Life in Our Universe

Course No. 1898
Professor Laird Close, Ph.D.
The University of Arizona
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Course No. 1898
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Course Overview

Are we alone in the universe? Or does the cosmos pulse with diverse life forms? This is one of the most profound issues facing mankind—and one of the unresolved questions that science may finally be able to answer in this century. Both scenarios are mind-boggling and, to quote futurist Isaac Asimov, equally frightening. No matter what the answer, the implications are vast.

If even the most rudimentary life forms could be found elsewhere in our universe, it would be a paradigm-shifting revelation on par with discovering the atom. Finding microbes in an extraterrestrial location would dramatically increase the chances of life being common everywhere, and encountering intelligent life would forever alter our place in the cosmos.

There has never been a better time to study our universe. NASA's Kepler mission, the first dedicated extrasolar planet-finding spacecraft, is rapidly changing what we understand about planets around other stars. At present, it has detected hundreds of confirmed planets, and well over 2,000 likely new planets have been identified. And exponential growth in telescope power and other critical technologies is enabling scientists to make new discoveries every day.

Life in Our Universe reveals the cutting-edge research leading scientists to believe that life is not exclusively the domain of Earth. Taught by Dr. Laird Close, an award-winning Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at The University of Arizona, these 24 mind-expanding lectures offer an unparalleled look at the subject of life and the mysteries that remain. Supported by stunning visuals, this course shares some of the most intriguing discoveries that the fields of astronomy, biology, geology, chemistry, and physics have to offer.

You'll examine the remarkable coincidences that created our planet and sustained its habitability for 3.5 billion years. And you'll join the hunt for microbial life elsewhere in our solar system and Earth-like planets in alien solar systems—one of astronomy's "holy grails."

Discover the New Field of Astrobiology

Life in Our Universe offers unprecedented access to the new and exciting field of astrobiology. Until recently, universities didn't even offer astrobiology courses, and such courses are still quite rare. With Professor Close's expert guidance, you'll delve into some of the biggest questions facing science today, including the five that shape this course.

  • What can the Earth and its current and past life tell us about life in our universe?
  • Where else in our solar system can there be life?
  • Are there habitable planets and life around other stars?
  • Is there other intelligent life in our universe?
  • Is there a new home for mankind? If so, how can we find it?

You'll rewind 13.7 billion years to the big bang, when the first stars and galaxies took shape. Then, you'll fast-forward to see how a series of mishaps and cataclysmic events set the stage for early Earth—a dead planet—to become a "lucky planetesimal" that blossomed with life.

You'll learn in detail how, in its first 650 million years, Earth sustained repeated massive impacts during a period dubbed the Late Heavy Bombardment, leaving it trapped in a lifeless state devoid of a stable atmosphere or oceans.

DNA and RNA traces of humans and single-celled extremophiles help you understand how early life quickly evolved from a single common ancestor once the bombardment ceased.

You'll look closely at

  • the importance of liquid water, and whether another liquid might be capable of supporting life;
  • how Earth has maintained habitable temperatures despite fluctuations in oxygen;
  • how tiny microbes from outer space may be bombarding the Earth with regularity;
  • stars, and why their death makes our galaxy more habitable over time; and
  • critical issues surrounding terraforming, a process by which a planet such as Mars would be made more Earth-like.

You'll also investigate practical limitations to space travel—despite what science fiction would have you believe—and the astounding loopholes that would open if flat spacetime could be bent through "warp drive" or "wormholes."

Earth Is Not Your Average Planet

As you explore the planet-formation process, you'll see how it left the solar system teeming with asteroids and comets, which enriched the early Earth, and learn several properties that made Earth the most likely planet in our solar system to host life.

Find out how Earth benefited from

  • its position in the "Goldilocks Zone," just the right distance from the sun;
  • a continuously hot core powering volcanoes;
  • magnetic fields that shield us from solar winds; and
  • a large, stabilizing moon that prevents deserts from turning into polar regions and vice versa.

As you venture beyond our planet to other locations in our solar system, you'll come in contact with the ancient Martian highlands, the hellish surface of Venus, and Saturn's planet-like moon, Titan. Jupiter's moon Europa will be of particular focus—and a source of fascination—as you explore the possibility that an organism-filled liquid-water ocean lies beneath its frozen surface.

