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

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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 two fields together - astronomy and biology - can answer one of our most powerful and primal questions: are we alone in the universe?

What you'll learn:

  • 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

Meet The Faculty

Colin Fredericks

Colin Fredericks

Lead Course Developer at HarvardX, Harvard University

Dr. Fredericks is a Senior Project Lead at HarvardX, and is also the course coordinator for this class. He brings a strong background in physics and a keen interest in astronomy to the course. Colin has been teaching at the high school and college levels since 2000, and also served as course coordinator for Mechanics Review on edX in the summer of 2013 and the first version of this course in early 2015. He is the winner of the 2010-11 Learning Triangle award for teaching.

Dimitar Sasselov

Dimitar Sasselov

Professor of Astronomy, Harvard University

Professor Sasselov is a professor of astronomy at Harvard. He is the Director of the Origins of Life Initiative, a new interdisciplinary institute that joins biologists, chemists, planetary scientists and astronomers in searching for the starting points of life on Earth (and possibly elsewhere). He is also a co-investigator on NASA's Kepler mission, searching for exoplanets the size of Earth. Dr. Sasselov is an astronomer who explores the interaction between light and matter to study stars and their planets. What is an astronomer doing looking for the origins of life? Sasselov suggests that planetary conditions are the seedbed of life. Knowing the composition and conditions of a planet will give us clues, perhaps, as to how life might form there. He hopes to use those clues to search for life on exoplanets.

Alessandro Massarotti

Alessandro Massarotti

Associate, Harvard College Observatory

Dr. Alessandro Massarotti is an Associate Professor at Stonehill College and an Associate at the Harvard College Observatory. His current field of interest is the study of the interior of rocky planets, ranging from Mars-sized planets all the way to super-Earths. He is particularly interested in the role of mantle melts in plate tectonics and, more in general, in the thermal evolution of terrestrial planets. He obtained his Ph. D. Degree at the University of Chicago with a thesis on galaxy formation. He then came to Harvard as a postdoctoral fellow before becoming professor at Stonehill College.

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