Habitable Worlds: Possible Places for Life in the Solar System and Beyond

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Two Sections Available to Choose From:

Course DatesLengthMeeting TimesStatusFormatInstructor(s)CRN
June 28, 2021 - July 14, 20216/28 - 7/142 WeeksOnlineOpenOnlineErica Nathan
June 28, 2021 - July 14, 20216/28 - 7/142 WeeksOnlineOpenOnlineErica Nathan

Course Description

Does life exist anywhere else in the universe, or even in our own Solar System? If you have ever looked at the sky and wondered if habitable worlds like (or unlike) ours exist elsewhere, then this is the class for you. This two-week-long course explores possible habitats for life on Mars, the icy moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and exoplanets (planets around other stars), including the TRAPPIST 1 system. Along the way, you will learn about the latest NASA missions, like the Curiosity rover studying Mars, the Cassini spacecraft studying Saturn, the Kepler telescope that hunted for planets around other stars, and the soon-to-be launched James Webb Space Telescope.

This course focuses on the places where life might exist elsewhere in the Solar System or on exoplanets. We will learn about the habitable zone around stars and discuss the factors that make a planet (or moon) habitable: a possible refuge for life. We will examine some of the extreme places where life lives on Earth, explore other places where life might exist in our Solar System, and study the planets being discovered around other stars. Could one of these newly discovered exoplanets be habitable? After this class, you will be able to answer that question for yourself. This interdisciplinary course combines elements of planetary science, astrobiology, astronomy, geology, biology, physics, and chemistry. It provides an introduction to a variety of topics and a foundation for further study in any of these fields. You will complete a variety of assignments and readings that will aid in your understanding of the topics discussed in class as well as the final project. We will take a trip to Brown's YURT, where we can experience the surface of other planets in virtual reality, such as regions on Mars that may have once hosted life. For this course's final project, you will make a unique scientific contribution by studying an exoplanet and applying what you have learned throughout the course to decide whether it might be habitable. You will present your findings to your fellow classmates. By the end of this course, students will be able to critically analyze the habitability of a planet or moon orbiting the Sun or another star. They will know the factors that determine whether or not a planet may host life and understand some of the ways scientists study potentially habitable worlds in our Solar System and beyond. Additionally, students will be familiar with the fascinating questions that are currently unanswered.

Students should also have developed several specific skills that will help prepare them for college, including: (1) of articulating their thoughts through a brief presentation, (2) gain basic knowledge in a variety of scientific fields, (3) understand the factors that influence planetary habitability and be able to characterize whether or not a planet is habitable, and (4) develop confidence and techniques for public speaking.

Prerequisites: The prerequisites for this course are Algebra I and a year of high school level science (earth and space science, physics, chemistry, or biology).

Course Information

  • Course Code: CEGE0904

Program Information


Brown’s Pre-College Program in the liberal arts and sciences for students completing grades 9-12 by June 2021.

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