Life in the Universe - ASTR 1753x

Fall 2017

Columbia University
Barnard College
Mars panorama
Earth+Moon Prismatic DNA ATA
Europa Saturn

Syllabus - Fall 2017

  • Basic Structure

    This interdisciplinary introductory course focuses on the subject of Life in the Universe. We will study historical astronomy, gravitation and planetary orbits, the discoveries of extrasolar planets, the origin of life on Earth, the evolution and exploration of the Solar System, global climate change on Venus, Mars and Earth, and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life (SETI).
  • Office Hours

    • Tues 4-5; Thurs 12:30-1:30 513 (Tues) or 514 (Thurs) Altschul
    • lk157@columbia.edu
  • Lectures

    • T TH 2:40-3:55, TBA
    • Students are strongly urged to attend class on a regular basis; if you miss a class, it is your responsibility to get the material from a classmate. Lecture outlines will be posted on Courseworks.
  • Textbook

    • This is an Interdisciplinary course so no textbook is perfect, with either choice you will need to use classnotes for some material. (Get only one of them!)
    • If you are planning to take a second semester of Astronomy, then you should get 21c Astronomy, 5e by Kay et al., so you can also use it for the 2nd semester. It has material on basic observations (moon phases, star positions) that will be useful if you are taking Astr UN1903 Astronomy Lab I (eg., for the Barnard science requirement). It does not have the chapters on biology.
    • If you have a strong interest in Biology, then you can get Life in the Universe, 4e by Bennett & Shostok, 2017. It has material on Biology and Geological ages (but more than we actually cover in class). It does not have material from the beginning of the course on historical astronomy, phases of the moon, etc.
    • Its best to get these editions since the older ones are considerably different.
  • Distribution Requirements

    • ASTR BC 1753x satisfies the Barnard Quantitative Reasoning QUR requirement and can be used towards the Columbia College science requirement.
    • ASTR BC 1753x along with the lab course Astr UN1903x can be applied towards the Barnard lab science LAB requirement.
  • Learning Goals - Students who successfully complete this course will:

    • understand how scientists are studying the question of Life in the Universe
    • understand how Earth is habitable in ways the rest of the Solar System is not
    • learn about the discoveries of other planets in our Galaxy
    • learn to think critically and quantitatively about some contemporary scientific problems
  • Labs

    • Students who want laboratory credit should sign up for the one point course ASTR UN1903x.
    • This is an L course so enroll ASAP, a separate grade is given for the lab course
    • Labs meet in the evenings, there are sections on M, T, W, Th, and will begin on Sept 11.
  • Teaching Assistants

    • The class TA is Aliya Babul and Help Room Hours will be announced.
  • Homework:

    • Problem sets will be due in class approximately every other week. Paper copies only please.
    • Late HW will NOT be accepted after the solutions are handed out.
    • Students may work with other students together on the homework, but the writeups submitted must be individual work in individual words, not duplicated/copied and pasted.
    • HW is required; you cannot pass this course by exam grades alone.
    • The lowest HW score will be dropped; the remaining scores will count for 20% of your final grade.
    • Please send me political cartoons with aliens
  • Quizzes:

    • There will be 4 short quizzes.
    • The lowest score will be dropped; this includes quizzes missed for illness, sports meets, etc. Makeup quizzes are not offered. The remaining 3 will count for 15% of your final grade.
  • Extra Credit essay:

    • Optional extra-credit essay on AMNH. Details on essay later.
  • Exams:

    • We'll have one midterm, probably on Nov 2, & a final exam during the scheduled time on THURS DEC 21 from 1-4 PM. (This is not my choice either)! Plan accordingly for winter-break travel
    • The exams will be closed book, but you can bring 1 page of notes
    • The midterm exam will count for 25%, and the final exam for 40%.
Students with disabilities who will be taking this course & may need disability-related accommodations are encouraged to make an appointment to see me as soon as possible. Disabled students who need test or classroom accommodations must be registered in advance with the Office of Disability Services (ODS).

Approximate Schedule Fall 2017


Dates Topics 21st Century Astronomy 5e LIU 4e
Sept 5 Introduction, Overview, calendars
Chap 1, 2.4 Chap 1
Sept 7, 12 Lunar Phases, Eclipses, Motions of Planets, Seasons, Greeks 2 2, notes
Sept 14, 19, 21 Copernicus, Tycho, Kepler, Galileo, Newton 3, 4 2, notes
Sept 26, 28 Brief history of the Universe & Solar System; Light & Energy; Origin of the chemical elements 1.1; 5.1-5.2; 7.1-7.4 3
Oct 3, 5 Extrasolar Planets and Habitability 7.5, pp 134-135, 'Origins' in Ch 7, 13, & 16, 24.3 11
Oct 10, 12 Hadean (Early) Earth, radioactivity, carbon cycle, greenhouse effect 8.1, notes 8.2,
Oct 17, 19 Life on Earth 24.1, 24.2, notes parts of 5, 6
Oct 22, 26, Oct 31 Paleoclimate, Global Warming 9 7.1-7.2, 8,
Nov 2 MIDTERM
Nov 7 no class (Election Day holiday)
Nov 9 Lunar Exploration 6.4 7.4
Nov 14 Venus 218-222, 9.1-9.2, 9.4 10.2
Nov 16 Mars 218-226, 9.1-9.2, 9.4 8
Nov 21 Space Colonization
Nov 23 no class (Thanksgiving Holiday)
Nov 28 Moons of Jupiter and Saturn 7.3, 9 11.1-11.2, 11.6
Nov 30 Special Relativity & Interstellar Travel 18.2 12
Dec 5, 7 SETI, UFOs 24.4, notes 12, 13
Dec 21 FINAL EXAM 1-4 PM 1-13

Tentative Due dates

  • Homework Assignments

    Homework 1 Sept 26
    Homework 2 Oct 10
    Homework 3 Oct 31
    Homework 4 Nov 21
    Homework 5 Nov 30
    Homework 6 Dec 11
    Extra Credit Essay Dec 7
  • Quizzes

    Quiz 1 Oct 3
    Quiz 2 Oct 17
    Midterm Nov 2
    Quiz 3 Nov 28
    Quiz 4 Dec 5
    Final Dec 21 1:10-4 PM

Astronomy Laboratory
Fall Semester - 2017



Labs will start on Sept 11, with no labs on Nov 6, 7, 22, 23

Teaching Assistant



TBD