, Keynote, PowerPoint, and image/video editing apps.
The Science and Politics of Climate Change (3)
This course explores the science of climate change and the political and commercial issues related to global warming. The first part of the course focuses on the scientific basis of climate change. Students will investigate the concepts and principles required for understanding planetary climates. They will assess the observational evidence for climate change and quantify the relative roles of natural and human drivers in causing it. They will connect and compare recent changes to historical climate trends and examine predictions for the impact of future climate change on the environment and our lives. The second part of the course focuses on the political and commercial issues related to climate change mitigation. Students will analyze policies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and explore their impacts from the perspectives of policymakers, commercial interests and the public.
Life in the Cosmos (3)
This course explores key questions in astrobiology and planetary science about the origin and evolution of life on Earth and the possibility that such phenomena have arisen elsewhere in the Universe. We examine what it means for a planet to be alive at scales ranging from cellular processes up to global impacts of biological activity. We survey international space-exploration activities to search for life within the Solar System, throughout our Galaxy, and beyond.
Teaching Teams Professional Development Workshop (3)
Professional development for undergraduates of all disciplines in areas of peer instruction and mentoring, leadership, public speaking, group dynamics, and interview skills; also assists students with preceptorships.
Teaching Teams Internship (3)
Internship for students who have completed PTYS 297A (formerly LASC 297A), with at least one semester as a preceptor of a university-level course) to continue their reaching team education. Course covers elements of learning environments, communication skills, providing feedback, performance evaluation, and cooperative learning strategies.
Professional Development in a Digital Age (2-3)
Professional development in areas that are affected by transition to digital formats. Students will learn about elevator pitches, communication, utilizing professional technologies, resumes and curriculum vitaes, online resumes and portfolios, professionalism within social media, searching for jobs online, and interviewing.
Astronomical Instrumentation (2)
Radiant energy; signals and noise; detectors and techniques for imaging, photometry, polarimetry and spectroscopy. Examples from stellar and planetary astronomy in the x-ray, optical, infrared and radio. Equivalent to ASTR 418. ASTR is home department.
Dynamic Meteorology (3)
Thermodynamics and its application to planetary atmospheres, hydrostatics, fundamental concepts and laws of dynamic meteorology. Prerequisite: PHYS 426 or consent of instructor. ATMO is home department.
Origin of the Solar System and Other Planetary Systems (3)
This course will review the physical processes related to the formation and evolution of the protosolar nebula and of protoplanetary disks. In doing that, we will discuss the main stages of planet formation and how different disk conditions impact planetary architectures and planet properties. We will confront the theories of disk evolution and planet formation with observations of circumstellar disks, exoplanets, and the planets and minor bodies in our Solar System. This course is cross-listed with ASTR 450 and may be co-convened with PTYS 550.
Advanced Teaching Teams Internship (3)
This advanced internship is for students who have completed PTYS 393. Course covers elements of learning environments, communication skills, providing feedback, performance evaluation, and cooperative learning strategies; it requires students to peer lead workshop sections within the Teaching Teams Program alongside a faculty/staff mentor.