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

Astronomy 210, fall 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 Arecibo message! I never knew about this message and found it very interesting."

"Wow! LEGO® bricks assemble themselves in washing machines just like stuff in our universe! How incredible. I really want to try this."

"The Miller experiment--it's super cool that atoms tend to hook up with other atoms to make both simple and complicated molecules."

"The Drake equation--I don't completely understand it but I find it interesting that we were able to come up with a scientific equation that tells us where there is life in the galaxy of not."

"The 'Here is Today' presentation is interesting to me because it portrays the obscure numbers of time, that are often hard to relate to, in a way that is easier to comprehend."

"How there was a [purported] reply from a radio signal in a crop field. I've heard about these before and how its possible to do this over night. In fact there was a show about it on TV. However, no one really knows, all myths, could be true could not, but thats the fun in it."

Describe something you found confusing from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally confusing for you.
"How is it possible that math (the Drake equation) can determine whether or not there is life on planets other than Earth? I know that it includes many factors but it seems like too complex of a idea for a mathematical equation."

"I don't understand how longer, more complex molecules could change their environment more than those that were shorter."

"I didn't really understand what Julia Child was saying in the beginning. But I understood the rest of the presentation and the reading."

"I'm confused on chemical evolution because it just isn't a clear topic in my head. Can't wrap around it."

Briefly describe a difference between life and non-living things.
"Living things are adaptable and build and destroy and eat, and they eat a lot."

"Being human or a zombie."

"My pet rock hasn't moved since I got it. On the other hand, my cat has been killing things and meowing since day one."

How important is it to you to know whether or not there may be life elsewhere other than on Earth?
Unimportant.  [0]
Of little importance.  ***** [5]
Somewhat important.  *********** [11]
Important.  ******* [7]
Very important.  ********** [10]

Briefly explain your answer regarding the importance of knowing whether there may be life elsewhere other than on Earth.
"I think it would be fascinating to see how life was created elsewhere. How similar or different we are compared to them would be interesting. Maybe it would help people see themselves as human instead of fighting each other for control or minor differences that can be easily fixed if discussed. Knowing how far the other species has gotten would maybe give us ideas as to what the next stage in our growth could be."

"I mean I am not worried about other life out there, but if we came to the conclusion that there was, that would be pretty rad."

"Knowledge is always important."

"Whether or not there is life elsewhere could either greatly effect us here on Earth or have such little effect that it wouldn't matter."

"It would be interesting to know but I wouldn't do anything about it."

"I think it would be cool to know if there was another form of life out there, but I do not strive to know and research about it. I would also not want us humans to go and be nosy in another planet's life."


"I would just really like to know if there is life elsewhere. Maybe we could help and teach each other?"

Which type of star would be least likely to have a planet that could support life?
Massive.  ***************** [17]
Medium-mass.  ** [2]
Low-mass (red dwarf).  ************* [13]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!)  * [1]

Briefly explain your answer to the previous question (type of star least likely to have a planet that could support life).
"Massive stars have a short lifespan."

"I think it would be a low-mass star like a red dwarf because it gives off so little heat compared to medium-mass or massive stars that terrestrial planets would cool down too fast and there wouldn't be time to create tectonic plate shifts or life."

"The star has to be perfect, not too hot and not too cold. If we look at the type our sun is, we use a similar match."

Describe what the Drake equation is used for.
"Drake equation starts out with well-established values, and multiplies progressively less reliable factors to estimate the number of advanced technological civilizations in the Milky Way."

In your opinion, how plausible is it that the Chilbolton message is a reply from extraterrestrials?
Implausible.  ******** [8]
Not very plausible.  *********** [11]
Somewhat plausible.  ************* [13]
Very plausible.  * [1]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!)  [0]

Ask the instructor an anonymous question, or make a comment. Selected questions/comments may be discussed in class.
"Please explain the chemistry-to-biology part cause I'm lost--if there is no fossil evidence and hasn't been seen in nature or been made in a lab, how do we know that's how we came to be?" (That's why it's still a hypothesis that we need to find more evidence to in order to prove or disprove it.)

"Can you explain the grading system before the final? And how to determine whether or not we should take it?" (Your course point total is cumulative, and determines your letter grade compared to the scale set at the start of the course. Your course point total cannot go down, it can only go up as long as you still accumulate points. The final is worth 100 points, and it is up to you if you want to take it to make the next grade jump, or skip it if you want to settle for your current grade.)

"I'd like to confirm that if I have an 'A,' I really don't need to take the final and I'll keep my 'A?'" (Yes, that is possible.)

"I hope we one day do in fact come into contact with extraterrestrial lifeforms."

"I LIKE TURTLES." (Maybe that's what the extraterrestrials will look like.)

"It's been real, and it's been fun. But it ain't been real fun."

"Thank you so much for being a great teacher P-dog! I truly enjoyed this class the most this semester!"

"Eksjxnenxkx." (Woghaosdif. GHxp.)

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