The University of Arizona

Planetary Astrobiology Course


ASTRONOMY 475/575 – Planetary Astrobiology

Spring 2016


Class meets: Tue and Thu 11-12:15

Classroom: Steward Observatory Rm 202


Instructors: Dr. Daniel Apai, Dr. Josh Eisner

Office: Steward Observatory Rooms 208B and N414

Phone: 621-6534, 626-7645


Office Hrs: By appointment or whenever the door is open


Course Desciption

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.



The main text for the course is “Planetary Science” by Lissauer and de Pater.   We also recommend "Evolution of a Habitable Planet" (2nd Edition) by Jonathan Lunine, "Exoplanet Atmospheres" by Sara Seager and “Planets and Life” by Sullivan and Baross. Copies should be available in the campus bookstore.  Some topics are beyond the scope of these books, and we will draw from journal articles and other sources in these cases.



The classes will be devoted to lectures.  Professor Eisner will lecture for the first 6 weeks or so, and then Professor Apai will lecture for about 6 weeks.  Toward the end of the semester, both professors and guest lecturers will highlight particularly interesting or timely astrobiology topics. The final lecture(s) will be devoted to student group presentations of astrobiology mission concepts. 


Homework and Classwork

There will be approximately six homework assignments during the semester, which will consist of problems that should be completed individually. Many assignments will contain one or more advanced questions for graduate students  only. All assignments will be due at the beginning of class on Tuesdays. At the end of the semester students will form small groups and collaboratively develop concepts/proposals for astrobiology missions. These concepts will be described in 20-minute presentations and evaluated for their science cases, innovative solutions, and feasibility. Graduate students will also need to submit a written project description, including detailed science case.



There will be a final exam. This exam will cover material discussed in lecture as well as in the homework. 



The evaluation of the graduate students will also include the advanced problem sets and a written report on the astrobiology mission concept.


The grades undergraduates will be computed as follows:

Homework 40%

Mission Concept (Presentation) 30% 

Final Exam 30%

Grades may be adjusted to reflect overall class performance.


The grades for graduate students will be computed as follows:

Homework (incl. advanced problems) 40%

Mission Concept (Report + Presentation) 30% 

Final Exam 30%

Grades may be adjusted to reflect overall class performance.


Academic Integrity

The University of Arizona’s Code of Academic Integrity can be viewed at

Consequences of academic dishonesty can range from loss of credit on an exam or assignment to expulsion from the university, depending on the severity of the offense.


Students with Disabilities

If you anticipate barriers related to the format or requirements of this course, please discuss with us ways to ensure your full participation.  If disability-related accommodations are necessary, please register with Disability Resources (621-3268; and notify us of your eligibility for reasonable accommodations.  We can then plan how best to coordinate your accommodations.


Topic Schedule and Corresponding Reading

A preliminary plan for the topics is attached. The topics and the schedule will likely be slightly adjusted to reflect progress as the semester progresses.


Further Reading / Links

Mars Lectures at SETI Institute



Notes for Apai's ASTR475 lectures : LectureNotes