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Course D. Astrobiology: Looking for Life in the Cosmic Ocean

Alumnae Continuing Education

Course D. Astrobiology: Looking for Life in the Cosmic Ocean

Thursdays, 1:00-2:30 p.m.

Instructor: Shane L. Larson, Research Professor, Associate Director of
CIERA, Department of Physics and Astronomy

This course meets on Thursday afternoons beginning on January 6. 

Humans have speculated for centuries that, perhaps, Earth is not the only haven for life in the Cosmos. Hollywood has speculated wildly that life may exist in many places, in many imagined forms. But it is only in the last few decades that scientists have begun to explore the question of whether or not we are alone in the Universe. The discovery of planets around other stars, the discovery of life in exotic and inhospitable environments on Earth, and a growing (but still incomplete) understanding of how life on Earth works have all come together to make a new body of knowledge called “astrobiology.” In this course, we’ll survey human thinking about life in the Cosmos, from our historical and fictional speculations, to our current scientific ideas, and what possible future discoveries might hold in store.

Jan. 6 Searching for Life in the Cosmos

Why are humans so fascinated by the question of whether there is life elsewhere in the Universe? What are the challenges we face in attempting to answer the question of whether or not Earth is the only haven for life?

Jan. 13 Life on Earth
Our search for life elsewhere is guided by our experiences with life on Earth. This week we’ll learn that answering the question “what is life?” is difficult, even here on Earth.

Jan. 20 What Makes a Good Home for Life?
Turning our attention outward, we explore the concept of “habitability” and will discuss how it will guide our search for life.

Jan. 27 Mars & Venus
Here in our own solar system, our nearest neighbors are the first places we can look for life. We’ll talk about searches we have made, and mysteries we have uncovered.

Feb. 3 Icy Moons and Small Worlds
Planets are not the only places that may harbor life in the solar system. This week we’ll look at the myriad other worlds that could be havens for life.

Feb. 10: Extrasolar Planets
In the last two decades we have discovered that other stars do indeed have planets around them. We’ll talk about our search for extrasolar planets, and how we might look for life on them.

Feb.17 The Fermi Paradox
One of the greatest mysteries is why we may or may not have detected life in the Universe yet. This mystery is called the Fermi Paradox -- we’ll discuss what the Paradox is, and what ideas we have for resolution.

Feb. 24 Extraterrestrial Communication
This week we’ll talk about SETI (the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and CETI (Communication with Extraterrestrial Intelligence).

Mar. 3 Travelling to the Stars
For our last lecture together, we’ll talk about real ideas for starships, and what we might experience on a journey between the stars.

Information is subject to change. Full course and policy descriptions are available at


• EACH 90 minute, 9-week online course is $155.00 for access to both a live webinar and a temporary recording of the week’s session.

• Late registrations require payment of the full course price. Courses cannot be prorated. Late registrants will NOT be able to access recordings from prior weeks if the links and passcodes have expired.

        • There are no multi-course discounts.

        Per Diem pricing is not available for these courses.


        • Registrations can only be purchased online at A payment card is required. No other forms of payment can be accepted at this time. No in-person registration at Norris Box Office, no mail-in registration, and no phone registrations will be available. Neither the Norris Box Office nor the Alumnae Continuing Education group can process any other type of registration payment. There are no exceptions.

        • After registering for a course, you will see a six-letter reference code on your screen. Please note this for your records. You will also receive an email from confirming your registration and payment.  It will be sent to the email address associated with your profile.  Though it is not your entry to the ZOOM class, it is important that you locate the confirmation as soon as possible. If you don't receive an email, it could mean that there is a problem with how your email address is listed in our system.  A typo in your email address could result in the Zoom link being lost.  You can correct your information by logging in at, clicking on your name in the purple bar at the top, and then on Edit Profile.

        • To access the first webinar on January 6, your online registration must be completed by midnight, December 30, 2021.If you have not completed registration by December 30, we cannot guarantee timely entry to the first sessions on January 4, the first day for Courses A and B, or January 6, the first day of Courses C and D. No new registrations will be accepted after January 20, 2022 at 11:59 m. Late registrations are not prorated for missed sessions and will not allow for access to expired recordings.

          • Your registration automatically includes temporary access to a recording of each remaining livestream session in the course.  You will be sent a separate link with a passcode to give you access to the recording for six days, ending when the next session begins. You will be sent an email with the link to the recording within 24 hours of the session. If you register late, you may not have access to recordings of livestreamed sessions that took place prior to your registration.

          Your Zoom link and passcode are specific to your email and may not be shared. Sharing your links may void your registration without refund.

          • All course times listed are in the Central Standard Time zone (UTC-06:00)

          • Given the limitations presented by the pandemic, support from customer service will be limited to email correspondence. For course registration issues, please contact us at Please use the Help Form or for assistance with any Zoom-related service issues. No support is available on weekends.

          Linking to Live Sessions

          • You will be emailed a Zoom link invitation for each session on the Friday before the session is scheduled to be livestreamed.  The invitation will be sent from Norris Technical Services . You will also receive an email reminder with the link one hour prior to the start of each session. Please check your spam, junk folder, or deleted messages if you don't see the email in your inbox.

          • Plan on clicking on the Zoom link and joining the online session at least 10 minutes before the session begins.

          Your Zoom link is specific to your email address and may not be shared.

          • For a detailed guide on using Zoom, please click on the Alumnae Continuing Education Zoom Guide here.

          Limited Access to Recorded Sessions

          • If you cannot attend the live-streaming of the session, you may still view the recorded session for a limited time.

          • You will be sent a separate link with a passcode to give you access to the recording of the session for six days, ending when the next session begins. 

          • Your Zoom link and passcode are specific to your email and may not be shared.

            • Recordings CANNOT be downloaded.

            • If you don’t receive the email with the link and passcode to the recording, please complete the online Help Form at or contact as soon as possible to ensure timely assistance. Weekend support is not available.

            • For additional support, call The Alumnae voicemail number: (847) 604-3569.

            Refund Policy

            • If you intend to withdraw from a course, you must purchase a $10.00 cancellation fee by January 4, 2022. A full refund will be processed to the payment card used for the initial purchase.

            • Registrations purchased after January 4 cannot be refunded.

            • No refunds will be given once the first webinar begins.

            • Credits are not given for future classes.

            • Contact the if you would like to transfer to another class offered during the same quarter.  There is no additional cost. But you will have to wait until the following week to access the new course links.

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            Single Course Registration

            Online ticket sales ended on 1/20/2022 at 11:59 PM (CT)

            Event Location
            Norris University Center, 1999 Campus Drive Evanston, IL 60208

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