From January 28th next year, the University of Edinburgh in Scotland will be running a course that has already got people talking.
The “Introduction to Astrobiology and the Search for Extra-terrestrial Life” course will explore the origin of life on earth and its potential to exist elsewhere.
The course is being taught by the university’s Professor of Astrobiology Charles Cockell, who is also the current Director of the UK Centre for Astrobiology and senior editor of the leading international journal “Astrobiology”.
The five week course is one of the University’s Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) and is part of the Coursera partnership, a Stanford University-led initiative which aims to offer the world’s best courses, online for free.
The Search for Extraterrestrials
The University of Edinburgh is the first top UK University to join Coursera and as the description of the initiative implies, the Introduction to Astrobiology and the Search for Extra-terrestrial Life course is completely free and available to anyone with a computer and an internet connection.
Despite sensational headlines to the contrary (1), there will be no degree at the end of it, but students will receive a certified certificate of completion from the University’s School of Physics and Astronomy.
Students will initially learn about the definition of life and its origins here on Earth, before moving on to the meatier aspects of the course.
After finding out how best to go about searching for life on other planets, the questions of how to deal with contact with an alien race and its impact on our society, along with exploring who would represent Earth in discussions with the extra-terrestrials will all be tackled in this fascinating course.
Planning for Future Visits
The prospect of finding life on other planets is something that has fascinated mankind for centuries. Professor Cockell explains:
“Over two thousand years ago, the ancient Greeks wondered if other worlds were habitable. In the coming years this question will be experimentally tested.
In this course we will explore what we know about life’s ability to live in extreme environments on the Earth, we will look at different hypotheses for how it originated. We will look at some of the missions to search for life in our own Solar System and on planets orbiting distant stars. We will discuss some of the extreme environments on the Earth that help us understand the limits of life and how life has adapted to cope with extremes. We will explore the possibility of intelligent alien life and some of the implications of its detection. The course will provide a foundation in astrobiology and introduce students to concepts in a diversity of scientific fields.” (2)
The course is one of six under-graduate level courses the University is offering as part of their Coursera commitment, with “Introduction to Philosophy” and “Artificial Intelligence Planning” another two of the courses on offer.
Access to Higher Education
Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea, The University of Edinburgh Principal explains the reasoning behind the courses:
“Enabling wider access to excellent higher education is part of the core mission of the University of Edinburgh. We are therefore excited to join with our peers in North America in the Coursera consortium to offer Massive Open Online Courses on topics in which we have particular strengths.” (3)
If you are interested in enrolling for the course, full details are available at the Coursera website.