Travel beyond Our Solar System

The latter part of this intellectual adventure takes you in search of extrasolar Earth-like planets that may host—or at least be hospitable to—life. Here, you'll overview the practice and potential dangers of SETI, the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, and consider its viability in light of advances in technology and the galaxy's vastness.

In another lecture, you'll confront the startling reality that humanity will have to leave Earth or risk extinction in the distant future—an inevitability motivating astronomers to search for a new home in our solar "neighborhood." But, as the professor says, a good Earth is hard to find.

Professor Close breaks down what scientists are looking for in an extrasolar Earth, as well as the exciting breakthroughs in adaptive telescope optics that will allow the next generation of terrestrial and space-based telescopes to directly detect biomarkers across the cosmos.

As a scientist at the forefront of this field, he masterfully explains how this technique overcomes the atmosphere's blurring effect to create the extremely sharp images that allow new alien solar systems to be directly imaged.

A Visual Journey through Space

Remarkable NASA graphics and images, artistic renderings, custom interstellar animations, and planetary photographs the professor has captured in his research bring course concepts vividly alive.

Suited for the scientifically inclined and curious alike, these lectures are presented in a clear, engaging manner that makes even the most complex content highly accessible. Far from being an ivory-tower academic, Professor Close, an adaptive optics expert, has invented several cameras used for high-resolution imaging of stars and their planets and has been an integral part of many significant discoveries.

Armed with the recent findings you encounter in Life in Our Universe, you'll possess the essential context necessary to make sense of the news on emerging discoveries, including their implications—and you'll have a whole new way of looking at life.

