Astrobiology and Astrophysics

Module code: NS2012

Module co-ordinator: Dr Cheryl Hurkett

In this module we will examine one of the greatest questions mankind has ever asked: are we alone? It is only recently that humanity has started to gain the tools that will allow a rigorous scientific analysis of the issues involved in the search for life in the Universe.

No one person you encounter can be considered an expert in the whole field. Only in recent years have specialist astrobiologists emerged, and they certainly don’t all agree on all the answers. With your experience across the sciences and in interdisciplinary thinking you will be well placed to tackle the questions presented by this module.

Topics covered

  • The Drake equation
  • The Big Bang
  • Evolution of main sequence stars
  • Stellar evolution’s importance to the creation of suitable conditions for life
  • Absolute magnitude
  • Radiometric dating
  • Formation of the solar system
  • Internal structure of terrestrial planets
  • Planetary geological features
  • Evidence for water on Mars
  • Carbonate-silicate cycle
  • Habitable zones
  • Detecting planets around other stars
  • Kepler’s laws
  • Solar wind and solar radiation
  • Essential molecules for life
  • RNA, the precursor to DNA
  • The development of early life
  • Extremes of life
  • Extra-terrestrial lifeforms


  • 5 one-hour workshops + 4 two-hour workshops
  • 9 lectures (1-2 hours)
  • 4 two-hour tutorials


  • Exam (35%)
  • Continual Assessment (65%) - including 4 sets of core learning exercises, poster, presentation and report