Online reading assignment: origin of life, are we alone? (NC 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 behavior of atoms--to be specific, their tendency to form molecules in the presence of energy."

"The 'Here Is Today' website. That was really cool to put into perspective how tiny today really is the grand scheme of things."

"The Drake formula, I can't believe an equation that is 50% SWAG is considered legitimate and that people have the gall to assume humans are the only organisms capable of our kind of 'advancement.'"

Describe something you found confusing from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally confusing for you.
"How evolution plays into studying extra-terrestrial life--if our DNA can become specialized over time, it seems like it would be very difficult to identify other life forms if they have evolved differently than us."

"Got stuck trying to decipher the Arecibo Message."

"The Drake equation because there is so much to it."

"I don't understand how single-celled organisms suddenly became more than that, because it seems remarkable that just happened."

"What would need to occur in order for there to be life on other planets."

Briefly describe a difference between life and non-living things.
"Living things extract energy from their environment in order to maintain themselves, survive, and reproduce. This is a process that nonliving things would not partake in."

"Something alive can interact with its environment in some way. Algae and single-cell organisms can, rocks cannot. Sorry rocks. :("

"All living things contain carbon. Not all things that contain carbon are living, though."

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.  ******* [7]
Important.  ****** [6]
Very important.  ****** [6]

Briefly explain your answer regarding the importance of knowing whether there may be life elsewhere other than on Earth.
"Human girls don't like me, so I figure an alien girl might."

"I'm really curious about it and I've always been super-interested in it, but it doesn't bother me that I'll probably never know."

"Finding other life will only complicate the world today."

"It may provide answers to fundamental questions, such as the origin of life. Aside from that, we should also realize that life can not last forever on Earth."

"I don't think it really matters. I believe in God."

"If there really is life out there, I would like to experience the feeling humanity would have of 'we aren't alone' and the age of illumination it might bring."

Which type of star would be least likely to have a planet that could support life?
Massive.  ******* [7]
Medium-mass.  * [1]
Low-mass (red dwarf).  ********** [10]
(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).
"Red dwarfs have very little on them to support life and very few resources."

"From what we know from observations, a large star would expand its fuel rapidly, then go supernova which makes the probability of life existing such a star basically impossible."

"Massive stars only live for a few million years while the evolution for living things can take billions of years."

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

"I honestly don't know."

In your opinion, how plausible is it that the Chilbolton message is a reply from extraterrestrials?
Implausible.  *** [3]
Not very plausible.  ******** [8]
Somewhat plausible.  ******** [8]
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.
"We all know it was you who made that crop circle, P-dog. It's okay, though, your secret is safe with us."

"Do you think there is life beyond Earth? Do you really think there might be some other sentient life elsewhere in the universe?" (Yes on both. I would totally bet on it. Like, a dollar.)

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