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assignment Level : Introductive
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Key information

credit_card Free access
verified_user Fee-based Certificate
timer 45 hours in total

About the content

Super-Earths And Life is a course about life on Earth, alien life, how we search for life outside of Earth, and what this teaches us about our place in the universe.

In the past decade astronomers have made incredible advances in the discovery of planets outside our solar system. Thirty years ago, we knew only of the planets in our own solar system. Now we know of thousands circling nearby stars.

Meanwhile, biologists have gained a strong understanding of how life evolved on our own planet, all the way back to the earliest cells. We can describe how simple molecules can assemble themselves into the building blocks of life, and how those building blocks might have become the cells that make up our bodies today.

Super-Earths And Life is all about how these fields, astronomy and biology, together with geology, can help answer one of our most powerful and primal questions: are we alone in the universe?


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  • How life may have arisen on Earth
  • How we discover planets around other stars
  • What makes a planet favorable for life
  • How we search for life in our universe

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Prerequisite

Basic algebra

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Syllabus

This course consists of seven modules, which investigate questions like:
  • What is life? How did it arise? How does it change over time?
  • What is a planet?
  • How do we find and learn about planets outside our solar system?
  • How has the Earth changed over time? What do these changes mean for the evolution and survival of living things?
  • How do geological processes shape planets? How do these processes contribute to life?
  • How many habitable planets are there?
  • How can we search for life?
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Instructors

Dimitar Sasselov
Professor of Astronomy
Harvard University

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Content designer

Harvard University

Harvard University is a private Ivy League research university in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Established in 1636 and named for its first benefactor clergyman John Harvard, Harvard is the United States' oldest institution of higher learning, and its history, influence, and wealth have made it one of the world's most prestigious universities. The Harvard Corporation is its first chartered corporation. Although never formally affiliated with any denomination, the early College primarily trained Congregational and Unitarian clergy. Its curriculum and student body were gradually secularized during the 18th century, and by the 19th century, Harvard had emerged as the central cultural establishment among Boston elites. Following the American Civil War, President Charles W. Eliot's long tenure (1869–1909) transformed the college and affiliated professional schools into a modern research university; Harvard was a founding member of the Association of American Universities in 1900. A. Lawrence Lowell, who followed Eliot, further reformed the undergraduate curriculum and undertook aggressive expansion of Harvard's land holdings and physical plant. James Bryant Conant led the university through the Great Depression and World War II and began to reform the curriculum and liberalize admissions after the war. The undergraduate college became coeducational after its 1977 merger with Radcliffe College.

The university is organized into eleven separate academic units—ten faculties and the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study—with campuses throughout the Boston metropolitan area: its 209-acre (85 ha) main campus is centered on Harvard Yard in Cambridge, approximately 3 miles (5 km) northwest of Boston; the business school and athletics facilities, including Harvard Stadium, are located across the Charles River in the Allston neighborhood of Boston and the medical, dental, and public health schools are in the Longwood Medical Area. The endowment of Harvard's is worth $37.1 billion, making it the largest of any academic institution.

Harvard is a large, highly residential research university. The nominal cost of attendance is high, but the university's large endowment allows it to offer generous financial aid packages. The Harvard Library is the world's largest academic and private library system, comprising 79 individual libraries holding over 18 million items. The University is cited as one of the world's top tertiary institutions by various organizations.

Harvard's alumni include eight U.S. presidents, several foreign heads of state, 62 living billionaires, 359 Rhodes Scholars, and 242 Marshall Scholars. To date, some 157 Nobel laureates, 18 Fields Medalists, and 14 Turing Award winners have been affiliated as students, faculty, or staff. In addition, Harvard students and alumni have won 10 Academy Awards, 48 Pulitzer Prizes, and 108 Olympic medals (46 gold, 41 silver and 21 bronze).

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