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

Course Description

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 course follows inquiry-based active learning practices. In a typical lesson, you'll read an introduction to the topic, work through guided examples, and continue learning through a creative assignment. Our assignments are designed to engage students in the practice of science communication and independent research; examples include annotated drawings of skies on other planetary bodies, building your own orbital resonance in an interactive simulator, discussions of astrobiology concepts applied to science fiction, and critically comparing a scientific paper with its popular news article. This course also features live sessions for discussions on special topics selected by the class. Previous years have included: How to Discover a Planet, Space Sciences in the Movies, The Politics of Space Exploration, College Panel, and Paths Through Science.

After taking this course, you will:
• Discuss the meaning of habitability and necessary requirements for the beginnings of life
• Understand different techniques used to find exoplanets and what we can learn about them from current telescopic observations
• Critically evaluate the potential habitability of different environments, including exoplanets and objects within our own Solar System
• Effectively communicate your scientific work through mixed media
• Be empowered to further explore habitability and related scientific fields independently

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 group projects. By the end of this course, you will be able to critically analyze the habitability of a planet or moon orbiting the Sun or another star. You 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, you will be familiar with the fascinating questions that are currently unanswered. Past students have used this course as a springboard for future independent research projects in habitability and planetary science.


The prerequisites for this course are Algebra I and a year of high school level science (earth and space science, physics, chemistry, or biology). This course is aimed to be accessible to students who have never studied habitability or planetary science before, as well as students who have significant experience in a discipline related to habitability. Our instructional team can work with students to individualize their learning experience beyond the course material.


One Section Available to Choose From:

Online sections of Pre-College courses are offered in one of the following modalities: Asynchronous, Mostly asynchronous, or Blended. Please review full information regarding the experience here.

Dates: July 11, 2022 - July 22, 2022
Duration: 2 Weeks
Meeting Times: Online - Blended with required live sessions every Tuesday from 1:00PM - 2:30PM Eastern Standard Time (EST)
Status: Closed
Format: Online
Instructor(s): Cody Schultz
Course Number: 10261