CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again

Culture

Become an alien hunter with free online course from Harvard

Haven't been finding enough alien life lately? Maybe Harvard can help with a new course that combines astronomy and biology to examine how we look for life on other planets.

solar-system.jpg
"20 years ago, the only planets we knew of were in our own solar system," says course instructor Dimitar Sasselov. Times have changed, and this course will tell you how. Video screenshot by Michael Franco/CNET

Questions about whether there's life beyond our own universe has filled millions of pages of speculative fiction, taken up years of time on movie and TV screens, and consumed billions of hours of kids' and astrophysicists' daydreams. Now, a new free online course offered by Harvard can arm you with facts you need to learn more about "alien life, how we search for it, and what this teaches us about our place in the universe."

The course is called "Super-Earths And Life" and it's being offered on the edX platform, a website created by Harvard and MIT that provides free online courses from the world's top universities.

It will be taught by Dimitar Sasselov, a professor of astronomy at Harvard. "He is the director of the Origins of Life Initiative, a new interdisciplinary institute that joins biologists, chemists, planetary scientists and astronomers in searching for the starting points of life on Earth (and possibly elsewhere)," says his bio on the course sign-up page. "He is also a co-investigator on NASA's Kepler mission, searching for exoplanets the size of Earth."

The course will combine the latest findings in evolutionary biology with with advances that have helped us discover more and more planets outside our own solar system. It starts on February 10, lasts for six weeks and requires a commitment of about five hours per week.

Although the course is completely free, you have the option to donate to keep edX going (as little as $5 is acceptable) and you can choose to receive a "verified certificate" for your completed coursework for a minimum of $50, something that might help if you are planning to use the class in your career as Scully's new partner. Also, according to the research statement attached to the course, Harvard will use student participation to help improve its educational offerings. In addition to this course, edX offers over 250 other classes in everything from ethics to medicine -- all free.

So what do you think? Are you going to sign up? Watch this video about the course, then let me know in the comments.