University offers course on how to be professional alien hunter

Tracking down visitors from another planet can be an inexact business, to say the least, especially if you'd rather go looking for them than wait for them to come to you. Thankfully, one of the most prestigious universities in the world has just launched an online course to help you out. And best of all, it's free.

The course is hosted by the University of Edinburgh in Scotland as part of a "massive open online courses" program hosted by the Coursera consortium. Titled "Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life," the course will explore not only the possibilities of life on other planets, but also possible ways for us to detect it.

"This course is an introduction to astrobiology," said professor Charles Cockell, the director of the UK Centre for Astrobiology who will also teach the course. "It explores the origin and evolution of life on the Earth and its potential to exist elsewhere.

"Astrobiology addresses compelling questions of wide interest, such as: How did life originate on Earth? Is this an inevitable process and is life common across the universe?"

So what exactly will the five-week course cover? Here's the syllabus:

Week 1: The definitions of life and how it originated on Earth.

Week 2: Early Earth environments when life first emerged and the various evolutionary transitions of life on Earth.

Week 3: The prospects for life elsewhere in our solar system and the required conditions for a planet to be habitable.

Week 4: How to search for Earth-like planets orbiting distant suns and how to detect possible life there.

Week 5: How earthlings would be impacted by the discovery of an extraterrestrial intelligence.

And yeah, we know you might only be interested in the final two weeks, but Cockell will expect full participation if students expect to earn a passing certificate to show off to friends. But don't worry. It doesn't start until January 2013, it's free, and it should only take you three or four hours a week to complete. For more information or to register, go here.

What do you think? Will you take this free world-class course, or just memorize the Prime Directive from Star Trek and watch Independence Day over and over?

(Via Huffington Post)

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