Online reading assignment: origin of life, are we alone? (NC campus)

Astronomy 210, spring semester 2014
Cuesta College, San Luis Obispo, CA

Students have a weekly online reading assignment (hosted by SurveyMonkey.com), where they answer questions based on reading their textbook, material covered in previous lectures, opinion questions, and/or asking (anonymous) questions or making (anonymous) comments. Full credit is given for completing the online reading assignment before next week's lecture, regardless if whether their answers are correct/incorrect. Selected results/questions/comments are addressed by the instructor at the start of the following lecture.

The following questions were asked on reading textbook chapters and previewing presentations on the origin of life, a "Here Is Today" timeline, LEGO® washing tips and the extraterrestrial hypothesis.

Selected/edited responses are given below.

Describe something you found interesting from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally interesting for you.
"The massive distances between stars is interesting to me because I feel interplanetary travel would be so amazing, if only it didn't take so long."

"I think its interesting that humans haven't been on this planet that long at all. It may seem so long ago, but in Earth's years it hasn't been that long. It's amazing how planets can stay 'alive' for so long..."

Reading about how there is potential for life on the Jovian satellites... I'm excited about the possibility of life out there."

"I love Julia Child, that was the a highlight of the blog, as well as the 'Here Is Today' link--very interesting."

"Its interesting that there are certain advancements in technology that complex molecules are being attempted to make into life."

"I found the 'Here Is Today' presentation pretty crazy how it took it from us, and scaled us down way back to when Earth was created. It's pretty crazy how small and insignificant we seem in the grand scheme of things."

"I found the 'Here Is Today' site to be fantastic as fare as allowing people to get a grasp on just how small our time is on this planet. It really puts into perspective the time scale of humans, earth, and even the universe. All through good web design, which is always cool.

Describe something you found confusing from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally confusing for you.
"The entire DNA process because I'm not a scientist."

"I found the Drake equation confusing. I just can't really understand it fully."

"It's hard for me to believe that we came from apes, all though there might be 'evidence' I still don't quite understand/believe the process."

Briefly describe a difference between life and non-living things.
"Life adjusts and adapts. Not-life does not."

"Living things are carbon-based whereas non-living things are silicon-based."

"Non-living things don't have any natural growth."

"Living things have these seven characteristics: feeding, movement, breathing or respiration, excretion, growth, sensitivity, and reproduction."

How important is it to you to know whether or not there may be life elsewhere other than on Earth?
Unimportant.  * [1]
Of little importance.  ** [2]
Somewhat important.  **** [4]
Important.  ******** [8]
Very important.  *** [3]

Briefly explain your answer regarding the importance of knowing whether there may be life elsewhere other than on Earth.
"Since we all were created by stardust, which exists throughout the entire cosmos, then life already exists everywhere."

"It's important because we should know that there's life elsewhere. It could be valuable information for scientists to know that there is life out there in this huge universe that we are in."

"If there is life somewhere else than earth than I would like to know but then it would just become normal."

"It's important but I'm not losing any sleep over it. If it is found, it will be the most important discovery since fire."

"There's one thing in this life that I've come to love unconditionally and that is knowledge. I love to learn, as dorky as that sounds, I can't think of anything I enjoy better than being taught something new. So, of course I'd want to know about life elsewhere other than earth! I think it would be magnificent to contact other life! I'd want to learn all about them! I'd ask them 42 about the geography of their home planet and I'd ask if I could have catalog of their flora and fauna! Oh how incredible it would be to see how life has adapted to their planetary conditions! I feel so happy just thinking about it! (And then kinda melancholic because it seems like such an unattainable dream.)"

"Humans have always thought of themselves as the center of the universe, whether there is life elsewhere in the universe or not. I'd like to see if that is really true."

Which type of star would be least likely to have a planet that could support life?
Massive.  ****** [6]
Medium-mass.  ** [2]
Low-mass (red dwarf).  ******** [8]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!)  ** [3]

Briefly explain your answer to the previous question (type of star least likely to have a planet that could support life).
"I am not sure."

"I believe a massive star would be hard to have life around it because it would be too hot and the gravity would be too great."

"It'll take a long time for life to emerge, massive stars which only live for a few million years will die before life can form."

"The low-mass star would be least likely because of its minimal heat and light being given off from the star."

Describe what the Drake equation is used for.
"The Drake equation is a probabilistic argument used to estimate the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy."

Ask the instructor an anonymous question, or make a comment. Selected questions/comments may be discussed in class.
"Do you think a tattoo of the Arecibo message would be cool?" (Yes--although it would probably be quite a large tattoo.)

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