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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 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

Credits

  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.
30
Study level

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.

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

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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What you will study

The module comprises two parts, each consisting of a full-colour book (both of which are new, extensively updated editions for use from October 2018). Web-based material supports and extend the two parts and is 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 us 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

Planetary science and the search for life (S283) starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2018. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2022.

Regulations

As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic 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 requirements

    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) (now discontinued) 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). Essential mathematics 1 (MST124) is another option; 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.

    If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.

    Register

    Start End England fee Register
    06 Oct 2018 Jun 2019 £1464.00

    Registration closes 13/09/18 (places subject to availability)

    Register
    This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2022.

    Additional Costs

    Study costs

    There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as a laptop, travel to tutorials, set books and internet access.

    If you're on a low income you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

    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 monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

    Joint loan applications

    If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

    As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

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

    Employer sponsorship

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

    More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module 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 module.  

    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. 

    Mixed payments

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


    For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or book a call back at a time convenient to you.


    Please 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 valid for modules starting before 31 July 2019. Fees normally increase annually in line with inflation and the University's strategic approach to fees. 

    This information was provided on 20/08/2018.

    What's included

    Module books, other printed materials, 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

    A computing device with a browser and broadband internet access is required for this module.  Any modern browser will be suitable for most computer activities. Functionality may be limited on mobile devices.

    Any additional software will be provided, or is generally freely available. However, some activities may have more specific requirements. For this reason, you will need to be able to install and run additional software on a device that meets the requirements below.

    A desktop or laptop computer with either:

    • Windows 7 or higher
    • macOS 10.7 or higher

    The screen of the device must have a resolution of at least 1024 pixels horizontally and 768 pixels vertically.

    To participate in our online-discussion area you will need both a microphone and speakers/headphones. 

    Our Skills for OU study website has further information including computing skills for study, computer security, acquiring a computer and Microsoft software offers for students. 

    If you have a disability

    The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying S283 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

    To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our Overcoming barriers to study if you have a disability or health condition website.