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

Astronomy 210, fall semester 2017
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 theories and evidence used to test how single-celled organisms came to be on our planet was interesting since it's not something I've thought about since high school and it's cool trivia to remember."

"The fraction of the time humans existed in the world and having intelligence is so little. This means that the world was so very boring for very very very long time, rather than just having volcanoes exploding, etc."

"I've always been interested in discovering if life exists, out of this whole universe, there is no possible way that we are alone."

"Finding fossil remnants of single-cell colonies. It's amazing that we can still find cells that date back to over 3 billion years."

"It was mind-blowing to visually see how young we humans are compared to the universe."

"The 'Here is Today' website was very interesting, as it was cool to see how small we are in the timeline of this world."

"The 'Here is Today' website and the origin of life presentation. I think this is interesting because it puts our lives into perspective and how we're only a small sliver in the Earth's life."

"I found it interesting when you put in to perspective that humans are extremely recent newcomers to Earth."

"I found that the LEGO® washing thing was interesting, it makes me want to test it to see if it actually works. Also, I thought the 'Here is Today' webpage was neat."

"I thought the part about DNA and the chemical bases for all life on earth, was quite interesting. They were saying that a lifeform has a set of chemical codes called DNA, this is relevant to its parent lifeform, if that exists, and is also relevant to its environment and its own reactions and growth, to itself and surrounding habitate. I thought this was interesting because a lifeform can inheret DNA from a parent molecule, while can also adapt and evolve to its habitat due to environmental stratus."

"The slide comment: 'But to be completely honest, there will be one step in particular that has yet to be recreated or remnants to be found for, and we will be sure to point this out.' I really appreciated the academic honesty in this statement. That was interesting for me."

"I thought the Drake equation was the most interesting because of all the different factors that go into deciding if there is more life other than on Earth."

"The crop circle video from the early 2000s. Don't really think it's really another lifeform who made it, but it is interesting to say the least."

Describe something you found confusing from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally confusing for you.
"What was confusing to me was the idea of different geologic time gaps taking less and less time to evolve. Not sure how it took longer to create single-cell organisms than for humans to evolve."

"Why did it take so long for single-cell organisms to become complex cells? I don't want to rush nature, but why did complex organisms start to show up at 0.6 billion years ago instead of an earlier time?"

"The Drake equation is really confusing, I don't understand it."

"The Drake equation, because of the many factors that are not accurate or either have no way of discovering."

"I started to get confused when all the crazy factors in the Drake equation to find out if we are alone (or not). This was confusing because these type of equations just frighten me at first."

"The Drake equation. There are just a lot of factors to keep track of."

"The choice for the 'fraction with intelligence' slide confused me, but that's basically it."

"Not much was that confusing, although just the sheer scales of the equations/fractions for the chance of us not being alone are mind-boggling."

"How radio signals can go in space, for thousands and millions of miles, I would think that radio signals would dissipate in the endless depth of space."

"The crop circle...like whaat?"

Briefly describe a difference between life and non-living things.
"Life is something that's able to reproduce, grow and made up of cells or multi living cells while non-living things do not have these factors such as rocks."

"Living things have cells that can evolve and change to adapt to the environment around them, unlike non-living things."

"Life is breathing, seeing, having experiences and adapting. When I think of non-living things I think of stillness."

"Non-living things are abiotic while living things are known as biotic."

"Living things should be able to to adapt to changes throughout its life and the things surrounding them."

"Non-living things are things that do not do anything to their environment."

"Life is living and non-living is well, non-living."

Rank the time it takes for each of the following to have occurred on Earth.
(Only correct responses shown.)
Time after the formation of Earth for single-cell life to arise: about 1 billion years [35%]
Time for the first types of simple single-cell life to evolve into fishlike creatures: about 3 billion years [65%]
Time for fishlike creatures to evolve into more complex land-based animals today: about 0.5 billion years [65%]

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

Briefly explain your answer regarding the importance of knowing whether there may be life elsewhere other than on Earth.
"It would be nice to discover other hospitable planets that are confirmed to at least host single-celled organisms, but it isn't something I'm holding my breath over."

"Finding life outside our planet is very important because this changes everything: our way of life, the way we see things, religion, etc. If we ever find lifeforms outside that are more intelligent and advanced than humans, it can be very dangerous and frightening."

"If it was possible for life to happen on Earth, there's gotta be life out there somewhere too."

"I mean it would be pretty cool but also very scary because what if they already know about us and just don't want to be found."

"I want to know simply because we don't know and it is such heavy question."

"It is important, but unless they come to us I won't see them in my lifetime."

"While it would be cool to know if there was more life out there, I'm not too sure if we should seek it out."

"It's important because eventually we won't be able to use Earth and we need to have a place. I feel like finding other life would be significant for learning."

"In order to better understand my real intended purpose here on earth, I need to know that we are not just some cosmic accident. I need to know the reason for being. Finding out that there is life elswhere in the universe would give me that; and I don't think I'm alone."

"I believe that there must be life out in the vast universe. I do not think it is relevant to Earth. We have our own planet, and have many problems to worry about. We should not be worried about whether or not there is alien life, our in the infinite universe. There are many people, beings, on our planet, that are already here, and they have neccesities too, like clean water to drink, and food to eat, and cures for common diseaes, like typhoid fever, polio, smallpox, AIDS, and Ebola. We should focus on Life on this planet, before we worry about aliens in space."

"Kinda cool but kinda creepy, idk."

Which type of star would be least likely to have a planet that could support life?
Massive.  ************ [12]
Medium-mass.  ** [2]
Low-mass (red dwarf).  ********** [10]
(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).
"Massive stars will be too short lived for complex life to develop."

"I feel like massive stars would be too massive and bright and die too quickly for life to develop."

"Well, I'm assuming a medium-mass star would be ideal. A low-mass star would be living for a longer period of time; however it would not be very bright. A massive would be incredibly bright; however it would die off very quickly which would probably kill off whatever life would be existing."

"Low-mass stars live for a longer period of time but are much colder than other stars, even our star."

"Red dwarfs are so small they wouldn't have as much heat to give planets that orbit it that heat. Plus they are much smaller so less gravitational pull."

Describe what the Drake equation is used for.
"Estimating the number of advanced technological civilizations in the galaxy."

"The Drake equation multiplies many factors that reflect more and more restrictive conditions for an advanced technological civilization to arise...I think."

In your opinion, how plausible is it that the Chilbolton message is a reply from extraterrestrials?
Implausible.  * [1]
Not very plausible.  ************ [12]
Somewhat plausible.  *********** [11]
Very plausible.  * [1]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!)  * [1]

Ask the instructor an anonymous question, or make a comment. Selected questions/comments may be discussed in class.
"I need help on the Drake equation."

"Do you believe in other lifeforms outside of our galaxy?"

"Do you believe there are other lifeforms out there? Or that we will ever discover any?" (Yes, both probably just very simple life. I'm waiting to be surprised, though.)

"There's a 24-hour live stream of 1990's cooking shows online--Julia Childs is often on there--big fan lol. She looks hella young here." (#wellhello)

"Lion or tiger?" (What's wrong with ligers and lions?)

"Are you doing anything wild for winter break? (More adventures with Mrs. P-dog and Slumberjack, the Sleeping Forester.)

"Thanks for the class." (#yourewelcome #itsjustmywayofbeingme)

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