Life in Our Universe

Rated 4 out of 5 by from Life from an Astronomer/Physicist Perspective During the first few lectures I thought that there was not going to be very much depth to the course. Other TC courses have covered the formation of the universe more fully and completely. OTOH, every course needs some introductory material, often at a surface level, so I was not too put off. About halfway into the course, I realized that much of the material is presented with no explanation at all as to its authenticity or why one should believe that it has merit. For example (and as another reviewer has noted) noting the telltale adsorption line of helium. This approach probably makes sense, as the course is not meant to teach us about such subjects and it really makes it easer for those with little hard science background to grasp the larger concepts. Even so, when the course shifts to areas touching of Professor Close’s expertise, we are provided with a fair amount of detail (e.g. adaptive optics). Other reviewers have noted Dr. Close’s repeated use of the word “actually”, but I did not find it off putting. However there was a distinct lack of dynamic passion in the presentation. Dr. Close is no showman, even when using his props, some constructed by him. The overall production values of the course are pretty variable. Most of the video aspects are helpful, a few visually stunning. But in an apparent attempt to stamp the course as a leading edge presentation, the audio is frankly annoying. I thought that there was some feedback the first few times in the very first lecture, that a visual cue supporting a statement flashed on the screen. Did the professor really speak in front of a studio monitor and worse yet did post-production editing not catch it? Sadly no, the post-production choices of audio cues supporting the visuals were just annoying ones. Several reviewers have commented on misstatements, or a lack of understating about RNA and amino acids by Professor Close. I fault the TC more than the Professor, as they really should have picked up on the errors as a part of their quality control (of course the Professor could have had a knowledgeable colleague provide advice and do some fact checking). Better yet, this course would be an ideal vehicle for a team teaching approach. Adding an astro-biologist to present a few lectures on her area of expertise. In spite of the flaws, there is a lot her to like and learn about. Highly recommended, but it could have been so much better.
Date published: 2019-12-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Extremely interesting, but to much detail with chemistry, neurons, protons, etc.
Date published: 2019-10-18
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Could have been so much better This is the first Great Course I've taken and been very disappointed in. Every popup text on the screen is accompanied by a feedback noise - hard to tell if it was intentional or an oversight. Either way, not good. The lecturer uses the word "actually" so often I wanted to scream - sometimes in 4 or 5 sentences in a row, and occasionally more than once in a sentence.
Date published: 2019-09-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Interesting information Bought this as a gift and they are thrilled with it
Date published: 2019-05-14
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Amazing Astrobiology Course I took Professor Close's class and I had to commend his work on this course. The course is rich with content but still easily to digest and get a handle on. The lectures build upon themselves extremely well and it is clear that Professor Close cares about this lecture and has a lot invested into it. The love behind this course was apparent. I highly recommend this course to anyone interested in Astrobiology or Astronomy as a whole.
Date published: 2019-03-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from One of my favourite "Great Courses" -- thrilling ! Yes, Professor Laird Close over-uses the word "actually". He also gives long pauses frequently: I wondered whether he was doing that intentionally to facilitate edits or inserts that might have to be made when he reviewed playback. Anyway, those tics didn't throw me; I found his style engaging, easy to follow, and very clear. It was a major plus to see a lecturer so obviously in love with his discipline, and eager to share his knowledge. The content of Dr. Close's course is brilliant: he creates a compelling and deeply fascinating story in a friendly but authoritative manner. His 24 lectures flow smoothly through an ideal progression, holding interest throughout. The liberal use of clear, strong graphics and video clips adds enormously to this winning, handsome course. I DISliked the various sound effects, though: the whooshing, dings, pipping and other odd sounds which were introduced presumably to emphasis points. One noise made me think my house, car or smoke alarm had gone off! This is my 200th review, and I'm privileged to mark the fact with this outstanding, engrossing course that starts by considering whether we are alone in the universe. In 1990 I met Dr. Isaac Asimov (he of the famous quote our lecturer refers to); two years later Dr. Asimov passed to eternity and now knows all the answers. For all of us on the planet, this course has to be a high point in the explanation of the formation of the universe, the birth of our "Goldilocks" planet, and the scientific quest for life elsewhere, as we journey into the world of ASTRO-BIOLOGY, searching for a planet that we might populate one day, even outside our solar system. Dr. Close's comparisons of Earth and our other solar system planets are superb, even exciting, I'd say. The lectures on extraterrestrial intelligent life, SETI, fossilized life from Mars, the Fermi paradox, and space travel - a reality check, are truly highlights. "Life in Our Universe" has immediate appeal to people with an enquiring scientific bent, particularly those with an interest in astronomy and life forms (c'est moi!); I strongly recommend this course to EVERYONE. It's 5-star all-round, one of my top choices from my 200+ Great Courses.
Date published: 2019-01-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Overall Good Overall, this is a very good class. The professor is excellent and is a very good communicator. I docked it one star because I feel like the class should have spent a little more time on astro-biology and a little less on our own planet. While I wish the time had been allocated a little differently, this is still well-worth watching.
Date published: 2018-09-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fascinating Course I learned a lot about life and what it takes to make it and the possibility of other life beyond our own. The instructor is well informed and interesting.
Date published: 2018-07-03
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Life in Our Universe
Course Trailer
Is There Life Elsewhere in Our Universe?
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.

