Free university course will have you searching for aliens at a college level

Want to find life on other planets but don't know where to begin? Starting in January, the University of Edinburgh will be offering a course on the search for extraterrestrial life. Best of all? You can take the course online for free.

Charles Cockell, professor of astrobiology at the University of Edinburgh and director of the UK Centre for Astrobiology, is offering the course "Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life" in January 2013. Thanks to Stanford University's Coursera consortium, of which the University of Edinburgh is a member, even those of us who don't reside in Scotland can take the five-week, 10-lecture course. (Sadly for students at the university, no college credit is available for the course.) Cockell recommends picking up Astrobiology: A Brief Introduction by Kevin W. Plaxco and Michael Gross, and here's what you can expect to learn over the five weeks:

Week 1: What is life and what are the definitions of life? What do we know about the origin of life and what are the current hypotheses for how it originated on the Earth?
Week 2: What was the environment of early Earth like when life first emerged and what do we know about life on the earliest Earth? How did life evolve to cope with survival in extreme environments? What have been the major evolutionary transitions of life on the Earth?
Week 3: What are the prospects for life on other planetary bodies in our Solar System and how do we go about searching for it? What conditions are required for a planet to be habitable?
Week 4: How do we search for Earth-like planets orbiting distant stars and how would we detect life on them?
Week 5: What are the possibilities for intelligent life elsewhere? How would we deal with contact with an extraterrestrial intelligence and what would be the impact on society? Who would represent Earth?

If you're interested, sign up at Coursera.

Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life [Coursera via HuffPo via The Mary Sue]