Cornell University

ASTRO 2299: The Search for Life in the Universe

Fall 2015


We are in the thick of a revolution in our understanding of our place in the Universe. The physical and chemical underpinnings of our biology are now understood. Every planet in our solar system has been visited (if briefly), and our robotic explorers are roving and orbiting our planetary neighbors. In the last twenty five years, we have gone from 9 planets around our Sun to thousands of planets in our Galaxy, including several that may have liquid water on their surface. We are building the next generation of telescopes on the ground and in space that will provide a census of Earth-like planets, the first spectra of extra-solar planets, and a survey of emission signatures of possible alien technological civilizations from gamma-rays to radio waves.

In this context, the "Fermi paradox" takes on particular resonance. Where is everyone? Are we alone? If so, what does that mean for our future? Or are we on the verge of discovering a Galaxy teeming with life?



  1. Goldsmith & Owen, The Search for Life in the Universe.
  2. Ward & Brownlee, Rare Earth.


Lecture Notes

Lecture notes will be posted here as PDF files — please check regularly.

  1. 11 Nov: Studying Extrasolar planets (Chatterjee)
  2. 09 Nov: Extrasolar planets: Statistics and Habitability (Chatterjee)
  3. 07 Oct: Titan_and_Europa (Lunine)
  4. 30 Sep: Solar system: Debris, Moon, Impacts and Evolution (Cordes)
  5. 28 Sep: Astrobiology (Lunine)
  6. 23 Sep: Solar system: Formation, Disks, Jets, and Magnetic Fields (Cordes)
  7. 31 Aug: Measuring the Universe; the Distance Ladder (Chatterjee)


Goldsmith & Owen (all)
Ward & Brownlee (all).

Other articles:

Homework Assignments


Final Exam:

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