Life in the Universe
Prof. Richard Pogge, MTWThF 12:30
Unit 2: Five Revolutions
Why is Astrobiology only now becoming a real, serious scientific inquiry
in the early 21st century? This unit will review five scientific
revolutions that have set the stage for us to start seriously addressing
the question of life on other worlds for the first time in human
history. Along the way, I will use these lectures to illustrate how
science works and helps give us the necessary intellectual framework in
which to pose answerable questions and interpret the answers. This
forms the essential background for the rest of the course.
The lecture notes below are in Adobe PDF format, and the accompanying
audio recordings are in MP3 format.
- The Copernican Revolution
(Jan 6) - [Audio]
- The Chemical Revolution: The Nature of Matter
(Jan 9) - [Audio]
- The Geological Revolution: Deep Time and the Age of the Earth
(Jan 10) - [Audio]
- The Biological Revolution: What is Life?
(Jan 11) - [Audio]
- The Cosmological Revolution: The Depths of Space and Time
(Jan 12) - [Audio]
Lectures will be posted on the morning before class, or earlier if I get
ahead of things. Please also see A Note
about Graphics to learn why some of the graphics shown in the
lectures are not reproduced in these notes.
All readings for this unit should be viewed as supplemental: I
am taking a different approach from the book, as I feel it is as
important to understand how we came by our modern view of the world as
what that view is. I'm setting the stage for later sections where we
will dive right into the modern state of knowledge. All readings are
from various sections of Chapters 2 to 4 in the 3rd Edition of
Life in the Universe. Not all topics covered in this
unit are covered in the book, or covered in the same way, so these
readings jump around a lot more than they will in other units.
If you have a copy of the 2nd edition of Life in the
Universe, the section headings are the same but the page
numbers are different (and there are a few different graphics, but
they are differences without a substantive distinction - mostly more
colorful or slightly more "artsy" in the 3rd edition).
- The Copernican Revolution
- Sections 2.1 or 2.2. This covers ancient Greek astronomy and the
- The Chemical Revolution
- Section 3.4, while my lecture emphasizes more the history of our
thinking about matter, this reading will give you a reasonable a
general overview of the subject, and review the basic vocabulary of
atoms and molecules.
- The Geological Revolution
- Section 4.2, pages 108-112 on radiometric dating and the age of
the Earth. Again I take an historical approach to see the changes in
our thinking that had to occur for the radiometric result to make
sense, the book interleaves the discussion of these topics in the
larger context of the history of the Earth which we'll touch on again
- The Biological Revolution
- There is no corresponding reading - the book mostly focuses on
Darwin and Natural Selection which we'll deal with more later.
- The Cosmological Revolution
- Section 3.1 and 3.2 give another view of this, again less from the
historical perspective adopted in this unit. Should make good
supplemental reading, but I won't be going into this kind of detail
(this section of the book is highly compressed).
Return to the Astronomy 141 Main Page
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Updated: 2012 January 12
Copyright © Richard W. Pogge, All