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24 lectures
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 1
    Is There Life Elsewhere in Our Universe?
    Is there life in our universe? As you get an overview of the course—including the five major questions it will endeavor to answer—consider the possibility that life exists in some form in the cosmos. Learn how exponential growth in technological developments is enabling breakthroughs that were recently impossible. x
  • 2
    Bang! A Universe Built for Life
    How did we go from a dead universe to a universe full of life? Begin to answer this question by evaluating the scientific evidence supporting the big bang theory of the universe's creation, and learning the role stars play in creating carbon and the key elements needed for life. x
  • 3
    A Star Is Born—Forming the Solar System
    How do you make a planet? Look at what is currently known about the process by which our solar system's planets formed from billions of small planetesimals, as well as how this process left the universe teaming with asteroids and comets that play an important role in life on Earth. x
  • 4
    The Early Earth and Its Moon
    Follow a series of mishaps and cataclysmic events that set the stage for early Earth to finally flourish with life after 650 million years. Learn how a hot core, a large moon, and other properties on Earth helped lead to an active biosphere. x
  • 5
    Impacts—Bringers of Death … or Life?
    Delve into the Late Heavy Bombardment period that kept Earth stuck in a lifeless state for 650 million years, then watch an animation demonstrating the K-T impact event that wiped out the dinosaurs. Consider whether it's possible to protect ourselves from asteroids hurtling toward Earth—and why Hollywood gets it all wrong. x
  • 6
    Evidence of the First Life on Earth
    How has the Earth managed to stay within a moderate range of temperatures for billions of years, despite the atmosphere's wild fluctuations in oxygen? Study how convection, greenhouse gases, and the carbon rock cycle contribute to a powerful system of checks and balances that keep Earth's climate consistent with supporting life. Also, meet some of Earth's earliest life. x
  • 7
    Common Themes for All Life on Earth
    Now that you have covered the key elements necessary for life to exist, take a closer look at the things all life on Earth shares. Learn why the Biosphere 2 experiment in the 1990s failed, examine the behavior of microbes—the most important constituents of our biosphere—and trace life back to your universal ancestor. x
  • 8
    Origin of Terrestrial Life
    For something to be "living," it generally must use energy to drive chemical reactions, be capable of reproduction, and undergo some degree of evolution. Sort through science's best educated guesses for how and why life sprang from nonliving matter, including lessons from the groundbreaking Miller-Urey experiment. Watch an animation of protocells growing and splitting to replicate genetic information. x
  • 9
    Astrobiology—Life beyond Earth
    Why is liquid water so important? Why do icebergs float? After quickly reviewing what you have learned about the requirements for terrestrial life, take a closer look at the "liquid water carbon chemistry juggernaut," which allows organic life to thrive on Earth. Consider whether other liquids could operate as solvents for life. x
  • 10
    Has Mars Always Been Dead?
    Mars ranks as NASA's number one priority in the search for exolife. Here, you delve into why Mars is so intriguing to astrobiologists and what the search has found to date. Start with a comparison of Mars and the Earth, then watch the first-ever observation of water ice on Mars sublimating into vapor. x
  • 11
    Evidence for Fossilized Life from Mars
    In 1996, NASA claimed to have found evidence of past life on Mars inside an unassuming meteor. Evaluate the three points scientists gave in support of the microbes being Martian in origin to determine their validity. Then, learn about the theory of panspermia and meet the water bear, a tiny animal capable of surviving the extreme conditions of outer space. x
  • 12
    Could Life Ever Have Existed on Venus?
    Venus is the closest planet to the Earth and the next planet moving toward the sun, so it is a logical place to look for life. However, Venus is extremely hot and dry. Could life ever have existed? Explore the nightmarish conditions on Venus and learn why all the water vanished. x
  • 13
    Liquid Assets—The Moons of Jupiter
