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Daily Mail: Edinburgh University offers course on searching for aliens (...maybe they can teach UFO hunters how to take a good photo?)

Edinburgh University is planning to enroll thousands of students this month on a course to learn how to search for aliens.

The university has joined some of America's top institutions in launching a series of free online courses - including an Introduction to Astrobiology and the Search for Extra-terrestrial Life.

The course will discuss such questions as: what are the possibilities for intelligent life elsewhere? How would society deal with contact with aliens, and who would represent Earth?

Hopefully the course may also teach the basics of photography so that future tales of close encounters are not accompanied by blurry, out-of-focus shots of dots in the sky.

Edinburgh is the first university in the UK to join the consortium, set up by professors at Stanford University, California, to provide free online undergraduate-level courses to anyone who wishes to access them.

Other top universities offering courses include Princeton University, Berkeley and the University of California.

The aliens course - led by Charles Cockell, Professor of Astrobiology at Edinburgh and Director of the UK Centre for Astrobiology - will explore the origin and evolution of life on the Earth and its potential to exist elsewhere, as well as the possibility of intelligent alien life and the implications of its detection.

Prof Cockell said: 'Over two thousand years ago, the ancient Greeks wondered if other worlds were habitable. In the coming years this question will be experimentally tested.

'This course is an introduction to astrobiology. 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 the Earth? Is this an inevitable process and is life common across the Universe?'

He added: '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.'

Study time will generally be around four hours a week, including a one hour lecture, one hour discussion and self-study.
It has been suggested the experiment - testing how their expertise and scholarship can be brought to a global audience - could 're-invent' the higher education landscape.

Edinburgh University principal Professor Sir Timothy O'Shea, said: 'Enabling wider access is part of our core mission.'

So far, the 'Coursera' group of universities have taught more than 650,000 students from 190 countries. There have been more than 1.5 million course enrolments across 43 courses. Outside the US, the biggest numbers have been in the UK, Brazil, Russia and India.

Earlier this year, an Oxford college announced it plans to analyse samples of Yeti hair and teeth in one of the most serious attempts yet made to track down the elusive and possibly mythical species.

Wolfson college is asking for samples of hair and teeth of 'cryptids' - unknown animals such as the Yeti - and is to use the latest DNA technology to analyse samples from around the world.