Chapter 30 Life in the Universe
Collaborative Group Activities
- If one of the rocks from Mars examined by a future mission to the red planet does turn out to have unambiguous signs of ancient life that formed on Mars, what does your group think would be the implications of such a discovery for science and for our view of life elsewhere? Would such a discovery have any long-term effects on your own thinking?
- Suppose we receive a message from an intelligent civilization around another star. What does your group think the implications of this discovery would be? How would your own thinking or personal philsophy be affected by such a discovery?
- A radio message has been received from a civilization around a star 40 light-years away, which contains (in pictures) quite a bit of information about the beings that sent the message. The president of the United States has appointed your group a high-level commission to advise whether humanity should answer the message (which was not particularly directed at us, but comes from a beacon that, like a lighthouse, sweeps out a circle in space). How would you advise the president? Does your group agree on your answer or do you also have a minority view to present?
- If there is no evidence that UFOs are extraterrestrial visitors, why does your group think that television shows, newspapers, and movies spend so much time and effort publicizing the point of view that UFOs are craft from other worlds? Make a list of reasons. Who stands to gain by exaggerating stories of unknown lights in the sky or simply fabricating stories that alien visitors are already here?
- Does your group think scientists should simply ignore all the media publicity about UFOs or should they try to respond? If so, how should they respond? Does everyone in the group agree?
- Suppose your group is the team planning to select the most important sights and sounds of Earth to record and put on board the next interstellar spacecraft. What pictures (or videos) and sounds would you include to represent our planet to another civilization?
- Let’s suppose Earth civilization has decided to broadcast a message announcing our existence to other possible civilizations among the stars. Your group is part of a large task force of scientists, communications specialists, and people from the humanities charged with deciding the form and content of our message. What would you recommend? Make a list of ideas.
- Think of examples of contact with aliens you have seen in movies and on TV. Discuss with your group how realistic these have been, given what you have learned in this class. Was the contact in person (through traveling) or using messages? Why do you think Hollywood does so many shows and films that are not based on our scientific understanding of the universe?
- Go through the Drake equation with your group and decide on values for each factor in the estimate. (If you disagree on what a factor should be within the group, you can have a “minority report.”) Based on the factors, how many intelligent, communicating civilizations do you estimate to be thriving in our Galaxy right now?