    Gas giant Jupiter is unlikely to inhabit life—but what about its moons? Look quickly at the importance that Galileo's discovery of Jupiter's moons had for the powerful Medici family before moving on to examine the connection between the moons' mean motion resonance and the possibility of subsurface life existing in the ice-covered oceans of Europa, Ganymede, and possibly, Callisto. x
  • 14
    Liquid on Titan and Enceladus
    Continue traveling to the cold gas giant Saturn and its large moon, Titan. Watch a video featuring actual data taken by the Huygens Probe as it pierces the thick atmosphere and lands on the surface of this frozen world, and witness the surprising Earth-like structures this probe and its mother ship found on their journey to Saturn's moons. x
  • 15
    Discovery of Extrasolar Planets
    Is our solar system common or rare? As you investigate planets orbiting around other stars, learn how the use of adaptive optics allows extrasolar planetary scientists to discover new alien solar systems with ground telescopes, and explore the three main ways astronomers detect planets: small "radio velocity wobbles," "transits," and direct imaging. x
  • 16
    The Kepler Spacecraft's Planets
    The Kepler mission is changing everything we know about extrasolar planets. Learn how this supersensitive-imaging instrument works to monitor 157,000 stars continuously for years and what it has uncovered since launching in 2009. But first, review the transit effect created when a parent star crosses its orbiting planet. x
  • 17
    A Tour of Exotic Alien Solar Systems
    Based on data from Kepler, there are thought to be four main classes of transiting planets: hot Jupiters, hot Neptunes, super-Earths, and Earth-like planets. In this lecture, you will look at detailed highlights of the most fascinating examples of each of these new classes of alien worlds, from most to least massive. x
  • 18
    Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life
    How common is simple life is in our universe? What about intelligent life? Start to answer these questions by estimating the prevalence of prokaryotic single-celled microbes and reviewing the process of evolution. Evaluate arguments in the book Rare Earth by Ward and Brownlee claiming that while microbial life is common, only Earth has intelligent life. Finally, touch on how aliens might appear. x
  • 19
    SETI—The Search for Intelligent Life
    In a lecture that "skims right on the edge of science fact and science fiction," delve into the search for extraterrestrial life, or SETI, as the method used to gauge the likelihood of intelligent communicating civilizations is known. Look closely at the Drake Equation—the mathematical rubric commonly used in the field of SETI—and consider the challenge of communicating across our enormous galaxy. x
  • 20
    The Fermi Paradox—Where Is Everyone?
    After 50 years of SETI, we have zero hard evidence of alien civilizations, "cosmic wanderlust" resulting in Earth visitations, or UFOs being extraterrestrial in nature, despite—or perhaps because of—the expansiveness of the galaxy. Speculate on reasons for, and solutions to, this so-called Fermi Paradox. x
  • 21
    Space Travel—A Reality Check
    Space is so vast that inventing a method of faster-than-light travel is the only way humans could conceivably travel the cosmos conveniently. How hard is space travel, really? In this mind-bending lecture, review the obstacles to space travel and consider their theoretical solutions—from combining matter and antimatter into energy, to taking "short cuts" via warp drive and wormholes. x
  • 22
    Terraforming a Planet
    Terraforming is a new scientific concept whereby an uninhabitable planetary environment is engineered to become more Earth-like to support human life. Explore how this complex process would play out on the two planets considered potential candidates, Mars and Venus, to fully understand the individual steps involved and the technologies necessary to achieve those steps. x
  • 23
    The Future of Terrestrial Life
    Professor Close highlights why we shouldn't be complacent about the long-term viability of Earth and presents the timescale in which humans will need to leave Earth or become vulnerable to extinction. Inspect historical evidence indicating that Earth is warming, and learn what will happen to the atmosphere in the future. x
  • 24
    The Search for Another Earth
    Now that you've seen why humanity will eventually have to leave Earth, consider astronomers' next steps, challenges, and planned missions. Examine why specialized optical systems called coronagraphs are necessary to detect habitable Earths, and how the use of direct imaging spectra is crucial to identifying whether the biomarkers of life are present on other worlds. x

