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AST80001 - Astrobiology and the Origins of Life

Course/s with Unit:
A unit of study in the Graduate Certificate of Science (Astronomy), Graduate Diploma of Science (Astronomy) and Master of Science (Astronomy).

Credit Points:
12.5 Credit Points

One semester

Contact Hours:
Equivalent to 60 hours


AST80005 Exploring the Solar System and AST80004 Exploring Stars and the Milky Way, or equivalent units.


Learning and Teaching Structure:
Online delivery mode, contact via newsgroups & email.

Assessable newsgroup contributions (30%), online tests (20%) and project (50%).

This Unit will provide an overview of the multi-disciplinary nature of astrobiology - combining geology, chemistry, biology and astronomy. It will investigate the origins and evolution of life on Earth, the interaction between life and its environment, and the search for life elsewhere in the Solar System and beyond.

After successfully completing this Unit, students should be able to:

  • appreciate how astrobiology relates to other sciences;
  • understand the various theories of how life began on Earth;
  • understand the parallel evolution of life and the environment;
  • differentiate the current theories of Solar System formation, and the possibilities of finding life elsewhere in the Solar System;
  • communicate basic principles and concepts about the synthesis of complex molecules in a non-technical way understandable to the wider public;
  • understand the current status of extrasolar planet discoveries;
  • appreciate how our limited understanding of life influences current searches for life in the Solar System; and
  • research an astronomy topic in depth, using dependable sources of astronomical information on the internet and refereed journal articles.


  • An introduction to astrobiology and its multi-disciplinary nature
  • The early Earth and the rise of life
  • The co-evolution of life and its environments
  • Origin of the Solar System
  • Molecular biology, the tree of life, and the search for the last universal common ancestor
  • The synthesis of complex organic molecules on Earth and in space
  • The possibility of life elsewhere in the Solar System
  • Extrasolar planets, habitability and the signatures of life

Prescribed Textbook & Reading Materials:
For information about the textbook, follow this link.

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