• University of Leeds

Atmospheric Chemistry: Planets and Life Beyond Earth

Learn about the atmospheric chemistry of planets and celestial bodies and explore the possibility of finding life beyond Earth.

16,213 enrolled on this course

Atmospheric Chemistry: Planets and Life Beyond Earth

Discover the extraordinary world of atmospheric chemistry.

On this course you will learn about planetary atmospheres across our solar system and beyond. You will discover what an atmosphere is, how it’s formed, and how data collected from space missions is used to determine a planet’s atmosphere.

You’ll also look into the factors needed to support life, explore the possibility of life beyond Earth and start the search for habitable planets. You’ll understand how atmospheric chemistry is communicated in the media and get a flavour of one of the most fascinating subjects explored during an undergraduate degree in Chemistry.

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Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds My name is Dr. Julia Lehman. I’m a University Academic Fellow in the School of Chemistry at the University of Leeds. This course is a journey, investigating the chemical composition of planetary atmospheres. We will start the course by asking, what is an atmosphere? And then explore how past and current research helps us understand other planetary atmospheres. And then look into space and start exploring the possibility of life existing beyond our planet. This course is intended for students at the school level. But is also aimed at teachers who want to make their teaching exciting with this new research about this fascinating topic.

Skip to 0 minutes and 47 seconds This is an introductory course, which will also be of interest to learners of all ages that want to gain an understanding of other planetary atmospheres. This is a unique course, and it is one of the few exploring the exciting topic of planetary atmospheres from a chemistry point of view. By the end of this course, you will have a basic understanding of planetary atmospheres, be able to critically research and analyse material about the composition of planetary atmospheres, and be able to write about your scientific findings relating to the topic of atmospheric chemistry or the chemical composition of planetary atmospheres. Join this course and find out about the extraordinary planets in our universe.


  • Week 1

    Exploring planets in our solar system

    • Welcome

      This week you will be introduced to the topic of planetary atmospheres. You’ll see an overview of the atmospheres in our solar system and be introduced to Dr Julia Lehman, a University Academic Fellow in the School of Chemistry.

    • Atmospheres of planets in our solar system

      In this activity, you will learn how atmospheres are created and how they can change over time. This will help you understand the diversity of planetary atmospheres across the solar system.

    • Active and Passive exploration missions

      In this activity, you will gain an understanding of the methods used to collect scientific data within our solar system, and see how scientists are able to use this data to determine a planet's atmospheric composition.

    • Cassini-Huygens Case Study

      This activity focuses on the Cassini-Huygens mission, an active exploration mission to Saturn and one of its moons which ended in 2017. It provides details about the mission, its objectives, findings and the missions end.

    • Summary

      To close this week, Julia reflects on the week in her summary. You are also introduced to some of the options for studying at the University of Leeds and to the topics covered next week.

  • Week 2

    The search for life on other planets

    • About Week 2

      This week, you will explore the atmospheric conditions required to support and sustain life. You will examine the importance of our search for life on other planets, and conduct research into the latest missions and findings.

    • Factors needed to support life

      In this activity, you look at one reason for studying planetary atmospheres: the search for life in our universe. How can we use what we know about the Earth’s atmosphere to identify the factors essential to support life?

    • The search for life beyond the solar system

      In this activity, you will consider the issues of searching for habitable planets far beyond the solar system. You will also investigate space exploration projects currently searching for life on distant planets.

    • Hold the front page

      In this activity, you will conduct research using a range of online science blogs. Having completed your research, you will then be asked to write their own science blog post on a selected topic.

    • Summary

      Having reached the end of this course, you can test your understanding and then look forward to further courses from the University of Leeds.

When would you like to start?

Start straight away and learn at your own pace. If the course hasn’t started yet you’ll see the future date listed below.

  • Available now

Learning on this course

You can take this self-guided course and learn at your own pace. On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you‘ll be able to...

  • Explore the diversity of planetary atmospheres across the solar system.
  • Investigate what scientific data on the composition of planetary atmospheres can be gathered from Earth and from space probes.
  • Reflect on the search for habitable planets.
  • Assess how the science of planetary atmospheres is presented in the media.

Who is the course for?

The course is for anyone with a general interest in atmospheric chemistry but it will be particularly useful for students at schools and colleges who want to study chemistry at university. The course is part of the Going to University collection and completing it can help improve your university application by broadening your chemistry knowledge and developing your independent learning skills. The course can also be used as a teachers’ classroom enrichment resource.

Who will you learn with?

I'm a University Academic Fellow in the School of Chemistry at the University of Leeds. I work with lasers to probe chemical reactions important in planetary atmospheres.

Who developed the course?

University of Leeds

As one of the UK’s largest research-based universities, the University of Leeds is a member of the prestigious Russell Group and a centre of excellence for teaching.


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Available until 22 November 2021 at 23:59 (UTC). T&Cs apply.

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