Introductory Seminars for First-Year Students

Designing Science Fiction Planets


Science fiction writers craft entire worlds and physical laws with their minds. While planetary formation in the real world is a little different, we can use fantastical places and environments from film, television, and literature as conversation starters to discuss real discoveries that have been made about how planets form and evolve over time. The class will focus on the following overarching questions:

  1. What conditions are required for habitable planets to form?

  2. What types of planets may actually exist, including desert worlds, lava planets, ice planets, and ocean worlds?

  3. What kinds of life could inhabit such diverse worlds?

  4. What types of catastrophic events such as supernovas, asteroid impacts, and climate changes can nurture or destroy planetary habitability?

Weekly meetings will be split between learning the fundamentals of planetary science and astrobiology and discussing planets from fictional works. Students will conduct a final project and presentation where, based on what was learned in class, they will design their own Science Fiction World (and accompanying outline for a book or movie) that includes details about how their planet formed and changed over time, as well as whether it could realistically be capable of sustaining life.

Meet the Instructor(s)

Sonia Tikoo-Schantz

""My name is Sonia Tikoo and I am an Assistant Professor in Geophysics, and by courtesy, in Geological Sciences. My research focuses on understanding how the planetary bodies in our Solar System formed and evolved over time by studying rocks such as Apollo samples from the Moon, meteorites, and materials from impact craters here on Earth. I have always been curious about space. I spent many nights gazing at the stars and wondering what else is out there. I was also a big fan of science fiction books, shows, and movies. I loved 'exploring' the universe along with the characters and my desire to make real discoveries about space propelled me into a career in planetary science. The truth is often stranger than fiction when it comes to how planets work, and I am excited about sharing what we have learned so far about other worlds with you!"