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.
Spring 2022 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.
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.
Geology and Geophysics of the Solar System (3)
Geologic processes and landforms on satellites and the terrestrial planets, their modification under various planetary environments, and methods of analysis. PTYS 411 is equivalent to GEOS 411 and HWRS 411 (cross-listed). PTYS 411 is required for the PTYS Minor.
Planetary Materials (3)
This course discusses chemical thermodynamics and applies it to the origins and history of primitive planetary materials. The types of planetary materials will be discussed together with an overview of the chemical setting of their origins. We will discuss thermodynamic formalism, the various chemical pathways through which planetary materials are believed to have formed, the characterization and numerical methods we use to quantify such origins, and we will consider several case studies. May be co-convened with PTYS 513.
Introduction to Plasma Physics (3)
The purpose of this course is to present an introduction to the physics of plasmas. Topics include fundamental plasma scales and interactions, single particle motion, magnetohydrodynamic and fluid models, linear waves, kinetic theory, plasma stability, magnetic reconnection, and non-linear processes. The roles of these processes are considered in a variety of systems, including the Sun and stars, their extended atmospheres, planetary magnetospheres, and laboratory devices. The emphasis throughout will be on basic physical processes and the various approximations used in their application to realistic and relevant problems. The graduate course is identical to ASTR/ATMO/PHYS 514, with PTYS as the home department.
Planetary Astrobiology (3)
This course will explore the processes related to planet formation, the properties of planets and the planetary conditions required for the emergence of life. We will study the formation of our Solar System and exoplanetary systems, the distribution and properties of exoplanets, and the potential habitability of other planets/moons in our system or extrasolar systems. The course will also review science cases and possible future astrobiology studies, both in site and via remote sensing, of astrobiologically relevant environments. Toward the end of the semester a few guest lectures will highlight particularly exciting and timely topics. This course may be co-convened with ASTR/PTYS 575.
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.
Special Topics in Planetary Science (2-3)
Course will emphasize emerging and current topical research in Planetary Science; course will be offered as needed or required. Sample course topics might include an active spacecraft mission, an emerging research area, or new discoveries. Course may be co-convened with PTYS 595B. Graduate-level requirements may include an additional project for graduate credit and extra questions on exams, depending on the course/topic taught. Course may be repeated for credit 3x (or up to 9 units).
Spring 2022, PTYS 495B 3 units, Scientific Writing for the Physical Sciences. This course will introduce undergraduate physical sciences majors to writing a scientific journal article, and they will work to write and revise different sections during the course. Students will be encouraged to write about their own research, especially if they and their research advisor have discussed publishing results. Students can also choose to write a review article of the style found in an “annual reviews” journal. The course will draw examples from the textbook as well as journals such as Science, Nature, and journals in geosciences, planetary sciences, astronomy, and astrophysics. Students will review published examples, as well as provide feedback to other students through peer review. Most assignments are related to drafting the paper, and students will have multiple opportunities for revising their work before submitting it at the end of the semester.