Online ExpertTrack in Science, Engineering & Maths

Life on Mars, Earth and Beyond with Dr Louisa Preston

4.8 (6 reviews)

Discover the fascinating field of astrobiology; study life on earth, space exploration, and how they intersect.

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Dr Louisa PrestonDr Louisa Preston

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Explore the big questions about life, the universe, and the future of humankind

Join astrobiologist Dr Louisa Preston as you explore what it means to be alive in the universe. In this introduction to astrobiology and space science, you’ll deepen your understanding of where we came from, where we are, and where we’re going in the future.

Meet your Expert Educator, Dr Louisa Preston

This ExpertTrack is led by Dr Louisa Preston, an astrobiologist, planetary geologist, author, and UK Space Agency Aurora Research Fellow.

Louisa has studied microbes in some of the most extreme environments on Earth, from the geysers and volcanoes of Iceland to the red acidic rivers of Rio Tinto in Spain.

With her knowledge and expertise in the geological history of Solar System bodies and how life might have evolved on other planets and moons, Louisa is uniquely positioned to guide you through this fascinating ExpertTrack.

Discover the origins of the Earth and life itself

From the beginning of our planet to where we are now, you’ll explore the formation of the Earth, how the many interconnected systems of the Earth work, and the history of the life that survives and thrives here.

Travel into space and determine whether there was ever life on Mars

Discover our neighbouring planet, Mars, the rocky, desert-covered red planet. What’s it made of? Is there water there? Can we live there? You’ll explore the answers to these questions and more.

You’ll also learn about the fascinating research that’s currently happening including the many future missions in the search for life on Mars.

Search for extraterrestrial life outside of our solar system

Outside our solar system lies a vast number of star systems and planets with the potential to cultivate life. On this course, you’ll discover what these exoplanets look like, how we might find them, and the ongoing search for alien life.

Then, you’ll crack the surface of our solar system’s icy moons and explore Europa, Enceladus, and Titan, three moons of our closest gas giants. Dive into the theories of what lies beneath their surfaces and uncover the secrets of what makes Titan so special.

Explore what the future of life looks like on Earth and beyond

Reflecting on what you’ve learned throughout the previous courses, you’ll think about what this all means for human life in the future.

Human civilisation faces a variety of threats to its survival, from climate change to overpopulation. But is there a way that we could move to another planet? And is the colonisation of other worlds essential to the continued survival of humans?

Key skills you will learn

  • Creative problem solving
  • Secondary research
  • Critical thinking
  • Analysing texts and ideas
  • Creating evidence based arguments
  • Creative thinking
  • Developing inquisitiveness

Learning outcomes

By the end of the ExpertTrack, you’ll be able to...

  • Investigate how the earth works and is situated within the universe
  • Compare the Earth with other habitats
  • Explore the interconnectedness between our world and the rest of the universe
  • Reflect on what it means to live in a habitable world
  • Reflect on what it means to live in a habitable world
  • Discuss how to protect the world we live in
  • Analyse and identify key information
  • Develop secondary research skills
  • Experiment with creative aspects of science

Experience required

This ExpertTrack is designed for anyone looking to learn more about the origins of life and the possibilities of colonising other planets. No previous experience or knowledge is needed to benefit from these five courses.

Getting started

This ExpertTrack is suitable for anyone who is interested in the fundamentals of astrobiology, particularly life on Earth and beyond.

It would also be useful for university applicants seeking to identify areas that they’d like to specialise in and STEM teachers looking to bring science to life for their students.

ExpertTrack course overview

  • Course 1

    Learn what makes the Earth so special, and why ‘habitable’ doesn’t always mean ‘inhabited’.

    1 test

    3 weeks

    3 hours per week

    • Week 1

      Habitable vs Habitability
      • Welcome to the course
      • What do we mean by habitability?
      • Galactic habitable zones
      • Maintaining habitability for life
      • Weekly wrap-up
    • Week 2

      What makes Earth so special?
      • Welcome to Week 2
      • The greenhouse effect
      • Plate tectonics
      • The Moon
      • Weekly wrap-up
    • Week 3

      Alien worlds on Earth
      • Welcome to Week 3
      • Uninhabited habitats
      • Extremophiles
      • Planetary analogues
      • Course wrap-up
  • Course 2

    From the beginning to where we are now, explore the formation of the Earth and the history of life on the blue planet.

