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

Astronomy 210, spring semester 2016
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.
"Wondering if life may exist somewhere else."

"Here Is Today."

"Primordial soup. I just want to know how it all started and the soup is a start."

"How little time we've existed...but have managed to do so much harm."

"The possibility of extra-terrestrial life, I've always wondered if aliens existed."

Describe something you found confusing from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally confusing for you.
"The Drake equation was a little confusing to me."

"How do we find life on other planets?"

"Nothing was really all that confusing."

Briefly describe a difference between life and non-living things.
"Life is the process that a living thing goes through. Non-living things don't go through that process."

"Life is something that drinks water and non-living things don't drink water"

"Non-living things don't require oxygen to live."

"Living things grow and reproduce."

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

Briefly explain your answer regarding the importance of knowing whether there may be life elsewhere other than on Earth.
"If there is life on other planets it would be a huge discovery and allow us to further understand our universe."

"If there is life on other planets it would be cool to know but nothing we could do about it."

"It'd be interesting to know, but I highly doubt there's anything "living" out there, and just "life" out there doesn't really affect me."

"Unfortunately, my answer will label me as a closed-minded individual. Because I am a Christian, and have spent many years studying the Bible to answers for life, I just don't see this as viable... I do believe the big bang is plausible, because I have read Genesis... Due to my biblical research, I don't believe there is life on other planets; therefore, it is of no importance to me... Finally, in a time where conventional wisdom and knowledge seems to be transitioning, the Bible (the true source of knowledge and wisdom) remains the same. According to our textbook and it's definition of life and the scientific research the probability of life on other planets, the evidence points to little possibility of life on other planets."

"I just think it'd be nice not to wonder anymore, and just know if there is other forms of life out there or not."

"I just really want to see an 'alien.'"

Which type of star would be least likely to have a planet that could support life?
Massive.  ***** [5]
Medium-mass.  [0]
Low-mass (red dwarf).  ** [2]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!)  **** [4]

Briefly explain your answer to the previous question (type of star least likely to have a planet that could support life).
"The massive star wouldn't be around long enough for life to begin."

"Low-mass because it would be cold and wouldn't support life."


"I think it would be a massive star, because its short lifespan would create harsh conditions."

"I want to say low-mass but I'm really not too sure. In fact, I'm probably wrong. But that is what I am going with."

Describe what the Drake equation is used for.
"It helps us consider the possibility of life other than Earth."

"For estimating the number of advanced technological civilizations in the Milky Way."

"It's used to make new Drake songs so we can enjoy them."

In your opinion, how plausible is it that the Chilbolton message is a reply from extraterrestrials?
Implausible.  ** [2]
Not very plausible.  ***** [5]
Somewhat plausible.  **** [4]
Very plausible.  [0]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!)  [0]

Ask the instructor an anonymous question, or make a comment. Selected questions/comments may be discussed in class.
"What is your opinion on the Chilbolton message?"

"Do YOU believe there are "living" beings out there? What's your favorite alien movie? Independence Day, Men In Black, Signs, Star Wars, Guardians of the Galaxy? Any of the many others?" (Meh, meh, no, yes, yes.)

"Do you believe there are other forms of life somewhere out there?"

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