Course Dates Credits
Astrobiology III 5
Lecturers
Giovanni Vladilo

Program:

  • Lecture 1 Introduction to astrobiology. The problem of life definition. Physics and life: thermodynamical properties. Chemical elements of terrestrial life. Unique properties and importance of carbon and water. The biomolecules of terrestrial life; homochirality; information coding and genetic code. Common aspects of terrestrial life at the molecular level; role of hydrogen bonding in molecular interactions.
  • Lecture 2 - Extremophilic organisms and their importance in astrobiology. Physical and chemical limits of terrestrial life; impact of temperature on life molecular processes. Definition of planetary habitability. Impact of astronomical and geophysical factors on planetary habitability. Climate and habitability; climate instabilities; negative feedbacks. The circumstellar habitable zone; impact of astronomical and planetary factors on the location and extent of the habitable zone.
  • Lecture 3 - From prebiotic chemistry to the origin and evolution of life. Prebiotic chemistry in space and in protoplanetary disks. Delivery of organic material and water on planetary bodies. The origin of life in the primitive Earth; ambient conditions; time scales for the emergence of terrestrial life. Experimental and theoretical studies of prebiotic chemistry. Philogenetic trees and the last common ancestor. Main stages of the evolution of terrestrial life. Evolution as a universal mechanism: chance and necessity.
  • Lecture 4 Astrobiology in the Solar System. The case of Venus: evidence for a runaway greenhouse instability. The case of Mars: evidence for water at the present time and in the past; search for biosignatures. The case of Europa and Enceladus; analogies with terrestrial hydrothermal vents. The case of Titan; a laboratory for hypothetical biochemistries based on methane. Planetary protection in Solar System missions.
  • Lecture 5 - Extrasolar planets in the context of astrobiology. Observational techniques and statistical results of exoplanet surveys. Characterization of extrasolar planets; spectra of exoplanet atmospheres. Search for exoplanets in the habitable zone: challenges and perspectives. Properties of planets in the habitable zone of M-type stars. Search for atmospheric biosignatures in exoplanet atmospheres. The Galactic habitable zone.

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