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

Astronomy 210, fall semester 2019
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 crazy how the timespan humans have existed is such a small amount in comparison to the life of the universe."

"How life was formed."

"The transition from chemical compounds in the atmosphere to life forms is fascinating."

"How long it takes to build life naturally, just to create a simple (yet not simple) organism."

"The Miller-Urey experiment."

"That we live in a very small moment in time, it's a very sobering perspective."

"How small our window of existence is in the whole cosmological timeline. It makes me feel so insignificant."

"How it would take massive amounts of energy, fuel, and time to even propel a spaceship to the nearest star because there is no way we can travel at the speed of light. I think this is a significant piece of evidence in disproving UFO's and aliens visiting Earth because it is pretty much impossible."

"That moons of other planets have water."

"All of it!!! I have always wanted to know more of the history of our Earth and evolution so that is why learning about it is interesting to me."

"The Drake equation is something I've never heard of and is an interesting way to explain or predict scientific situations like the Goldilocks zones."

"I like the chemistry turning into biology, as molecular chains begin to react to surroundings."

"The 'Here is Today' website was very interesting, as it was cool to see new we are in the timeline of Earth."

"Human life is barely shown by the thinnest red line ever on a timeline of life. crazy how we haven't caused a bigger dent."

Describe something you found confusing from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally confusing for you.
"Nothing was confusing."

"The LEGO-washing presentation."

"The Drake equation (just a little bit)."

"The complex molecules going from being randomly assembled in their environment to them self replicating."

"I found the Drake equation pretty confusing, but naturally anything with numbers confuses me."

"The Drake equation."

"How is life could be so uncommon. granted there are way too many unknowns, but you'd think the great Random Number Generator Gods might throw in a couple of winning civilizations."

"I felt the Chilbolton radio message that we sent out is so anthropocentric. Why on Earth did the people sending it ever think aliens (if there were any) would ever understand it, and if they did, would care to answer to us--a bunch of talking apes?"

"How we can expect other technological civilizations to exist and be able to actually communicate with us via radio. How can we expect them to know or even have the means of understanding to send a different anti-coded message back to us? I just find it hard to believe."

"That water on the moon would boil away into the atmosphere. It's confusing because I thought the moon is cold."

"When it starts to get a bit like chemistry I got confused trying to understand the different atoms and molecules."

"I don't understand the part about the crop circles and sending coded messages. How are pixelated messages sent through radio frequencies?"

"I think crop circles are kind of dumb, but also whoever is making them is putting a lot of effort into making them look good."

"The Drake equation, because of the many factors that are can't be discovered."

"I understand the definition for the Drake equation but the actual equation and the variables are a huge question mark."

Briefly describe a difference between life and non-living things.
"Life has the ability to regenerate, adapt, and overcome problems and difficulties that are presented in front of it in order to survive."

"Living things manipulate their environment and create a new generation which will also manipulate their environment."

"The difference is that life living things keep evolving, reproducing, and adapting for survival."

"Living things are composed of cells while non-living things do not have a specialized structure."

"Living things require a form of nutrients to keep surviving, while non-living things have no need of any."

"Voluntary movement."

"Living things basically grow, respire, need energy, move, reproduce, evolve, or maintain homeostasis. Anything that doesn't do this is 'non-living.' But ultimately, this definition is just a subjective yardstick we humans have created to classify the two."

"Living things are able to manipulate their environment and use energy to live. Non-living things simply exist and are made up of solids, liquids, and gases."

"Living things breath, non-living things don't."

"Living things maintain themselves."

"Non-living things do not attempt to alter their surroundings in order to grow. Living things manipulate their surroundings to reproduce and grow."

"Life is able to reproduce, and each generation adapts to the environment, which by its existence life is also causing to change. Non-living things just lay there as stuff (Laws of physics) happens to them without the components to react to their environment."

"Living things can reproduce on their own, move by themselves, can grow and are comprised of cells. Non-living things cannot do one of the following, depending on the organism. Viruses cannot reproduce on their own, they hijack a living cell and use that to reproduce, thus viruses are lot living things."

"Non-living things do not obtain abilities of living thing like: the ability to breath, evolve, age, grow, etc."

Rank the amounts of 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: a medium amount of time (about 1 billion years) [41%]
Time for the first types of simple single-cell life to evolve into fishlike creatures: the longest amount of time (about 3 billion years) [55%]
Time for fishlike creatures to evolve into more complex land-based animals today: the shortest amount of time (about 0.5 billion years) [55%]

How important is it to you to know whether or not there may be life elsewhere other than on Earth?
Unimportant.  ** [2]
Of little importance.  **** [4]
Somewhat important.  ****** [6]
Important.  ****** [6]
Very important.  **** [4]

Briefly explain your answer regarding the importance of knowing whether there may be life elsewhere other than on Earth.
"I think knowing there is life elsewhere would give the people of earth new way of looking at things and inspire a generation."

"Although it likely will not really affect me or my way of life if I know the answer, knowing whether or not there is other life (specifically intelligent life) out there will answer a lot of philosophical and theological questions that we otherwise have no way of answering."

"It is not important because I believe there is only life on Earth."

"Because there has always been a mystery about life elsewhere outside our planet and I would like to know how truth that is."

"It is important for the development of the human race as we progress off of the planet and into space, but it does not effect our day-to-day lives."

"Knowing that other civilizations may be out there is extremely mind boggling to think about. To know that they have a completely different way of functioning would be astounding to learn about."

"Just not something I think we will find in my lifetime, so dwelling on it seems pointless."

