Institute for Planets and Life

Space Telescope Science Institute and Johns Hopkins University

 Related Resources

How common is life in the universe? The Institute for Planets and Life (IPL) aims to uncover what we know and what we need to research to inspire students to pursue astrophysics, geoscience, and biological science as undergraduates and graduate students, and, ultimately, professionals. Here, we list relevant courses offered by the university and additional resources to fuel your journey.

Astrobiology and Related Courses at Johns Hopkins University

Planets, Life, and the Universe
Instructors: J. DiRuggiero, C. Norman, and others
3 credit hours
A multidisciplinary course that explores the origin and evolution of the universe, star and planet formation, our solar system, exoplanets and the habitable zone, origins and evolution of life, life in extreme environments, and current space missions.
Instructors: J. DiRuggiero and E. Fisher
3 credit hours
This course explores the physiology and genetics of microorganisms within an evolutionary and ecological framework.
Guided Tour: The Planets
Instructors: K. Lewis, S. Horst, and S. Stanley
3 credit hours
An introduction to planetary science and planetary exploration primarily for non-science majors. A survey of concepts from astronomy, chemistry, geology, and physics applied to the study of the Solar System.
Earth History
Instructor: M. Gomes
3 credit hours
This course explores the evolution of life in the context of environmental, ecological, and geological changes to the Earth surface system.
Instructor: S. Horst
3 credit hours
Topics covered will include formation of the Solar System, planetary interiors, surfaces and atmospheres, Solar System exploration, and extrasolar planets.
Spacecraft Instrumentation Project
Instructors: S. Horst and D. Kraemer
3 credit hours
AS.270.366 (co-listed with EN.530.366)
Investigation into the content relevant to an ongoing spacecraft instrumentation project, including mission background, planetary science, sensor design, spacecraft systems, mission planning, integration, testing, data analysis, and interpretation.
Planetary Physics and Chemistry
Instructor: D. Strobel
3 credit hours
Fundamental principles governing the dynamic processes within and around planets. Emphasis is on fundamentals and problem solving.
Special Topics in Planetary Exploration
Instructor: D. Strobel
3 credit hours
Planetary research topics, including the science discoveries made by the Voyager, Cassini-Huygens, and New Horizons Missions as well as observations by Earth-orbiting satellites.
The Carbon Cycle: Past, Present, and Future
Instructors: E. Smith and M. Gomes
3 credit hours
This course will explore how the carbon cycle shapes environmental conditions and influences other biogeochemical cycles through an investigation of the modern carbon cycle, major carbon cycle perturbations in the geological record, and projections of future global change.
Planetary Interiors
Instructor: S. Stanley
3 credit hours
This course investigates the physical processes occurring in planetary interiors. Topics include formation and differentiation of planetary bodies, planetary structure, thermal evolution, convection, and dynamo generation of magnetic fields. Results from recent planetary satellite missions will also be discussed.
Planetary Surface Processes
Instructor: K. Lewis
3 credit hours
This course explores processes that influence the evolution of planetary surfaces from Earth to the Moon, Mars, and other terrestrial bodies.
Planetary Atmospheres
Instructor: S. Horst
3 credit hours
Fundamental concepts and basic principles of chemistry and physics applied to the study of planetary atmospheres. Vertical structure of planetary atmospheres. Atmospheric radiation, thermodynamics, and transport. Principles of photochemistry. Planetary spectroscopy and remote sensing. Upper atmospheres and ionospheres. Evolution and stability of planetary atmospheres.
Earth and Planetary Fluids
Instructors: S. Stanley and A. Gnanadesikan
3 credit hours
An introductory course on the properties, flow, and transport characteristics of fluids throughout the Earth and planets.
Stars and the Universe: Cosmic Evolution
Instructor: W. Zheng
3 credit hours
This course looks at the evolution of the universe from its origin in a cosmic explosion to emergence of life on Earth and possibly other planets throughout the universe.
Introduction to Space, Science, and Technology
Instructors: J. MacKenty and S. McCandliss
3 credit hours
Topics include space astronomy, remote observing of the earth, space physics, planetary exploration, human space flight, space environment, orbits, propulsion, spacecraft design, attitude control and communication.
Exoplanets and Planet Formation
Instructor: K. Schlaufman
A graduate-level introduction to the properties of the Solar System, known exoplanet systems, and the astrophysics of planet formation and evolution. Upper-level undergraduates may enroll with the permission of the instructor.

Resources About Astrobiology, Exoplanets, and Associated Topics


Astrobiology Initiatives

Carl Sagan Institute at Cornell University

The institute explores factors that determine if a planet or moon can host life, and how we could find it by bringing together experts from a range of scientific disciplines.

Center for Astrobiology at the University of Arizona

This program shares faculty research, provides a lecture series and regular events, and seeks to answer astrobiology questions.

Center for Space and Habitability (CSH) at the University of Bern

CSH stimulates both disciplinary and interdisciplinary research that investigates the science of habitability.

Columbia Astrobiology Center

This unique consortium is dedicated to investigating the wide range of phenomena that may participate in the origin and evolution of life on Earth and beyond by undertaking fundamental research.

Harvard University’s Origins of Life Initiative

A community of Harvard faculty, senior researchers, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and undergraduates fascinated by the challenge of answering this question: Is life abundant in the universe?

Lunar and Planetary Institute

The institute collaborates with its partners to make current Earth and planetary science content available to all audiences at a variety of venues with the goal of fostering lifelong learning and a commitment to science by the public in the community, region, and nation.

NASA Exoplanet Exploration

A NASA program dedicated to finding potential life-bearing worlds among the stars. Visit its exoplanet travel bureau!

New Zealand Astrobiology Network

An institute dedicated to promoting astrobiology research and education in New Zealand and fostering collaborations with the rest of the world.

Origins Institute at McMaster University

This institute uses transdisciplinary research to address fundamental questions on the origin and evolution of the universe and life within it.

The Virtual Planetary Laboratory at the University of Washington

The laboratory explores the evolution and limits of terrestrial planet habitability, works to identify life’s observable impact on a planetary environment, and calculates the likely detectability of planets.

Additional Resources

The Art of Astrophysics

Members of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) community participate in an annual effort to create works of art that help us visualize our universe and how we observe it through photography, poetry, crafts, computer code, music, and more.

Johns Hopkins University's Students for the Exploration and Development of Space

This independent, student-based organization promotes the exploration and development of space by providing opportunities for student members to develop leadership skills and inspiring people through space-related projects.

Scientific American: Life, Unbounded

Scientific American is an authoritative source for the science discoveries and technology innovations. Read news about planets, exoplanets, and astrobiology.