    1 test

    3 weeks

    3 hours per week

    • Week 1

      The formation of the Earth
      • Welcome to the course
      • From dust to a planet
      • The Late Heavy Bombardment
      • The origins of life on the early Earth
      • Weekly wrap-up
    • Week 2

      How the Earth works
      • Welcome to Week 2
      • What is the Earth made of?
      • The Earth's movements
      • The geological record
      • Weekly wrap-up
    • Week 3

      The history of life
      • Welcome to Week 3
      • The earliest life
      • Multicellular life
      • Mass extinctions
      • Course wrap-up
  • Course 3

    4.8 (6 reviews)

    Discover our neighbouring planet, Mars, and delve into the missions and mysteries surrounding life on the planet.

    1 peer-graded assignment

    3 weeks

    3 hours per week

    • Week 1

      Mars inside and out
      • Welcome to the course
      • Getting to know the Red Planet
      • The geological record on Mars
      • Dating Mars
      • Weekly wrap-up
    • Week 2

      • Welcome to Week 2
      • Water on Mars
      • Missions to Mars
      • Mars today
      • Weekly wrap-up
    • Week 3

      Searching for life
      • Welcome to Week 3
      • Mars habitability
      • Hunting for life on Mars
      • Follow the carbon
      • Course wrap-up
  • Course 4

    Explore the potential for life on icy moons, what exoplanets look like, and the role biosignatures play in the search for life.

    1 test

    3 weeks

    3 hours per week

    • Week 1

      Icy moons
      • Welcome to the course
      • Europa
      • Enceladus
      • Titan
      • Weekly wrap-up
    • Week 2

      Leaving the Solar System
      • Welcome to Week 2
      • The edges of the Solar System
      • What lies beyond...
      • Star light, star bright
      • Weekly wrap-up
    • Week 3

      • Welcome to Week 3
      • The diversity of exoplanets
      • A second Earth
      • Hunting for exoplanets
      • Course wrap-up
  • Course 5

    Explore the threats facing human civilisation on Earth and discover the possible ways that we could colonise other planets.

    1 peer-graded assignment

    3 weeks

    3 hours per week

    • Week 1

      Our civilisation: Rise and threats
      • Welcome to the course
      • Evolution in a cosmic context
      • The evolution of us
      • Threats to a civilisation
      • Weekly wrap-up
    • Week 2

      Colonisation of other worlds
      • Welcome to Week 2
      • A multi-planet species
      • Colonising the Moon
      • Colonising Mars
      • Weekly wrap-up
    • Week 3

      A sustainable future
      • Welcome to Week 3
      • A changing climate
      • Materialistic beings
      • The next step
      • Course wrap-up

Prove you're job ready

Highlight the new, job-relevant skills you’ve gained and supplement existing qualifications with a hard-earned, industry-specific digital certificate – plus one for every course within your ExpertTrack.

  • Learn the latest in your chosen industry or subject.
  • Complete each course and pass assessments.
  • Receive certificates validated by the educating organisation.
  • Impress employers with learning outcomes you can add to your CV.
  • Make your career dreams a reality.

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How ExpertTracks work

Join an ExpertTrack to master new skills in your chosen specialist area. Work through a series of topic-focused courses at your own pace, and pass the final assessment to earn a digital certificate award which proves your expertise.

Join a free 7-day trial

Decide if the ExpertTrack is right for you with free access to the full suite of courses and assessments for a week.

Keep learning for $39/month

Pay a monthly subscription fee of $39 for as long as it takes you to complete the ExpertTrack. You can learn at your own pace and cancel at any time.

Earn digital certificates

Receive a certificate for every completed course and pass the final assessment to earn a digital certificate.

Become an expert

Use your specialist training to progress further in your career or build expertise in areas you’re passionate about.

World-class learning with FutureLearn

FutureLearn is a leading social learning platform and has been providing high quality online courses for learners around the world over the last ten years.

This ExpertTrack is in collaboration with Dr Louisa Preston

Meet your instructor

I am an astrobiologist, geologist, and author at the Natural History Museum in London. I am also on the science team for the European Space Agency ExoMars 2022 Mars rover ‘Rosalind Franklin'.

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

Want to know more about learning on FutureLearn? Using FutureLearn

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Start learning today - free 7-day trial

After your free trial you can:

  • Pay $39 per month to keep learning online
  • Have complete control over your subscription; you can cancel any time
  • Work at your own pace and set your own deadlines at every stage
  • Only pay while you’re learning; the subscription will cancel automatically when you finish
  • Complete online assessments to test your knowledge and prove your skills
  • Earn digital course certificates and a final award that you can share online, with potential employers, and your professional network
  • Keep access to the content of courses you complete even after your subscription ends


ExpertTracks are a series of online courses designed to help you master new skills in specialist areas. You pay a monthly subscription fee which includes access to all courses within the ExpertTrack, as well as assessments and the final digital certificate.

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