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

Astronomy 210, spring 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.
"It's awesome we have a lesson on aliens."

"I found the analogy of the universe history being related to one year in the book very helpful. Likewise, the link to 'Here Is Today' really put our place in history into perspective."

"There is an equation to find out the number of technological civilization in Milky Way."

"I found the concept of the drake equation to be really interesting. Life on other planets really interests me."

"I think that it's interesting to think about communicating with life outside of Earth, but people are people, and some people don't want everyone to know the truth--so I would love some valid proof! Hopefully in our lifetime!"

"I enjoyed reading about how science is trying to figure where other life forms could exist. Just because it may be possible for a star to help provide life on a planet doesn't mean it will or does."

"The Chilbolton reply was interesting because it's one form of proof that there is intelligent life out there."

Describe something you found confusing from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally confusing for you.
"How can astronomers tell if a planet has water, life, etc.?"

"That chemical evolution is not yet life."

"Something I found confusing was the Drake equation and the single-cell life the most."

"I found the timeline for evolution very confusing, as it was hard for me to read the chart in the book."

"The formula used to calculate possible civilizations in the Milky Way is ridiculous."

Briefly describe a difference between life and non-living things.
"A living thing has to be able to adapt. If it does not adapt, it cannot survive and will be non-living."

"Life needs certain chemicals and certain atmosphere regulations in order to survive, while something non-living doesn't need this. An example is a plant and a rock being thrown into space, the plant will die while the rock will be fine."

"Living things participate in the process of extracting energy to maintain itself to survive and reproduce, non-living things don't."

"A living thing has to be able to manipulate its environment."

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 [15%]
Time for the first types of simple single-cell life to evolve into fishlike creatures: about 3 billion years [15%]
Time for fishlike creatures to evolve into more complex land-based animals today: about 0.5 billion years [46%]

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.  *** [3]
Somewhat important.  ****** [6]
Important.  *** [3]
Very important.  * [1]

Briefly explain your answer regarding the importance of knowing whether there may be life elsewhere other than on Earth.
"It's pretty naïve to think we are the only living beings in the universe, but it is important that we find proof so people can open their minds and eyes!"

"I think it's very important. I personally want to know. There is so much space out there in space, there is no way we are the only living species out there."

"I believe it's important to communicate with other life sources to compare what works on each planet and then we can find the most ultimate sustainable way of life. By learning each others' behaviors and mistakes as well as successes."

"It'd be really cool to see if any other planet had similar life to ours, and if they were close enough to maybe expand our existence."

"I think sometimes ignorance is bliss. Most of the time conflict would arise from knowing too much. One group would see the other as a threat and that leads to war."

"I don't think there is life other than on Earth but some legit proof would be cool."

"For now, it is simply a curiosity. However, if we were ever reached out too, we would then need to prepare."

"I've got more important things to do."

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).  **** [4]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!)  * [1]

Briefly explain your answer to the previous question (type of star least likely to have a planet that could support life).
"Since we are life on Earth, and Earth goes around the sun, and the sun is a medium-mass str, then that would be the most likely place for other life to survive."

"I would say a massive star just because it has a low life time and it won't even be complex since it might die real quick."

"Because massive stars will die fast cause their life span is very short."

"I think that a low mass star would be the least likely because it isn't hot enough to have a greenhouse effect, life wouldn't be sustainable. Medium mass stars would be the most likely seeing as the sun is a medium mass star, and we are searching for 'Goldilocks' planets that are close enough to the star to have enough heat but far enough that they're not hella hot."

Describe what the Drake equation is used for.
"To make an educated guess about life on other planets."

"It helps narrow down the possibilities for which planets could possibly support life."

"The Drake equation is used to conclude an estimate of the number of active extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way."

"The Drake equation is used for the number of civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy whose electromagnetic emissions are detectable."

"Estimate total times of communicative civilizations in our galaxy"

In your opinion, how plausible is it that the Chilbolton message is a reply from extraterrestrials?
Implausible.  ** [2]
Not very plausible.  ******* [7]
Somewhat plausible.  *** [3]
Very plausible.  [0]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!)  * [1]

Ask the instructor an anonymous question, or make a comment. Selected questions/comments may be discussed in class.
"The last quiz is extra-credit? Do we have to do anything special for it or do we automatically get it?" (You just have to take the survey on star properties, so we can compare how much you've learned about stars relative to what you knew at the start of this semester.)

"Do you believe in extraterrestrials?" (Yes. I'd bet, like, $1 on it.)

"Who is the Drake equation named after?" (Not this Drake, but this Drake.)

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