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Searching For ET: Edinburgh University Offers Free Online Course For Finding Aliens

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HELIXNEBULA
The Helix Nebula, remnant of a dying star in the constellation Aquarius, expands into space, 700 light-years from Earth. NASA's Spitzer space telescope has probed the inner region of the dead star and revealed a possible planetary system that somehow survived the destruction of its sun. | Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech

Now you can be a professional alien hunter too.

Edinburgh University is about to make it possible for the average Joe to search for extraterrestrials.

The university, one of the most prestigious in the world and located in Scotland's capital city of Edinburgh, is offering a series of free online courses, including "Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life," reports news.scotsman.com.

The course will explore the possible ways to discover life on Earth-like planets and the implications if and when ultimate contact with another civilization occurs.

edinburgh university

The whole concept of Earth-like planets in orbit around other suns -- planets that may have all the important conditions to harbor life as we know it -- has skyrocketed with the amazing success of NASA's Kepler space observatory, launched in 2009 to search for them. According to the Kepler website, 1,790 host stars with a total of 2,321 planet candidates have been detected by the telescope, with 74 planets confirmed.

Starting in the fall, Edinburgh University's five-week course that will include:

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.

This very special ET course will be led by Edinburgh astrobiology professor Charles Cockell and director of the UK Centre for Astrobiology.

"This course is an introduction to astrobiology," Cockell explains on the university's information page. "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?"

Watch SETI astronomer on the search for ET.

Edinburgh is the first university in the U.K. to join the Coursera consortium, founded by Stanford University computer scientists, that offers free online undergraduate courses to students and adult learners around the world.

The discovery of hundreds of planets in recent years has fueled the excitement and speculation of how many could have the conditions necessary for life.

At the Niels Bohr Institute and the Centre for Star and Planet Formation at the University of Copenhagen, astrophysicist Lars Buchhave led a team which studied more than 226 planets orbiting 150 stars in our galaxy, and determined the planets evolved under various conditions.

"We don't need a lot of stuff in the disk of the planetary system to form small planets like here on Earth," Buchhave told the New York Daily News. "And that means -- or could mean at least -- since we don't need a special environment for the planets to form, then we could form planets around a wide range of stars, and planets like Earth could be common in our galaxy."

Watch a December 2011 news report about the first planet confirmed to orbit another sun's habitable zone.

While the Edinburgh University out-of-this-world course will have no entry requirements or fees, students are expected to work hard to complete the study in order to receive a passing certificate.

If you're interested in signing up for "Astrobiology and the Search for Extraterrestrial Life," click HERE.

And speaking of the search for ETs, here are some folks who claim to have already had their own alien close encounters.

Alien Abductees -- In Their Own Words
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