Super-Earths and Life
Learn how scientists search for life outside of Earth
Join Harvard University Professor Dimitar Sasselov in this online course to learn about the Earth, life, and how we can search for life elsewhere in the universe.
5–8 hours a week
What You'll Learn
Are we alone in this universe? What new information and observations on exoplanets have we discovered?
In the past decade, astronomers have made incredible advances in the discovery of planets outside our solar system. Thirty years ago, we knew only of the planets in our own solar system. Now we know of thousands circling nearby stars.
Super-Earths and Life is a course about life on Earth, alien life, how we search for life outside of Earth, and what this teaches us about our place in the universe.
Meanwhile, biologists have gained a strong understanding of how life evolved on our own planet, all the way back to the earliest cells. We can describe how simple molecules can assemble themselves into the building blocks of life, and how those building blocks might have become the cells that make up our bodies today.
Super-Earths and Life is all about how these fields, astronomy and biology, together with geology, can help answer one of our most powerful and primal questions: are we alone?
The course will be delivered via edX and connect learners around the world. By the end of the course, participants will understand:
- How life may have arisen on Earth
- How we discover planets around other stars
- What makes a planet favorable for life
- How we search for life in our universe
Dimitar Sasselov is 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). He is also a co-investigator on NASA's Kepler mission, searching for exoplanets the size of Earth. Dr. Sasselov is an astronomer who explores the interaction between light and matter to study stars and their planets. What is an astronomer doing looking for the origins of life? Sasselov suggests that planetary conditions are the seedbed of life. Knowing the composition and conditions of a planet will give us clues, perhaps, as to how life might form there. He hopes to use those clues to search for life on exoplanets.
Ways to take this course
When you enroll in this course, you will have the option of pursuing a Verified Certificate or Auditing the Course.
A Verified Certificate costs $149 and provides unlimited access to full course materials, activities, tests, and forums. At the end of the course, learners who earn a passing grade can receive a certificate.
Alternatively, learners can Audit the course for free and have access to select course material, activities, tests, and forums. Please note that this track does not offer a certificate for learners who earn a passing grade.