Sea of Thieves' closed beta access, start times, how to play, download and all the rest (updates)

The Sea of Thieves closed beta starts this week, giving you a chance to experience Rare's open world pirate sim. But when's it start and how do you get it? 

When does the Sea of Thieves closed beta start? 

[UPDATE: the Sea of Thieves closed beta has now been extended by two days and will run until 8am GMT Jan 31.]

The Sea of Thieves closed beta will start at 4am PST/12pm GMT on Jan 24 and run for five days until 12am PST/8pm GMT Jan 28. 

These are the full times from Rare for all regions: 

Eastern Standard Time (EST)
7am on Wednesday 24th January to 3am on Monday 29th January

Central Standard Time (CST)
6am on Wednesday 24th January to 2am on Monday 29th January

Pacific Standard Time (PST)
4am on Wednesday 24th January to 12am on Monday 29th January

Central European Time (CET)
1pm on Wednesday 24th January to 9am on Monday 29th January

How to download the Sea of Thieves closed beta

The closed beta is only available if you joined the Sea of Thieves Insider Programme before Dec 1, 2017, or if you're preordered the game. If you pre-ordered the game through a retailer, you will need to redeem the code for the 'Black Dog Cosmetic Pack.' 

You can still get access to the beta by pre-ordering the game here.

When can you download the Sea of Thieves beta? 

Rare says the beta will appear in you library 24 hours before the beta begins so keep an eye out for it on Jan 23, and get ready to download and install it ahead of everything going live.  

What's in the Sea of Thieves beta?

Here's the word from Rare on what's in the beta: 

"We’ve crafted a bespoke experience for Closed Beta players that has been designed to give everyone a taste of the pirate life that they can expect in the full version of the game at release. We won’t be testing the full game during the Closed Beta phase: we want to keep a good selection of things up our sleeves for players to discover at launch."

I'm going to have a stab at guessing it'll be a lot like what was shown at E3 and Gamescom in the past. So some sailing, treasure hunting, a ship to ship battle and then all all back to the pub to drink virtual grog until someone throws up.