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

Astronomy 210, fall semester 2015
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.
"I thought the possibility of other planets sustaining life was interesting, because there are so many other galaxies out there. So, it should be possible."

"I don't really have anything in this chapter I found interesting."

"That molecules combine together to make other things. I knew this, but it is still interesting to me that atoms could make real things we live off of."

"I now realize I'm really exaggerating when I say, 'eon.' An eon is a very long time!"

"That planets similar to ours have been discovered, and that they have a chance of having life on them."

"The Arecibo message because it reminds me of shorthand and ASL and other foreign languages. If you don't know the meaning of what you're seeing or hearing, it's secretive because you can't understand the message."

"Talking about living and non living things I'd pretty cool. I'm interested in that type of stuff."

"I thought that video of the crop circles was cool, it's pretty crazy if you think about it how percise everything was cut."

Describe something you found confusing from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally confusing for you.
"The timeline of life. It doesn't seem reasonable."

"The Drake equation was pretty confusing. And the variables needed in the equations are somewhat confusing."

"Everything with Drake equation was confusing, but I think it's just because I only see letters in the equation rather than numbers."
"Not confusing just think this is a lot of BS."

"I don't really know anything about the Chilbolton message."

"Simple molecules make energy? I don't get it."

"The Miller experiment."

"Carbon molecular chains."

Briefly describe a difference between life and non-living things.
"Life is a living, breathing object. Non-living things are just objects."

"I am living because I require air, my cell phone doesn't."

"Living things are made up of life and exhibit characteristics of life/"

"Life: smallest unit classified as life are cells. Non-living: A mass of just matter (rocks are really good examples since they're both on in space and everywhere throughout Earth)."

"Living things can learn to adapt to their environment (or change it to where the enviroment changes for them) while non- living things can't do this."

"Living things have enough information to manipulate its environment, make new generations of itself by protecting itself with a cell wall and growing larger and being able to divide itself into multiple copies of itself. and nonliving things cannot do that."

How important is it to you to know whether or not there may be life elsewhere other than on Earth?
Unimportant.  * [1]
Of little importance.  *** [3]
Somewhat important.  *** [3]
Important.  ***** [5]
Very important.  ***** [5]

Briefly explain your answer regarding the importance of knowing whether there may be life elsewhere other than on Earth.
"Even without validation I'm fairly positive that we can't be the only planet with life forms (single celled or otherwise). Of all the galaxies, are we so cynical to think that we are the only ones? We are but a chance, and there must be other 'chances' out there, somewhere."

"I am a Christian--I believe that God created the Heavens and Earth with the universe so big I would not be surprised if God made us a sibling species I would treat them like anyone else."

"Knowing if theres life elsewhere has always been a question I've been dying to know. I have always thought about what it is like on another life planet and wondered if it is the same type of life we are living. I've thought about this so many times and hope I can know the answer before I die."

"I like to learn new things."

"Discovery and travel are the big and broad categories that most opinions fall under when wanting to go to another planet. Here are the a few reasons why that more exploration of the notion is unwise: (1) Earth has yet to be Appropriately documented geographically, historically, and demographically (examples: deep dark water ocean life). (2) Most people never even experience even a tenth of the world for themselves."

"I need to know if there are aliens so that if there is I can assemble a super hero group like the Avengers to protect us."

Which type of star would be least likely to have a planet that could support life?
Massive.  ******* [7]
Medium-mass.  ** [2]
Low-mass (red dwarf).  **** [4]
(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).
"Because a low mass star probably wouldn't be able to produce enough light and heat?"

"Massive because they don't last long enough to have a planet."

"The low-mass star would be more calm."

Describe what the Drake equation is used for.
"The Drake equation is used to multiply a number of factors that reflect conditions for a technological civilization to arise."

"Derived by Frank Drake the Drake equation estimates arithmetically the number of technological civilizations per galaxy."

"There factors that we need to consider to help us see if there's a chance that life can exist on another planet."

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

Ask the instructor an anonymous question, or make a comment. Selected questions/comments may be discussed in class.
"Will the quiz or the final make my grade get lower or can I only go up from here?" (It can only go up (or remain the same), because your grade is determined by accumulated points, not from a percentage.)

"Do you believe the Chilbolton message is from extraterrestrials?" (No, just from neighboring radio telescope astronomers with a sense of humor.)

"Not really a question just comment on communication. Assuming other lifeforms are communicating with us, as lifeforms with intelligence we have a disjointed system of communication with other humans which we interpret incorrectly many times. We also don't effectively communicate with other forms of life on the planet as well, such as with teaching chimpanzees sign language, which is not their natural interaction. We have them learn our ways then in turn study them. Many opportunities for things 'lost in translation.'"

"Are you looking forward to the semester ending as much as we are?" (Yes. Mrs. P-dog and I are going to look at some cool things in the desert that were most certainly not created by aliens.)

"What if someone in this class is an alien?" (Sounds like something an alien would say. #justsaying)

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