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Planetary science and the search for life

This module 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 module is intended for a wide range of people, a background in science is required.

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OU qualifications are modular in structure; the credits from this undergraduate-level module could count towards a certificate of higher education, diploma of higher education, foundation degree or honours degree.

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Module

Module code
S283
Credits
30
Study level
OU SCQF FHEQ
2 8 5
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Am I ready?

Student Reviews

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What you will study

The module 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 module.

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 module. 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 module 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.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

The module 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 module 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 module.

Your final module 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 module.

Future availability

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

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.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
Examination
No residential school

Course satisfaction survey

See the satisfaction survey results for this course.


Entry

The module 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 module 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 module without a sound knowledge of science from our OU level 1 modules. 

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 module if you are planning to study OU level 3 modules 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 module, 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 module 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 module, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.

Register

Start End England fee Register
04 Oct 2014 Jun 2015 £1316.00

Registration closes 11/09/14 (places subject to availability)

Register

You may need to apply for some payment or funding options earlier. Please check the Fees and Funding information or contact us for information.

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

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later - OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your annual fees and spreads them out over up to a year, enabling you to pay your fees monthly and walk away with a qualification without any further debt. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in 10 OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

For more information about employer sponsorship speak to an adviser or request a call back.

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Gift vouchers

You can pay for part or all of your tuition fees with OU gift vouchers. Vouchers are currently available in the following denominations, £10, £20, £50 and £100. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. You may, for example wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or request a call back.


Note: Your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is based upon current details for  year 1 August 2014 to 31 July 2015.
This information was provided on 25/07/2014.

What's included

Module 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 module. It includes online activities – you can access using a web browser – and some module software provided on disk.

  • If you have purchased a new desktop or laptop computer running Windows since 2008 you should have no problems completing the computer-based activities.
  • A netbook, tablet or other mobile device is not suitable for this module – check our Technical requirements section.
  • If you have an Apple Mac or Linux computer – please note that you can only use it for this module 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 details of the support we provide).

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. Find out more about our services for disabled students.