BEES6741 – Astrobiology: Life in the Universe

Artist’s impression of an extrasolar planet discovered by the Kepler mission. (Credit: NASA)

BEES6741 – Astrobiology: Life in the Universe explores the search for life elsewhere in the universe through the origin and emergence of life on Earth, the mysteries of why the Earth-like planet Mars died early on in its evolution and the implications for life elsewhere in the solar system and beyond.

Astrobiology is an interdisciplinary science, encompassing aspects of biology, chemistry, geology and astronomy. BEES 6741 is a BEES fully online third stage science elective. There are three diverse assignments that that build one on the other towards the key outcome – to comprehend the true nature of science through the interesting lens of the search for life elsewhere in the universe. There is no final exam.

Typical comments from students:

  • "...the best course I've ever done, and I've done a lot"
  • "...very interactive and enjoyable"
  • "...best course for student support"
  • “…there’s no rote learning”

Astrobiology involves the origin, evolution and future of life on Earth and elsewhere in the universe. These key concepts are interconnected; for example, we need to understand the limits and workings of life on Earth before we can make decisions about how to search for life elsewhere. How did life begin on Earth? Why did life on Earth emerge and rise to intelligence, while Mars – in the same habitable zone – failed? Did life ever arise on Mars? And whether it did or not, how does that inform our search for life elsewhere in the solar system and beyond?

In the first assignment, students explore the how life and our planet co-evolved. In the second assignment, students are taught field trip skills to explore a course-specific designed interactive Virtual Field Trip to the Pilbara in Western Australia. They use a field notebook to explore ten related sites where the earliest, most convincing evidence, of life on Earth 3.48 billion years ago can be found. They then join with at least one other student in the online environment to interpret the sequence of events that led to an environment where life could thrive and make a 3-minute video of their interpretation. The final assignment is a research exploration of Mars, and the implications for finding life elsewhere in the universe.

Astrobiology is compelling, and so is the presentation of the course in short texts, pictures and short videos with primary cutting-edge science reading materials to deepen your understanding of our origins and our place in space.

Note that students are strongly encouraged to take the second stage science and general education elective BEES2741 Introduction to Astrobiology before taking BEES6741 except where students have some background in geology or microbiology from their studies at university.

Study level: Undergraduate and Postgraduate

6 units of credit

Current handbook entry Current timetable Course outline

Who should I contact?

Coordinator: Dr Carol Oliver

What does this course cover?

Modules cover co-evolution of life and our planet, early life on Earth, virtual field trip skills, hot springs and the origin of life, Mars missions of the past, present and future, forming a research question, and habitable worlds.

Where does this course fit into my degree?

This science elective will provide an insight into your degree unlike any other subject. You will discover how life fits into the vast universe and understand the breadth and depth of the question “Are we alone?” For younger students, it seems very likely humans will visit Mars in your lifetime, and so will impact our off-planet thinking in the future. Astrobiology also provides insights into how your specific discipline fits into the other sciences by exploring the profound and compelling questions about the origin of life on Earth, the possibility of past or present life on Mars, and into the wider cosmos in the search for intelligent civilisations elsewhere through the interdisciplinary lens of geology, microbiology, evolution, geochemistry, climate change, astrophysics and astronomy.

Is there assumed prior knowledge or a pre-requisite?

The pre-requisite for the course is 45 Units of Credit in science. However, if you have taken the UNSW general education/first year science elective course BEES2741 Introduction to Astrobiology, and you have at least one full year of university experience then the pre-requisite can be waived.


NB: All information provided on this page is superseded by information provided by the course coordinator or lecturer(s).