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  • 24 lectures on 4 DVDs
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What Does The Course Guidebook Include?

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Course Guidebook Details:
  • 157-page printed course guidebook
  • Photos & illustrations
  • Suggested readings
  • Astrobiological Timeline

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Your professor

Laird Close

About Your Professor

Laird Close, Ph.D.
The University of Arizona
Dr. Laird Close is Professor of Astronomy and Astrophysics at The University of Arizona. Awarded a Canadian (study abroad) Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council scholarship while attending The University of British Columbia, he then earned his Ph.D. in Adaptive Optics from the renowned University of Arizona Astronomy Department where he now teaches. Professor Close has been highlighted as an outstanding professor...
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Reviews

Life in Our Universe is rated 4.0 out of 5 by 40.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Life in Our Universe I love astronomy and physics, although I haven't taken a physics course for 40 years since my college. This course is complex, and the professor goes out of his way to try to explain very complicated concepts in simple terms. I only understand these concepts because I took college level physics, chemistry and calculus years ago. I studied hard and struggled to understand those physics and chemistry concepts that the professor tries to briefly relay in simple terms. I don't know how literature or business majors would have any clue of what he is talking about when he mentions spectrum absorption lines for hydrogen or helium. This course is great and gives me hours of extra enjoyment after watching each lecture, just mulling over the wonderful concepts and implications. It is best appreciated by people with a strong science background. English and philosophy majors should stick to their religion courses.
Date published: 2018-01-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Life in our rear speaker & universe My wife & I did this one together. It was a great experience. The teacher is a great speaker & does a great job with illustrations. I'm happy I bought this course & recommend it for every one.
Date published: 2018-01-15
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Poor Presentation While the information was interesting, the presentation was sub-par, almost hesitant in places, and often too repetitive. Were another presenter to offer the same course I would consider purchasing it.
Date published: 2017-11-20
Rated 1 out of 5 by from one of the poorest This would fit best as an advanced science course for junior high students, and even at that, the lecturer is, I am sorry to say, found wanting, for all of the reasons already cited. His style "actually" has been covered, as has his most egregious error, that of his misconceptions about RNA. To make an error like that is to compromise the credibility of the entire series of lectures. As did Carl Sagan so long ago, he should have started with the Drake Equation, should have developed the intriguing theory of panspermia, and directed panspermia. A great disappointment; someone at the Great Courses was asleep at the switch in selecting this, actually.
Date published: 2017-08-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Should be titled, "Life on Our Planet" I'm 6 of 24 lectures through this series, and we've heard about life for 15 minutes so far. I was hoping for a discussion on evidence for life elsewhere in our universe, but apparently there isn't much of that. We spent 3 hours on the Big Bang, and formation of our solar system, and we're finally up to bacteria. Interesting stuff, but too much on planet formation.
Date published: 2017-03-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I've watched about half of the lectures in this course so my review is only partially valid. Thus far, the course has been very informative and interesting. I have not been as sensitive (compared to other reviewers) to the presenter's quirk of using the word "actually " so often in his delivery. The topics are well chosen and delivered by Professor L. Close and I look forward to completing the course.
Date published: 2016-08-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Some great content buried in verbal,tics This course has a lot to recommend it, and some of the lectures have outstanding content and pose very timely issues and fascinating questions as to our future on this planet. Like others, the professor's incessant use of the word "actually" became such an annoyance that I would put off listening to the next lecture or skip through parts. Sometimes the lecture was so dry or technical that I would have to back up and listen again because my mind wandered. So overall, some nuggets of information but I wouldn't rush out to buy another course from this professor. As far as explaining the history and origins of our solar system, I thought the big history course was much better and easier for a lay person like me to digest.
Date published: 2016-03-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Life in Our Universe. An intriguing course expertly taught and presented. The graphics were outstanding. Highly recommended.
Date published: 2015-10-06
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Sorry, not worth it I finally had to stop watching this one. Initially, Professor Close's overuse of the word "actually" was a minor irritant but pretty soon I began to realize that it was a cover up for not being completely familiar with the material. "Actually" is his way of making the listener believe that what he is saying is true without actually having to back it up with facts. It all came to a head when he described terrestrial ocean ridge environments as harbors for early life but repeatedly referred to these environments as trenches. Actually, trenches are at the other end of oceanic tectonic plates where seafloor is being subducted beneath a continent.
Date published: 2015-07-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Life in Our Universe I'm a fan of "The Great Courses". Dr, Close's "Life in Our Universe" is a great example. Another is Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson's "The Inexplicable Universe: Unsolved Mysteries". This course discusses the more recent advances in technology that make modern observations possible. What is truly amazing is the way that subtler levels information can be teased out of those observations.
