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    An undergraduate course in Science.

Planetary science and the search for life

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This course tackles fundamental questions about our Solar System. How did it form and how has it evolved? Why aren’t all the planets like Earth? How and why did life arise on Earth? Has life arisen elsewhere in the Solar System or beyond, and could it be intelligent? You’ll look at the exploration of the Solar System by spacecraft; planetary processes such as volcanism and impacts; the structure of planets and their atmospheres; and asteroids, comets and meteorites. You’ll use web-based resources and electronic conferencing extensively. Although the course is intended for a wide range of people, a background in science is required.

Modules at Level 2 assume that you are suitably prepared for study at this level. If you want to take a single module to satisfy your career development needs or pursue particular interests, you don’t need to start at Level 1 but you do need to have adequately prepared yourself for OU study in some other way. Check with our Student Registration & Enquiry Service to make sure that you are sufficiently prepared.

Register for the course


Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£440.00
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Registration opens on 24/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2018.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£440.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 24/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2018.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£985.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 24/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2018.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£440.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 24/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2018.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£985.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 24/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2018.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£1316.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 24/04/14

An additional fee for the examination may apply.

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2018.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£440.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 24/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2018.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£865.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 24/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2018.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£1316.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 24/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2018.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£1316.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 24/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2018.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£440.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 24/04/14

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2018.
Start End Fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015
£1316.00
Choose country above

Registration opens on 24/04/14

See below for information about part time tuition fee loans available for study towards a qualification.

This course is expected to start for the last time in October 2018.

*Fees may vary by country.

What you will study

The course comprises two parts, each consisting of a full-colour book. DVD and web-based material support and extend the two parts and are an integral part of the course.

An Introduction to the Solar System: we begin with a look at our own Solar System, examining the layout of the planets and their basic physical properties. You will learn about the structure and origin of the Solar System, and about the differences and similarities between Solar System bodies, from meteorites, asteroids and comets to the giant gas planets such as Jupiter and Saturn. You will also see how planetary processes such as impact cratering and volcanism have shaped the surfaces of many bodies in the Solar System, and explore the processes at work in the atmospheres of both terrestrial and giant planets. Throughout this first part, you will see how our knowledge has been added to from a wide range of space missions.

A range of activities support this first part, including extensive computer and web-based activities. For example, you will use computer spreadsheets to investigate some of the theoretical ideas that are presented in the course. The web provides a source of up-to-date information about planetary geology, space missions and experiments, and we will keep you abreast of developments by links to relevant web-based material on the course website.

An Introduction to Astrobiology: the Earth, given our present state of knowledge, is unique in that it sustains a diverse range of life. But how does a habitable planet arise, and what are the chances of other Earth-like planets elsewhere in the Universe? These are the exciting topics of a rapidly advancing field of planetary science known as astrobiology. We begin this second part with a look at how life might have arisen on Earth, where the basic building blocks for life came from and how widespread these might be in the Universe. You will learn about other bodies in our own Solar System that may have the right conditions for life, and examine how we might go about deciding if there is, or has ever been, life elsewhere in the Solar System. Moving on from our own Solar System, we will examine the methods used to assess and characterise planets around other stars and consider what proportion of these may be capable of sustaining life. Finally, we will examine the possibility of intelligent life existing elsewhere in the Universe and look at humankind’s attempts to search for it.

Entry

The course is intended for a wide range of people, so the amount of mathematics is modest: it includes simple algebra and graphs; powers of ten; graphs showing relationships between values of two quantities. Angles measured in both degrees and radians, and the sine and cosine of an angle occur in the text in several places. Several algebraic equations are used, but you have to manipulate only a handful of fairly simple equations. You must be able to put values into algebraic equations to obtain a result, and we give you practice in solving such problems. You do not have to remember lengthy equations and the values of physical constants, as they will be given in the examination paper. You must be competent with a scientific calculator; if you are not, you will need to refer to your calculator manual.

With proper preparation, this course is suitable for those who want to develop their understanding of planetary science: anyone who has a general interest; amateur geologists and astronomers; and schoolteachers (at all levels) who want to use the enormous appeal of the subject matter to enhance their teaching of science.