30 min
Bang! A Universe Built for Life
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.

29 min
A Star Is Born-Forming the Solar System
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.

30 min
The Early Earth and Its Moon
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.

31 min
Impacts-Bringers of Death ... or Life?
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.

29 min
Evidence of the First Life on Earth
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.

31 min
Common Themes for All Life on Earth
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.

30 min
Origin of Terrestrial Life
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 geneti...

30 min
Astrobiology-Life beyond Earth
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.

27 min
Has Mars Always Been Dead?
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.

28 min
Evidence for Fossilized Life from Mars
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.

28 min
Could Life Ever Have Existed on Venus?
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.

31 min
Liquid Assets-The Moons of Jupiter
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.

31 min
Liquid on Titan and Enceladus
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.

32 min
Discovery of Extrasolar Planets
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.

29 min
The Kepler Spacecraft's Planets
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.

30 min
A Tour of Exotic Alien Solar Systems
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.

31 min
Extraterrestrial Intelligent Life
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.

29 min
SETI-The Search for Intelligent Life
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 enormo...

31 min
The Fermi Paradox-Where Is Everyone?
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.

31 min
Space Travel-A Reality Check
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.

32 min
Terraforming a Planet
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.

30 min
The Future of Terrestrial Life
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.

32 min
The Search for Another Earth
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.

36 min
Laird Close

We are wonderers and explorers by nature-and we are just starting to set our sights on the stars, setting the stage for mankind's biggest adventure yet!


The University of Arizona


The University of Arizona

About Laird Close

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 and mentor by his university, and in 2004, he was honored with a prestigious National Science Foundation CAREER Award, which is awarded to the top few percent of young science professors in America. He has also won major awards from the NSF's Major Research Instrumentation, Advanced Technologies, and Instrumentations program, and its Astronomy and Astrophysics program. Dr. Close has additionally won support from numerous NASA Origins of Solar Systems grants and is a member of NASA's astrobiology institute. While a researcher at the University of Hawaii, he discovered the first moon around an asteroid with a full orbit. Serving as Deputy Director for Adaptive Optics at the European Southern Observatory in 1998, he was the first instrument scientist for the most successful adaptive optics camera in the Southern Hemisphere. As a leader in brown dwarf and extrasolar planet high-contrast imaging astrophysics, he has invented and helped develop several cameras for the world's largest telescopes. Professor Close is the principal scientist of the 6.5m Magellan Adaptive Optics extrasolar planet imager, located in the high Atacama Desert of Chile.

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