Date published: 2015-02-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding professor-outstanding material! I am a professor of biology so I understand professors like Dr. Close. I am disappointed that others have given him less than an outstanding review. This suggests to me that these people really have not carefully listened to the content of this course. I have subscribed to many courses, and I would rank this one as the top 3-4 I have viewed. The course covers humankind's most ambitious endeavor, to discover if there is life elsewhere in the Universe. He is up to date and the course illustrations are magnificent. I strongly recommend that subscribers to The Great Courses order and view this fantastic course. Professor R. Malcolm Brown, Jr. The University of Texas at Austin
Date published: 2014-12-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Very factual and informative; just overpriced IMHO Watched it on Netflix streaming for free. Was very informative. I think all the Great Courses are priced too highly, and this was no exception.
Date published: 2014-11-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good, not great Dr. Close does a nice job. Not an inspiring lecturer but solid. The best part of course for me was his review of cosmology and the evolution of life here on earth. A lot of the rest is of course very conjectural. Section of terraforming quite interesting. Recommended for those with strong interest in subject, more casual viewers may be slightly disappointed.
Date published: 2014-07-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Life if you can handle it The content was good, however the way it was delivered was terrible. He hesitates so often, that you wonder if he's looking at notes above the camera. He never changed clothes he was never animated, it was so boring I as sorry i purchased the course.
Date published: 2014-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Worth Your Time Rather if it is for fun, a fascination or even an escape, pondering on the stars often brings back the childhood curiosity in many of us. This same curiosity was a driving force that inspired ancient civilizations to explore, seek knowledge and search for a sense purpose. For those who seek to understand more about our planet, our solar system and our galaxy; this lecture collection will offer exciting facts and valuable details that may completely change your current understanding and appreciation for life and the universe. From the first generation stars to the very real possibility that Mother Nature may extend elsewhere in the Milky Way galaxy or perhaps within our solar system; it is all collectively organized and well explained throughout the lectures. Most importantly, the lectures by Professor Laird Close are exciting and passionate. Passion has landed Curiosity on Mars and in the coming years, will change the way we explore our galaxy with adaptive optics; a technique and technology that Professor Close is very Knowledgeable of. I am very fortunate to have learned all that I have with this lecture collection.
Date published: 2014-02-13
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Life in Our Universe A fun course to just kick back and listen. The professor guides you on a journey through our solar system and beyond while explaining the ingredients necessary for life. You will learn about the zone of habitability in which a planet should reside to increase its chances for life. You may be shocked to find out how similar Mars is to earth along with some distant moons around Saturn and Jupiter. The Lectures on the Kepler mission are fascinating and reveal that our Milky Way galaxy is flooded with planets around other stars. So, break out the popcorn and puzzle over the probabilities of life and what it might look like somewhere else. -Enjoy!
Date published: 2014-02-11
Rated 2 out of 5 by from errors, errors, errors... I usually would not pick on one's small errors, but frequency and nature of errors here just exceeded my tolerance. RNA does not consist of amino acids (proteins do). RNA is a chain if ribonucleic acids, as its abbreviation suggests. This fact renders thought experiment in lecture 8 invalid, as there are only 4 ribonucleic acids (A,C,U,G) as opposed to 20 amino acids. This would lead to quite different figures, when determining probabilities of spontaneous RNA molecule formation. Statement "Nucleosides A and G are going to bond together; C, T, and U are, probably, also going to bond together" is incorrect in more than one way. Purines bond with pyrimidines, not within the groups, and do it in exact manner: A with T or U; G with C. So, chains made of just As and Gs, contemplated by Dr. Close, are not feasible. Also, pyrimidines (C,T,U), not purines are smaller molecules, consisting of just one ring, which are more likely to spontaneously form. How can one speak about astrobiology without understanding basic biochemistry of terrestrial life? Somebody really has to listen to material before it gets released... Also Boiling is massive evaporation, not per see convection-type phenomenon. There are no negative temperatures on Kelvin scale. Must say, I found some astronomy-related material and graphs rather interesting...
Date published: 2013-09-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Exobiology Explained This course is a fairly comprehensive tour of what the lecturer calls Astrobiology - the study of life beyond earth, which is pretty conjectural considering we haven't found evidence of that yet. Life in our Universe combines elements of biology and astrophysics (which I really liked), and for me the course really started to heat up during the last third of the lectures when Dr. Close reviewed topics such as Kepler, SETI, and in particular, the "reality check" on space travel in Lecture 21. This section should give any proponent of UFOs and ancient aliens pause. The only down note in this course was the lecturer's presentation style, which I found to be rote, mundane, and sleep-inducing. I would have preferred a little more energy on the part of Dr. Close. It's a small thing, but this course contains valuable information on the current state of Astrobiology, if the viewer can stay awake.
