Online Earth and Space Science

SES 106 - Habitable Worlds

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Are we alone in the Universe? If so, why? If not, where are our cosmic cousins? Such questions, once the domain of science fiction, are on the verge of being answered with science facts. Astronomers are discovering planets around other stars. Planetary scientists are exploring the worlds in our solar system. Biologists are unlocking the secrets of metabolism and evolution. Geoscientists are determining how the Earth supports life. And as we struggle to build a sustainable future for ourselves, all of us are finding out how technologically advanced civilizations rise and how they might fall. Inspired by this ongoing scientific revolution, Habitable Worlds surveys key concepts from across the major areas of science that help us to understand what makes Earth - or any other planet - a habitable world.

Course prerequisites and requirements

To be successful in this course, we recommend English language fluency and computer literacy. We also encourage you to make sure your laptop or desktop computer meets the technical requirements.

MAT 117 College Algebra is strongly suggested as a prerequisite for success in this course.

Quick facts

  • Credits: 4
  • Length: Self-paced or 16 weeks
  • Cost: $25 + $400

What you’ll learn

  • Explain the conditions that can make a planet habitable
  • Identify and justify the steps necessary to determine if an exoplanet is habitable
  • Describe the history of Earth as an inhabited world and how this knowledge informs the search for life on other worlds
  • Describe and interpret observations using data analysis, foundational mathematics, and accessible computational methods
  • Apply scientific reason, particularly using hypothesis-driven processes to create scientific models, test models using basic qualitative and quantitative reasoning, choose among competing ideas that have different levels of uncertainty
  • Apply problem-solving skills including breaking complex problems into multiple steps, identify the knowledge needed to solve each step, and obtain and interpret that knowledge quantitatively and qualitatively

What to expect in class

Habitable Worlds is an innovative course with a format different from most online courses. It is built around interactive activities with rich adaptive feedback. These are not videos or simple readings and quizzes. Usually they are problem-solving activities through which you will be introduced to key concepts, and master them, in a question-driven 'learn-by-doing' approach. Often they will be designed around game-like simulations that you can manipulate, or virtual field trips that you can explore. In some ways, these activities can feel like a serious game! That's not an accident: that's in fact how the pursuit of science feels to professional scientists.

All activities and assessments occur within the interactive HabWorlds Learnspace which includes modules and associated point values.

Exams and grading

75 pts


145 pts


108 pts


152 pts


48 pts


84 pts


260 pts

Project Habitable Hunt


This course appears on your transcript identically to how it appears on the transcript of an enrolled ASU student who has taken the course on one of ASU’s campuses. Course attendance dates will be listed on your transcript. A self paced course will appear on your transcript in the session you complete the course.

This course includes a lab and satisfies 4 credit hours toward the SCIT: Scientific Thinking in Natural Sciences General Studies requirement at Arizona State University. It is strongly encouraged that you consult with your institution of choice to determine how these credits will be applied to their degree requirements prior to transferring your credit.

Faculty and course staff




President’s Professor,

School of Earth and Space Exploration and School of Molecular Sciences

Arizona State University

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Why take ASU Universal Learner Courses

  1. Credit you receive is from a regionally accredited university
  2. Your credit is highly transferable
  3. You only pay the $400 course cost if you pass

Related programs

Online BS in Astronomical and Planetary Sciences

Online BS in Biological Sciences – Conservation Biology and Ecology

Online BS in Biological Sciences