Unit 6: “Cosmic Blueprint of Life” Reading Response

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cosmic1Scientists have begun to apply their knowledge of how life on Earth formed to exploring the solar system and beyond for habitable planets.  So far, they have discovered dozens of potential Earth-like exo-planets, with only a minuscule fraction of space under examination. Proponents of the "Rare Earth" hypothesis argue that the evolution of complex life requires a unimaginable number of perfect conditions, which could be why, despite billions of stars in the galaxy, we have yet to discover life, intelligent or otherwise.  At what point does such contemplation dissolve into chaos?  Can we ever be satisfied with an answer to cosmic questions that are un-quantifiable and beyond even the most brilliant scientists' understanding?  What is the point of studying something so vast?

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32 thoughts on “Unit 6: “Cosmic Blueprint of Life” Reading Response

  1. Matthew Wetherington

    The Cosmic Blueprint of Life, or at least what Andrew Grant thinks to be, is what this writing is all about. Now all evolutionist and creationist debacle aside, I thought this was a pretty interesting read. This essay tended to be a little more dry, and scientific, but when talking about how planets form; I’m not sure you can have a fun story sprinkled into it. Among the technical jargon, Grant brings up his ultimate questions; can we find intelligent life forms on any other planet then our own? Do meteorites/comets carry the substances that would allow these life forms to be made? While for now, we must say that we have yet to find any trace of life like our own in this universe. However, there are promising signs contained in these extraterrestrial rocks. Different amino acids, and other compounds that help in both of these elusive processes have been found on meteors and comets that hit our earth before. Leading to the conclusion that if this string of events has happened here on our earth, there could be potential on other “earths”. I am not sure if this type of contemplation, one that is older than recorded time, ever turns to chaos; we humans are very curious to know if we have any allies among the stars. So far, while certains of us can be reasonably easily satisfied with not knowing this answer, I think there will always be geniuses out and about trying to find out the age old question, are we truly alone? While there is little relevance to our immediate life, studying something this vast may become very important, because knowing of threats, or allies, could help expand civilization, out of this world, literally.

    1. Amanda Carr

      Agreed, this essay was more on the dry side of things. With that said, I also agree that we must never stop trying. Figuring out how earth came to be and finding life on other planets is is not my calling but, very happy there are “geniuses out and about” (quote from YOU).
      If there is an ET out there… we must find him.

  2. Emily Nerbonne

    “It may not be a question of whether life’s chemistry began in space or in meteorites or on the surface of a planet (or moon). All three environments may very well have lent a hand.” (Pg. #185)
    Andrew Grant’s essay about the beginning of life in space was a good scientific read. For years scientists have been trying to figure out the beginning of life, when the first essence was. This essay depicted for you the early advances in that field, and it showed you what scientists are now doing to try to further understand space. Everybody wonders whether we are alone in this universe, or are there other life forms here with us? This question has been plaguing humanity for decades. With this essay, you are able to see the scientific advances into finding out if we are, or if we are the “Rare Earth” with all our perfect conditions. Andrew writes about all the different molecules in space, a cold merciless vacuum, that could lend a hand to figuring things out. He tells about the advances in astrochemistry, and he tells about the chemical reactions that are happening, very slowly, in space. The dust clouds hold answers, the meteorites hold answers, and the nearby moons hold answers.
    We always want to know more, figure out more, and learn more. Though with the universe’s infinite self, will we ever stop learning and figuring out more and more wonders. With all that is being learnt, will we every find an end? Humanity is a curious species, and I think that mankind will never truly be satisfied with the answers we now are gathering. In the essay, you read about the molecules that help form life were found on meteorites and in deep space. Those answers help to reveal to us about the beginning of life in space, but more and more are being asked with each answer we’re getting. The questions will never stop. As we try to figure out the “Cosmic Blueprint of Life,” more questions will arise that scientists feel they need to answer. The genesis of the universe, the beginning of life, will always try to be solved. Even at the end of the essay, the author was writing about all these new experiments that were underway to learn more. We won’t be satisfied at an ending point; we will always try to accomplish and understand more of this world. There will never be an end to trying to understand the cosmic questions of the universe, because the universe is so vast and holds so many secrets.

    1. Cassandra Lane

      It would be interesting to find out if there are other life forms out there in space, especially if there are any like ourselves. And if there are, I bet that they are asking the same question and searching for the answer as well. Who will get their first? With how vast the universe is and how little we have explored and how little we still know, I don’t think that we will ever stop asking questions and trying to find the answer. Even if we had all the answers, we would find something else to question. I wonder how much of it will be answered in my life time?

      1. Emily J. Nerbonne

        There is so much to answer! The questions just keep piling up and more and more research is always being done to try to diminish the pile of questions. It is really cool that there may just be some other life out there and that there maybe another “rare” earth. It’t really cool to think about the thought of more life out there in space living on another planet. Maybe they live like us, or maybe they have a completely different way of life? Are they trying to understand the universe like we are, and are they looking for more life out there? So many scientific advances have already happened during the last 50 years. It will be interesting to know what happens in the next fifty, our lifetime. What will we uncover next?

