EOSC 310 · The Earth and the Solar System

In this course, we will explore the history of our universe and what allowed Earth to host intelligent life. Through this course, I would like you to be able to do two things:

I. Tell the story of how our planet formed and how we came to inhabit it. There are some parts of the story that we know well - the Big Bang, evolution, and plate tectonics - and there are other parts that we don't fully understand - the origin of life, the origin of the atmosphere, and the relative timing of ice ages throughout Earth's history.

II. Understand where we as humans fit into the story of planetary evolution. Specifically, how we have impacted our planet and how our impact compares with events from the past. I'd like you to appreciate how we can be more than consumers of Earth's resources and how we can alter the way with which we interact with our planet. Also, I would like you to know what it means for intelligent life to exist elsewhere in the galaxy?

Course Requirements

  • Only for credit for non-science majors (Not for credit in the Faculties of Science and Applied Science)
  • Must have at least second-year standing
  • Cannot have taken EOSC 110


Course Availability & Schedule

Course Syllabus

 Distance education offered

 Non-specialist course

Learning goals: 

In this course, we will explore the history of our universe and what allowed Earth to host intelligent life​. The overriding goals of this course are to give you: (1) An appreciation for our dynamic planet and solar system and (2) The ability to apply your knowledge in the context of interpreting Earth structures and phenomena.

Learning online can be both rewarding and challenging at the same time. It allows you the flexibility to tackle course material anytime and anywhere, but requires a great deal of self-discipline to stay up-to-date with readings, quizzes, and assignments.

My goal is to make learning online a fun and engaging experience. Through this course, I want you to become part of a community of learners, just as you would in a face-to-face course. I have designed this course to help you stay involved with the course material on a weekly basis by employing frequent (weekly) low-impact assessments. The goal is not to burden you with extra work, but to allow you to solidify your understanding of topics as we move through the course framework. Through these low-impact assessments, I want you to become familiar with both, the content and type of questions, as well as your own knowledge gaps, so that the final exam is simply revisiting concepts and ideas with which you are thoroughly familiar.

Below is a breakdown of the course learning goals. By the end of this course you should be able to:

Module 1

  • Understand the importance of "scale" as it relates to the Earth, both in terms of size (galaxies vs. atoms) and time (age of the Universe vs. timescales of atomic reactions) 
  • Explain why the Big Bang is an accepted fact 
  • Describe how the elements formed in stars 
  • Understand how and when the solar system and Earth formed 
  • Illustrate Earth's internal structure and explain how it came about 

Module 2

  • Explain the driving forces behind plate tectonics and its relationship to volcanoes and earthquakes 
  • Understand why evolution is a fact and not just a theory 
  • Explain how Earth's life has changed through time 

Module 3

  • Describe why Earth has been able to sustain liquid water at its surface most of its history, and the long-term and short-term drivers of Earth's climate 
  • Distinguish the different classes of Earth's resources, and why that is important 
  • Understand why the appearance of humans is a new planetary era 
    • the reality and significance of planetary change caused by human activities
    • the likelihood and conditions of intelligent life elsewhere in our galaxy

In EOSC 310, we will start the story with the Big Bang, followed by the origin of the elements, formation of minerals and the organic molecules of life, origin of the solar system, layering and structure of planets, initiation of a stable climate, development of plate tectonics and solid Earth circulation. We will then explore the origin of life, and co-evolution of ocean, atmosphere, solid Earth and biosphere that created the conditions for advanced life. Human beings then appear on Earth to find a planet full of treasure stored up over 4.55 billion years, which permits civilization to occur. Are there laws to this planetary evolution? What is the place of intelligent life in the operation of a planet? What might be our role?


Module 1: Solar System Formation & Planetary Development  – In this module, you will study Earth & life as natural systems, the Big Bang & formation of the galaxy, the synthesis of elements, formation of molecules, planets, and moons, as well as how the Earth’s interior segregated into its current layered structure.
Module 2: Dynamic planetary processes  – In this module, you will study moons, asteroids, comets, and impacts, what makes life on Earth comfortable, the start of plate tectonics, mantle convection, how Earth’s layers are linked to one another, how the origin of life is a planetary process, and the role of evolution and extinction in creating biodiversity.
Module 3: Climate Evolution & Supporting Life on Earth  – This module begins with a brief introduction to the coevolution of life and Earth to create a planetary fuel cell and continues on to explore the record of oxidation of the planetary surface, the importance of catastrophes, the causes & consequences of naturally induced climate change, the rise of humans, and the question: are we alone?


section 99A, Term 1: Dr. Kirsten Hodge

section 99C, Term 2: Dr. Kirsten Hodge

section 98A, Summer: Dr. Kirsten Hodge


Langmuir, Charles H. & Wally Broecker. How to Build a Habitable Planet: The Story of Earth from the Big Bang to Humankind. ISBN: 9780691140063 (E-book: ISBN 9781400841974)