You are not expected to have any knowledge of planetary science, but we recommend that you do not attempt this course without a sound knowledge of science from our Level 1 courses. 

A pass in Exploring science (S104) will provide appropriate science and maths preparation, though if you are not confident in your maths ability then you should also study Maths for science (S151). Using mathematics (MST121) is another option for meeting the maths requirement; this exceeds the level of mathematics required for S283, but you will need to study this course if you are planning to study Level 3 courses in physics and astronomy.  

It is essential that you establish whether or not your background and experience give you a sound basis on which to tackle the course, since students who are appropriately prepared have the best chance of completing their studies successfully. The Science Faculty has produced a booklet Are You Ready For S283? to help you to decide whether you already have the recommended background knowledge or experience to start the course or whether you need a little extra preparation. This can be viewed or printed from the Are you ready for science? website.  If you have any doubt about the suitability of the course, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.

Regulations

As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

If you have a disability

The study materials are available in Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF). Components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and mathematical, scientific, and foreign language materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. You will need to spend considerable amounts of time using a personal computer and the internet. If you have severely impaired sight, you might not be able to make full use of the computer-based resources or complete some of the activities without a sighted assistant. You can obtain more advice from the S283 curriculum manager.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Visit our Services for disabled students website for more information, including:

  • help to determine your study requirements and how to request the support that you need  
  • Disabled Students' Allowances (DSAs)
  • using a computer for OU study
  • equipment and other support services that we offer
  • examination arrangements
  • how to contact us for advice and support both before you register and while you are studying.

Study materials

What's included

Course books, other printed materials, DVD-ROMs, a website hosting an online discussion forum, online tutorials and other essential study materials, e.g. activity instructions and assignments, that you may choose to print out.

You will need

A scientific calculator.

Computing requirements

You will need a computer with internet access to study this course. It includes online activities – you can access using a web browser – and some course software provided on disk.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer running Windows since 2007 you should have no problems completing the computer-based activities.
  • A netbook, tablet or other mobile computing device is not suitable for this course – check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you have an Apple Mac or Linux computer – please note that you can only use it for this course by running Windows on it using Boot Camp or a similar dual-boot system.

You can also visit the Technical requirements section for further computing information including the details of the support we provide.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

The course is taught via a combination of online and face to face tutorials. You will have a personal tutor and you will be a member of a tutorial group. You will have extensive communications with your tutor and fellow students through email and the online discussion forum. If you are new to the OU, you will find that your tutor will be particularly concerned to help you with your study methods. 

Contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service if you want to know more about study with the Open University before you register.

Assessment

The assessment details for this course can be found in the facts box above.

You will be expected to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs) online through the eTMA system unless there are some difficulties which prevent you from doing so. In these circumstances, you must negotiate with your tutor to get their agreement to submit your assignment on paper.

The TMAs are designed to provide you with regular, targeted feedback in order to help you learn and to assess your own progress towards meeting the learning outcomes. You are required to send answers to your tutor in response to detailed questions and problems that address the various topics studied throughout the course.

Your final course result will be determined by the marks you achieve in your examination. However, you will also need to achieve a certain standard in your TMAs in order to pass the course.

Future availability

The details given here are for the course that starts in October 2014. We expect it to be available once a year. 

Students also studied

Students who studied this course also studied at some time:

How to register

To register a place on this course return to the top of the page and use the Click to register button.

Student Reviews

“Probably the best course I have done to date. Was very interesting all the way through although quite difficult at ...”
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“I found S283 very challenging and enjoyable but I would agree with Eva Menge that the forum element was indeed ...”
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Distance learning

The Open University is the world’s leading provider of flexible, high quality distance learning. Unlike other universities we are not campus based. You will study in a flexible way that works for you whether you’re at home, at work or on the move. As an OU student you’ll be supported throughout your studies – your tutor or study adviser will guide and advise you, offer detailed feedback on your assignments, and help with any study issues. Tuition might be in face-to-face groups, via online tutorials, or by phone.

For more information read Distance learning explained.

Are you already an OU student ? Go to StudentHome for information on choosing your next module.
Course facts
About this course:
Course code S283
Credits 30
OU Level 2
SCQF level 8
FHEQ level 5
Course work includes:
4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
Examination
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

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