Online reading assignment: origin of life, are we alone? (SLO 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.
"Seeing Julia Child in the presentation, this was interesting to me because I never knew she used that kind of technology to cook."

"That shocking representation of how little time we as humans have actually been on Earth. I also found the idea of goldilocks planets interesting because it means potential for finding other life sources out there."

"That 'Here is Today' timeline kind of blew my mind."

"The LEGO® bricks, I never thought something like that could be possible. The more you know I guess."

"The Drake equation was particularly interesting to me. Although we don't have the measurements of all the factors it still reveals a lot about our place in the universe."

Describe something you found confusing from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally confusing for you.
"I'm still a little confused on the Drake equation. What's the point of making an equation where you can't possibly know so many of the factors?"

"Something I found confusing was what is defined as living on a different plant, should bacteria count as an alien?"

"I was really confused by the LEGO® article. Is it about washing LEGO® bricks in socks and they will form structures?"

"I don't see why the government doesn't provide funding if it costs so little. It doesn't seem too controversial. The most they can say is that it's insignificant but it also requires insignificant funding."

"I guess how is it that atheists only reply on science to explain how simple chemicals become complex chemicals. I'm not religious but it's interesting to watch atheists try and answer all of these questions."

Briefly describe a difference between life and non-living things.
"Something that is living often requires some sort of resource(s) to maintain itself."

"Living things take in energy and non-living things don't"

"Non-living things do not exhibit any characteristics of life. They do not grow, respire, need energy, move, reproduce, evolve, or maintain homeostasis."

"Something that is living will reproduce in some way and start another generation and non-living things do not."

"The transmission of information from one molecule to another!"

"Life has living cells and they can reproduce. Non-living things can have chemical reactions."

"Non-living things are dead and living things are alive."

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.  **** [4]
Somewhat important.  ***** [10]
Important.  ********* [9]
Very important.  ** [2]

Briefly explain your answer regarding the importance of knowing whether there may be life elsewhere other than on Earth.
"Even if there is other life out there, I doubt it will have much of an effect on us. Unless they figured out how to travel space faster than we ever though possible."

"It's important because the more we know about other planets, the more we know about how we became a part of this world."

"I'm extremely curious to know whether or not there is life on other planets, but I don't believe that knowing would have a huge impact on my life; or rather, that I would benefit from knowing."

"I feel like the universe is so huge and that if life was able to develop on earth there could be a chance that life is elsewhere. I feel like its ignorant to think that we are the only living beings out there."

"Searching for life in other parts of the universe is also a way of answering questions about ourselves. Where did we come from? Why are we here?"

"Because humans suck and I want to marry a Kryptonian."

Which type of star would be least likely to have a planet that could support life?
Massive.  *********** [11]
Medium-mass.  *** [3]
Low-mass (red dwarf).  ********* [9]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!)  ** [2]

Briefly explain your answer to the previous question (type of star least likely to have a planet that could support life).
"A massive star would die young and have harsh conditions, and be less likely to have time to be able to support life."

"I think it would be the low-mass stars because they take so long to burn out and they're hotter? But I could be wrong."

"A low-mass star is very cold and would be hard to heat a planet enough for life to form."

"Massive stars have a short lifespan."

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

"I think a low mass star is the least likely to host life-harboring planets because they are very small and cool relative to other stars. In order for a planet to be in the habitable zone of a low mass star, it would have to be incredibly close to the star, to the point of dangerously close, something that seems rather unlikely."

Describe what the Drake equation is used for.
"The Drake equation is used for calculating how likely it is for a civilization to arise in a galaxy."

"To find out how many planets in the Milky Way could sustain life."

"Used to arrive at an estimate of the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy."

"It is used to find the number of advanced technological civilization in the Milky Way."

"Other life."

In your opinion, how plausible is it that the Chilbolton message is a reply from extraterrestrials?
Implausible. ***  [3]
Not very plausible. **************  [14]
Somewhat plausible. ******  [6]
Very plausible.  [0]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!) **  [2]

Ask the instructor an anonymous question, or make a comment. Selected questions/comments may be discussed in class.
"Do you believe we are the only life in the universe?"

"What is your opinion on the Chilbolton message?"

"If we sent the Chilbolton message 30 years ago to a system thousands of light years away, why do people expect the reply to have arrived so quickly?"

"What are you and Mrs. P-Dog doing over summer break?" (This. #heretodaygonetomaui #thelifeofthelandisperpetuatedinrighteousness)

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