"I am not actively searching for an answer to whether other life exists, but if someone came to me and told me that NASA found proof of extraterrestrials, I can assure you that it would rise to the top of my priority list."

"If so, and life is elsewhere than Erth, I think it would be extremely important. Especially if they have technology, if we communicated, our world could advance pretty significantly. I just think that would be a huge deal."

"If there is than they likely developed similar to the way we did. Essentially they probably wouldn't know that much more than us or be a threat to our way of life. They may just have slightly different developments in science and technology."

"To provide perspective. To understand how life evolves in foreign environments."

"There are only two options: Either we are alone in the universe, or we are not. Both prospects are equally terrifying. If there are others, they are either less intelligent than us (so dangerous but can't reach us). Or more intelligent than us (more civilized and therefore don't have any use of contacting us hairless apes). I am scared however that they could see us a guinea pigs for their experiments... "

"That the creation of life is either consistent or possible with alternative methods, but also that the greater amount of life indicated means that we are approaching towards the fermi paradox as something is preventing life is before us."

"I do not believe in alien life elsewhere other than Earth, but I do not deny that there are small, simple-celled terrestrial organisms on other planets (Mars being the biggest example). In my Christian faith, I believe that God created the heavens and Earth in seven days, and he specifically designed Earth for man to inhabit. I do not believe advanced, intelligent life forms were created on other planets at the beginning of mankind, so it is not important for me to know alien life forms are there because I do not think they exist."

"It would be very fascinating to learn of other life, however, I do not think it should be a top priority because there are lots of problems here on Earth that need to be addressed and worked on before worrying about other life."

"I assume there's life elsewhere. Or at least that it's very possible. It's kind of freaky, tho, so I don't concern myself with it."

"It would change things to know whether there may be life other places on Earth and increase our investigation of it perhaps leading to something greater"

"Knowing that there is other life in the universe would only be useful to me in the sense that it would blow my mind like most since does. However, if extraterrestrial life is found, the likelihood that it will have an impact on my life is so small that it is essentially pointless for me to care about."

"The wondering is okay, but I'm not obsessed with knowing. My opinion is that life of some sort (perhaps intelligent) is out there, but the distances are so vast it is likely that even if we exist at the same time, we won’t contact them; if they contact us, they will likely be dead; if we contact them, we will likely be gone before we get a response."

"It'd be super-cool to know about it!!! But I don't know if I'll be around to find out..."

"How can it not interest anyone if there is life outside of Earth? It's would be am extraordinary discovery, and a lot of new information would arise."

Which type of star would be least likely to have a planet that could support life?
Massive.  *************** [15]
Medium-mass.  *** [3]
Low-mass (red dwarf).  *** [3]
(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).
"It seems that a planet with neither extreme of conditions provides the highest chance of life."

"The lifetime of massive stars are too short for life to evolve."

"Low mass stars do not produce enough heat/light for life to comfortably take place."

"A medium-mass star is sun-like so we already know that given the correct circumstances, a medium-mass start can produce a planet with life. A red dwarf is not too big or hot, so I think it could possibly have a planet with life, but a massive star is far too big and hot."

"Massive stars have short lifespans and don't live for very long, and complex life organisms would need a lot of time to evolve and become complex."

"Since red dwarfs live so long, it would give the species enough evolution time to adapt to the cold, small environment."

Describe what the Drake equation is used for.
"Calculating how many intelligent species are in the Milky Way."

"It is used to estimate the total number of communicative civilizations in the Milky Way."

"It can determine the amount of life that is capable of communication."

In your opinion, how plausible is it that the Chilbolton message is a reply from extraterrestrials?
Implausible.  ******* [7]
Not very plausible.  ******** [8]
Somewhat plausible.  ******* [7]
Very plausible.  [0]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!)  [0]

Ask the instructor an anonymous question, or make a comment. Selected questions/comments may be discussed in class.
"Cool stuff."

"Do you think aliens look human-like, or somewhat like the 'little green men' in movies?"

"You should talk more about the Chilbolton crop circle."

"What exactly are the symbols/variables for the Drake equation?"

"How do you recommend us to prepare for the final?" (The study guide is already posted on this week's announcements page.)

"If I were to travel back in time, I'd bring a lunch with me to the Jurassic period to hang out with some dinosaurs! I'd be the Dino Whisperer."

"Extraterrestrial life is scary until you realize that we could be extraterrestrial life (to whatever life could be out there)."

"Little known fact: astronomy originated when groups of nerds were lured into star watching by the promise of limitless access to foreign celestial bodies."

"Have you heard this Joe Rogan vidcast with a US Navy pilot who says he has seen UFOs? If not, check it out. Definitely interesting to say the least."

"It seems like most of science relies on the idea of balance of forces, equal and opposite effects, and pairs of matter-antimatter particles. Doesn't this break down if one of these paired matter-antimatter particles gets sucked into a black hole, and then the blackhole suffers a Hawking 'evaporation?' If that evaporation happens, part of a pair is gone, and laws of physics start breaking down. Are we sticking to an idea of balance because we like the idea of balance, the same way that Aristotle liked circles? Or is it because our laws of physics aren't advanced enough yet to detect other forces and effects...?" (There's no imbalance here, because of the symmetry between mass (whether matter or antimatter) and energy--if one of the matter-antimatter particles falls into the black hole (while the other escapes), then the mass that is "removed" from the universe is expected to be made up by the resulting decrease (the "evaporation") in the mass of the black hole. That said, there have been no observations of this theoretical Hawking evaporation, yet.)

No comments: