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Introduction to Astrobiology : environment of primitive and potential extraterrestrial ecosystems

PSL Master in Life Sciences - ENS IMaLiS
Bio-M2_PG EABISS ENS/Observatoire | Introduction to Astrobiology
Year : 2 (M2)
Semester : 1 (S1)
Duration : 30 hours | September 21-25, 2020


Stéphane Mazevet (Observatoire de Paris)
Régis Ferrière (IBENS & UMI iGLOBES CNRS, ENS, Univ. Arizona)


9am>12pm - 2pm>5pm | ENS Department of Biology




Primitive Earth, Mars, planets, exoplanets, habitability.

Course prerequisites

This is an introductory class, intended to be broadly accessible to students with a BS in science. The class will use basic notions of ecology and programming in Python.

Course objectives and description

The goal of this course is to give an overview and teach the basic principles currently in place to investigate scientifically the question of life beyond Earth. With more than 4,000 exoplanets discovered in the past 25 years, the question of finding life beyond Earth is at the forefront of modern science. In astrophysics, this translates in a massive effort to develop a new generation of ground and space telescopes that will bring groundbreaking observations in the coming decade. These observations are not direct ; they focus, in the most favorable cases, on the spectroscopic characterization of the atmosphere. In this context, detecting biological activity beyond Earth translates into identifying the influence of the biosphere on the atmosphere and quantifying biotic and abiotic processes governing its long term evolution. This will be achieved though a novel integration of ecology and planetary science.
The course will introduce the students to the knowledge and techniques needed to contribute to this interdisciplinary research field.
The course will cover the revised history of the Earth and the solar system and its robotic exploration ; the detection and characterization of exoplanets ; the long term evolution of Earth, Mars, and Venus ; the notion of habitability extended to extraterrestrial environments.


Evaluation will be based on individual presentations, on the last day of the class.

Course material

Slides and online presentations will be made available.

Suggested readings

• S. Domagal-Goldman and Katherine E. Wright (2016) The astrobiology primer v2.0. Astrobiology 16.
• D. Catling, J. Kasting (2018) Atmospheric evolution on inhabited and lifeless worlds. Cambridge university press