Date published: 2013-07-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Lecturer habits I have mixed emotions on this course. The content and general presentation is excellent; however, the speaker's use of the word 'actually' is so pervasive it is difficult to avoid listening for the word - which occurs 100-200 times per lecture, and peaks at 8-10 per minute when the topic is particularly interesting; sometimes with substitution of 'basicly'. Good luck, the content is fascinating.
Date published: 2013-07-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Almost Outstanding To begin, I want to make sure everyone who reads this review understands that I appreciated and liked this course. It was well thought out and well presented and had I not viewed many courses on this basic subject matter, I may well have rated it as outstanding. But, I have previously purchased and viewed many of the Teaching Company courses on astronomy, cosmology and biology and did not find that much material really new to sink my teeth into. I thought much of the beginning material was rather elementary and it was not until later in the course where recent scientific advances such as adoptive optics were covered, was I able to become engrossed. The course material flowed smoothly and it was obvious that Professor Close knew his subject but there was just not that glimmer of sunshine that would have made me become fascinated. If this is your first venture into astronomy/astrobiology then I am convinced you will like the course. If you are comfortable with your knowledge of the solar system and biology of life however, then perhaps you may find this a little boring.
Date published: 2013-07-07
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Annoyance Actually I've watched only the first six lectures, but I'm annoyed by Professor Close's overuse of the word "actually." I counted over fifty in one lecture, sometimes three in a single breath! We're used to TV interviews filled with "you know," which, by the way, he uses occasionally, but the "actually"s have gotten to me. Good content, fine visuals. If he would re-do the course - and if he does, please exchange my copy for the new one - without the "actually"s the effort would be worth a rating of "5 excellent."
Date published: 2013-06-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Mixed Review The subject of this course is fascinating, and Professor Laird definitely has a wide-ranging knowledge in the field. The course is chock-full of information - much of which is not widely available. However, I found the professor to deliver his material very awkwardly. He also had a tendency to inflate about 10 minutes worth of material into a thirty minute lecture. This course also had the VERY annoying sound-effects associated with text appearing on the video that others have complained of. There was also a huge variation in the level of the course content - at times almost grade-school level and at times college level. So while I definitely learned quite a bit, I was disappointed in the overall product.
Date published: 2013-05-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from simply... -=AWESOME=- Professor Close puts a broad understanding of astronomy easily within grasp, and I definitely did not feel he was "dumbing it down" so I could understand any of it. He puts an understanding of both our universe and humankind's place in it within reach in at least two ways: both within the distance my mind can easily stretch and also on the television or video player of my choice. I feel very strongly that this course should be made a standard part of all high school curricula. THIS DEFINITELY MATTERS.
Date published: 2013-05-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Course on Astrobiology I have a big interest in astronomy and physics. Recently ive been thinking about cosmology ideas but this course had re-sparked my interest in astrobiology. Laird Close is a great professor and this course is well put together with animations and fascinating topics.
Date published: 2013-05-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Two kinds of fun At first glance, one would think that Dr Close's LIFE IN OUR UNIVERSE (video download) and Dr. Hazen's ORIGINS OF LIFE (DVD) would share much in common. Both try to define life. Both deal with various theories purporting to explain how life evolved from non-life. And since neither offers definitive answers on this question, both are among the most speculative science courses TTC has to offer. But that is where their similarities end. UNIVERSE is primarily an overview of our solar system and newly-discovered planets a few light years away with a few basic questions in mind — Could life as we know it exist there? (The usual answer is no.) If not, what would life have to be like to thrive in these environments? We enjoy informed flights of fancy mixed in with terrific CGI imagery and NASA reconstructions. The landing on Saturn's largest moon Titan is particularly memorable. Consider UNIVERSE an addition to Dr. Filippenko's very comprehensive UNDERSTANDING THE UNIVERSE (2nd Ed.). It's astronomy first, biology second. For teaching kids and adolescents, it offers much more eye candy to blow their imagination with than ORIGINS. Writers and sci-fi enthusiasts will definitely prefer it too. If you think science is a bedrock of "facts", prepare to be shocked. UNIVERSE starts close to home with educated conjectures, tops them with scientific guesses about nearby planets and then adds measured, interstellar fancies over that. And this is perfectly normal. Science begins with questions. It's just that you must be mentally prepared for imaginative flights tempered by scientific data that a novelist would be comfortable with. _________________ Dr. Hazen's ORIGINS OF LIFE, on the other hand, is more complementary to Dr. Nowicki's BIOLOGY: THE SCIENCE OF LIFE. The origin of life can be studied "top-down" from fossil evidence, or "bottom-up" from the behavior of simple organic compounds in specific circumstances. Hazen speculates too about emergence and the possibility that extremophiles — single cells thriving in very harsh environments — may shed light on early life, but he limits himself to planet Earth and carbon-based life as we know it. His course is much more chemistry-oriented, though not difficult. It is a detailed exploration of the contact points between life in its simplest forms and non-life. And since no satisfactory