Course assignments include two short papers describing proposed space missions to study nearby planets and to search for extrasolar planets and a final paper. In the final paper, students will have an opportunity to invent their own planetary system and describe it in terms of either the astronomy of how it was discovered, the properties of their planet and its host star, or the biology of life in the system. Papers will be circulated and evaluated by fellow students as part of the learning experience in the course; this will provide opportunities to develop students' abilities to think like a scientist by applying principles of scientific thinking, to learn new ideas from other students, and to creatively make new connections across different sciences and parts of the course.
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David Spergel chairs the Department of Astrophysics at Princeton University. Spergel is best known for his work with the WMAP satellite that help determine the age and composition of the universe. He is currently co-chair of NASA AFTA Satellite science team, a mission that aims to both determine the nature of dark energy and directly image planets around nearby stars.