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2022/23 Undergraduate Module Catalogue

PHYS1040 Planets and the Search for Life

10 creditsClass Size: 140

Module manager: Dr Olja Panic

Taught: Semester 2 (Jan to Jun) View Timetable

Year running 2022/23

Pre-requisite qualifications


This module is approved as a discovery module

Module summary

This module explores the multitude of planets that are currently being discovered around other stars and compares them to those in our solar system. The module will concentrate on the concepts involved and is non-mathematical, and therefore amenable to students of the arts, humanities and sciences. We will examine the origin and evolution of the solar system and how it is likely to have produced the range of planets, moons and minor bodies that we see today. This will be contrasted with the range of extra-solar planets, their detection, properties, and how they challenge our understanding of how planets are formed. Finally the conditions for life to emerge will be discussed and the prospects and techniques for finding life elsewhere in the solar system and on exo-planets will be explored.


On completion of this module, students should be able to
- describe the properties of planets in the solar system and around other stars
- give an overview of current understanding of the origin and evolution of planets in the solar system and around other stars
- describe the factors important in the existence and detection of life
- be familiar with the techniques used for studying planets in the solar system and around other stars,
- discuss relevant current space missions,
- describe the methods used in the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence.

Learning outcomes
- Theories of the origin and evolution of planetary systems including the solar system;
- Techniques for detecting exoplanets; techniques used in the search for life.
- Requirements for life and how they may be met.

Skills outcomes
- Interpretation of observational data and models;
- Evaluation and synthesis of varied data types and sources;
- Critical thinking.


- Earth and other bodies in the solar system: rocky, gas and ice planets, icy moons, comets, asteroids, KBOs and dust;
- Dusty disks and the solar nebula theory;
- Detection techniques for exoplanets;
- Models of exoplanetary systems and their evolution;
- Criteria for life, classical habitable zone, extremophiles and the timescale for life;
- Case studies in the solar system: terrestrial planets (Earth, Mars, Venus) and moons (Titan, Enceladus) in terms of temperature, albedo, greenhouse effect, magnetic field, tectonics
- Life on exoplanets; novel types of life.
- Drake Equation, SETI, SETI techniques.

Teaching methods

Delivery typeNumberLength hoursStudent hours
Independent online learning hours11.00
Private study hours78.00
Total Contact hours11.00
Total hours (100hr per 10 credits)100.00

Methods of assessment

Assessment typeNotes% of formal assessment
In-course MCQRegular MCQs70.00
Total percentage (Assessment Coursework)100.00

Normally resits will be assessed by the same methodology as the first attempt, unless otherwise stated

Reading list

There is no reading list for this module

Last updated: 29/04/2022 15:31:37


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