explanation has yet been developed as to how early life appeared so quickly after our planet cooled down, we must accept, here too, educated guesses and speculation. There is more. Hazen's ORIGINS is a good primer on the sociology of science. Older theories gel into orthodoxies, attract funding, and serve to block new ideas. There are factions behind each early-life scenario vying for attention and resources. All in all, ORIGINS is more abstract and pedestrian-looking than UNIVERSE. It is also an older course with no CGI effects. DVDs or visual downloads are nevertheless preferable to purely aural platforms because chemical explanations are highly visual. It may be tough going if your intended audience is young. But what a head trip! Hazen goes from one possible scenario to another. This is a great introduction to science-in-the-making. Much more fun than disciplines where everything is settled. ____________________ PRESENTATION in both cases are very good. I preferred ORIGINS, but that's me. I'm partial to biology, to Hazen's infectious enthusiasm and to his speculative turn of mind, especially his Lecture 8 on emergence. The lectures on clay-based, origin-of-life theories (17 and 18) are also very intriguing. Even though his course is slightly older (2008, I think), his approach is still very current." Highly recommended for two different audiences.
Date published: 2013-04-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Falls Somewhat Short (Stream + transcript) Although the subject is extremely fascinating, the pleasure of learning new things (an hearing the confirmation to the things already known) was somewhat ruined for me by the professor's uneven presentation, particularly in the first 5-6 lectures. He got smoother as the course moved along and in the end it was worthwhile.
Date published: 2013-04-16
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A Little Disappointing Over several years I have purchased more than two dozen Great Courses on many subjects. In all honesty, only one other has been even less satisfying than this one. (Many of the courses I have bought, in contrast, have been outstanding, fully worth the money.) Had I known in advance, I probably would not have bought "Life in Our Universe." I really don't think I got my money's worth this time. I am not sure I can recommend it. Prof. Close was generally knowledgeable, but once he got out of his area of technical expertise, he did make some scientific blunders which even I as a "layman" caught. (For example, RNA is not made up of amino acids.) As well, of all the lecturers I have watched (listened to, in one audio only course), he had the least smooth delivery, at times rather hesitant and jerky. He was not a polished orator. Some of the presentation was highly speculative, a little "out in space," to employ a pun. Another presenter might have offered a quite different set of speculations. Also, and perhaps most importantly of all regarding the course as a whole, it dealt with an area of science that is moving so quickly, the course matter will soon become obsolete. It will have little staying power. Don't buy it in five years (or maybe even three). There were technical production issues, at least with the copy of the course I received. Several lectures were of poor visual quality, at times a little out of focus and rather "squashed" horizontally in aspect ratio. (I would put in a DVD of another Great Course immediately after -- sometimes I watch two in tandem -- and everything was fine, so it was not my equipment.) Some of the audio effects were a little overdone, almost a little amateurish compared to some of the others courses I have. I wonder if the production was rushed out the door without adequate quality control. The best part of the course was the "new age" music that played while the credits were rolling at the end of each DVD.
Date published: 2013-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Outstanding and mind-blowing presentation This is not a course about crazy theories and speculations about life in the universe. The professor starts by explaining how stars and planets are formed and progresses to discuss how life on earth may have started, how planets in other solar systems have been discovered, how other earth-like planets have been found and their frequency, etc. The presentation is clear and methodical and reasonably understandable. Mind-blowing issues and extremely thought provoking!
Date published: 2013-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Life In Our Universe This is a very mind-expanding and thought-provoking program. Very worthwhile. Fine presentation. In this vein, I highly recommend also the following: Understanding the Universe: An Introduction to Astronomy, 2nd Ed.; Black Holes Explained (Dr. Alex Filippenko), Experiencing Hubble: Understanding the Greatest Images of the Universe (Dr. David Meyer), Cosmology: The History and Nature of Our Universe (Dr. Mark Whittle). However, I must comment on one of the lectures In Life In Our Universe, in that it was not the "Roman Inquisition" that burned Fr. Bruno at the stake..... and it was, I believe, a bit of luck with a touch of outside influence that Galileo escaped the same fate. Understanding perhaps why Dr. Close referred to the Inquisition that way, it remains that religion, as it has been historically and remains today, because of its very nature, is not really a friend of science. However, that is a topic for another time......
Date published: 2013-04-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An eye opening course Even though I don't believe in evolution, I really enjoyed this course.The professor has a very balanced approach. Some examples: You hear about the possibility of life evolving from silicon instead of carbon, and he talks about the problems with that. Finding life on Mars, possible, and then talks about the problems it would have to overcome, and where it might be. He'll talk about the latest issues, and then adds...that's true, BUT here's what they don't tell you. I learn alot about how planets are found around other stars, and the chances of life existing on them. The odds for finding basic life is very good, the odds of finding intelligent life very remote, and he explains why. He even gives his thoughts on UFO's. A very good course, no matter where you stand on evolution.
Date published: 2013-04-05
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