The Earth in the Universe

Course The Earth in the Universe
Instructor
Prerequisites
Introduction to Earth and Environmental Sciences, Recommended: Maths and Physics
Corresponding Module
Evolution and Dynamics of the Planetary System, Elective

In this course, students will get an overview on the astrophysical perspectives of life on Earth complemented by an insight into current research and hands-on experience in observation methods. The basic understanding of our universe (first part) will set the scene to review how the Earth is embedded in the universe and in our solar system and how this influences natural processes and phenomena on Earth (second part).

After reviewing the history of mankind’s view of the world, we will learn about the observational findings that led to the Big Bang Theory, and reflect the arguments why this theory might not be the final ‘truth’. We will further deal with evolutionary tracks of stars (brown dwarfs, main sequence stars, red giant, supernovae, white dwarfs, neutron stars, black holes).

The second part focuses on the Sun, being the major external influence to the Earth, and on our planets orbiting the Sun. This includes the processes of planet and star formation, properties of planets and other objects in our Solar system, the solar structure and its atmosphere. The generation of magnetic fields in the solar interior leads to magnetic phenomena at the solar ‘surface’ that greatly influence processes and life on Earth. We will discuss interactions between solar activity and Earth in terms of observable phenomena, space weather and solar influences on the Earth’s climate including findings from current research.

In addition to the lecture contents, practical classes are method-oriented and will deal with:

– Experiment to infer the distance between the Earth and the Sun (Astronomical Unit) by studying the characteristics of the solar rotation using public satellite data, and by means of a pinhole camera (‘camera obscura’)

– Data analysis of spectroscopic data to study the plasma flow field on the solar surface: granulation & sunspots.

During a 1,5 day excursion to the solar observatory on the Schauinsland mountain (1240 m above sea level) operated by Kiepenheuer Institute of Solar Physics (www.kis.uni- freiburg.de) students will observe the sun during the day and stars at night by applying observation techniques learned in class and they will gather and analyze their own experimental data.

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