  3. Amanda Carr

    I am not sure at what point the “Cosmic Blueprint” dissolves into pure chaos. What I do know is that after reading this article I felt as though we were already to “that point”. There are so many theories and missing pieces to the puzzle, that it all seems to keep coming to the same conclusion in the end… a mystery. I am not saying that people should stop researching the, who, what, where, when, why and how.
    Until humans discover the missing puzzle pieces and then place them where they fit and are able to see the whole puzzle, there will always be that big question lurking in the back of our minds… “How did all of this happen?”
    It’s reassuring to know that there are people curious and smart enough to keep trying to figure out these questions.
    Why stop now? Even if the “Cosmic Blueprint” is never discovered there are always other exciting things discovered along the way, “Within a few years, Snyder and other radio astronomers had identified dozens of organic molecules, including formic acid (which causes the sting in ant bites)” (Pg.179) What if Columbus never sailed that ocean blue… would the world still be flat?
    Personally, I enjoy the mystery of it all (with that said, If the puzzle was ever put together I would love to see it).

    1. Tarean Allen

      I agree that scientist will be not be satisfied until they answer the big question. I do find it interesting that they did find so many organic molecules. Hopefully all this research will further their breakthroughs with terraforming so we can live off Earth. I know it a stretch right now, but it could be an end goal. Or maybe a way of resetting the Earth and creating our own “natural” resources or eliminate the need for them.

  4. Tarean Allen

    I find it extraordinary that we have reached a point scientifically to discover the “building blocks of life” in space. Humans have wondered for years about creation and being the only living organisms in the cosmos. There are hundreds of movies and theories about it. Being able to identify the existence of the components of amino and nucleic acids are a major find. I am not sure how I feel about trying to recreate the result. We could mess around and create a being hostile or far superior to us and create our own extinction. I am not sure humans can ever be satisfied until every why is answered. I also think it’s interesting to see how they have discovered the reactions in deep space temperatures and using ultra violet light to detect feedbacks. I know it has been difficult for us to even breed Blue Tangs, the Dory fish, in fisheries because of their temperament in confined salt water tanks. Most Blue Tangs in aquariums have been captured in the wild (Weber). I agree with the essay about observing the moons and other planets in our solar system to detect the chemicals necessary for creating complex organisms. I feel that by understanding how we came into begin we can understand our meaning.
    Weber, Sam. “Why can’t captive breeding of saltwater aquarium fish catch on?” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/cant-captive-breeding-saltwater-aquarium-fish-catch-2/. Accessed 1 Oct. 2017.

    1. Sara Church

      That is interesting fact about the Blue Tang. Maybe with the study of these chemicals they will be able to figure out a way to keep a tank at the optimal temperature for the Blue Tang. I also agree with your statement on how humans can never be satisfied until their questions are answered.

  5. Cassandra Lane

    The beginning of Andrew Grant’s piece started off decent enough and was mildly interesting when he says, “The star fizzles into an inert cinder, and its atoms drift off, seemingly lost in the interstellar gloom (Grant 176).” This is a hard piece to write to capture the attention of all audiences and honestly, this sounds like it is written for a very specific audience. There was a lot more technical terms written in this piece and a lot that I had a challenging time grasping. Chemistry and me just didn’t agree.
    I did find it interesting that they were able to find so many different organic molecules in space from right here on earth. I do not think that I can grasp how the science behind it actually works to say that they positively identified these molecules.
    I think that the point of studying something so vast is for a couple of reasons. First would be to help better understand life on earth and to maybe help sustain life on earth for as long as possible. All good things come to an end and the sad fact is that life on earth may one day no longer exist. The second reason would be to find a suitable replacement for life on earth should the worst happen and earth no longer becomes inhabitable.
    One thing I found to be interesting was when he quoted Snyder saying, “We could have looked for interstellar flu germs (Grant 179).” With all the illnesses in the world these days, it would be fascinating to see if these germs lived in space like that or what “flu germs” survive out in space. Can they survive in space? Maybe this could be a clue in battling some germs we have here on earth?

    Works Cited
    Grant, A. (2011). Cosmic Blueprint of Life. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

  6. Sara Church

    I really like reading this article, though it was filled with a lot more science jargon then some of the other articles we have read. Though the question “At what point does such contemplation dissolve into chaos?”, i feel does not apply to this study. We as a species are extremely curious, if we weren’t curious so many scientific breakthroughs would have never happened. So I don’t think this line of research will ever dissolve into chaos, unless we find definitive proof of life on another planet. I don’t think we as a species will ever be satisfied by anything we learn there will always be something more to research. We still don’t know everything about our own oceans. We discover new deep water species every year. Learning more about the space and the ocean could open us up to new technology and areas of science. I feel we should keep looking to space to see how life could have started on this planet.

    1. Emily J. Nerbonne

      It is really crazy that we are still learning about just our planet. We try to understand more and more about the planets and stars around us, but we haven’t even fully understood the earth we live on. There are still so many secrets below our feet that go unsolved. Meanwhile, there are scientists out there that are figuring out things about stars that are like 5 billion light years away. It crazy!!

      1. Kristopher Dunkle

        It is pretty amazing what a difference simply being able to -see- the stars, and not, say, the depths of the ocean or the core of the earth makes in our efforts to understand them. Just being able to see them clearly makes such a difference.

    2. Angelica Kougl

      I agree that there is so much in the universe that we have yet to discover and that the human race should never stop trying to learn new things. However, I do think that this all could dissolve into chaos. There are so many missing pieces, which makes trying to answer these difficult cosmic questions seem impossible when it could grow into something so unimaginably overwhelming. The definition of chaos is “complete disorder and confusion”. Whilst trying to find the answers to these cosmic questions, I think human kind could become so overwhelmed by the millions of puzzle pieces not fitting together that there is complete disorder and confusion.

  7. Angelica Kougl

    Andrew Grant targeted a smaller audience with this piece on the vast questions about the creation of life, as there are a lot of scientific terms and concepts that may go a little beyond the understanding of your average reader. However, that does not change the fact that this is a valuable topic for human-kind to think about. I can see how it may seem like we are setting ourselves up for failure when trying to find answers to these boundless questions. After-all, we may never find out if there are other “earths” out there. Human-kind has advanced so far and we have discovered so much about our world and space, yet there is an even larger, inconceivable amount of things we do not yet know. I think it is important that we, as a species, never stop trying to learn. Humans could easily do without knowing how life was created and if there are other forms of life in space. But if human-kind were to decide to live in ignorance without the curiosity or drive to learn as much as we can about the space around us, then our species is essentially just surviving static in space. Humans should strive to learn as much as we can about as many things as we can so that we are able to live and thrive at our fullest potential. If there is life to be found in space, and we discover it, the discovery could change the course of human-kind and the changes it would bring are unimaginable. If not, we will discover so much along the way. I think it is important that human-kind is always aiming to improve and advance. It might seem silly, at first, and it may seem as if we’re looking for something that isn’t there. For example, think about how Charles Townes discovered ammonia molecules near the center of the milky way. Before this discovery, the NRAO agreed that space could not support complex chemistry. But when Townes announced his small, but impactful, discovery, the NRAO “decided we weren’t crazy anymore” (pg 179). All questions can seem crazy or impossible to answer in the beginning, but we, as a species, have proven time and time again that we are capable of discovering great things if we are persistent and stay curious.

    1. Erin Dodds

      You made an interesting point which I did not even consider when you said that human kind should not stop learning because we are capable of so much and should live at a higher standard. I did not consider that thinking and acting scientifically would propel us to new heights as a species, but now that you have stated it it is obvious. if we could see many things the same way then the human race would be a lot more successful and cooperative.

    2. Roger Vang

      I enjoyed your statement, “Humans should strive to learn as much as we can about as many things as we can so that we are able to live and thrive at our fullest potential.” Just because we don’t have evidence of another viable planet does not mean that we should stop searching for other life forms in interstellar space. Science is about questioning and discovering the unknown. And thanks to the scientists like Hoyles and Snyder, who challenged the NRAO, we now have the study of astrochemistry.

    3. Angelina Lund

      I really enjoyed reading all of your points. I got lost a lot during this essay and you brought a lot of it to light for me. I enjoyed the part of your reply where you said ” without the curiosity or drive to learn as much as we can about the space around us, then our species is essentially just surviving static in space”. Well said.

    4. Jessica Mathews

      Good points you made in your response, I one hundred percent agree with you about it being more focused on a smaller crowd! Keep up the good work!!

  8. Erin Dodds

    As I was reading Andrew Grant’s Cosmic Blueprint of Life I noticed that we haven’t read a story that was mostly about chemical reactions. I found the story a little dry, but then I had the realization that the story was entirely made up of historical works in the field of astronomy and describing chemicals and chemical reactions. The layman may not understand the significance of formaldehyde in space or may be unable to comprehend what a dipole is, but that did not matter because Grant presented the facts in a mostly clear and palatable way. Grant used words like “tethered” and “molecular hookups” that would not normally be used in a scientific paper, yet for his audience these little thing make the reading mor enjoyable. Grant also uses Fahrenheit instead of Celsius which is generally preferred in both mathematical and scientific terms, while Fahrenheit is mostly only used in the US. Imagine reading all of the peer-reviewed articles on these findings; my eyes would fall out! So compared to the original studies I do not find this piece dry at all! In fact, I gained a new appreciation for this reading.
    I was a little surprised when Remijan was quoted “Everyone assumed space was too cold…that assumption became ‘fact’ without any evidence behind it at all” (178). I know that he was referring to assumption made in the 1950’s which eventually changed in the 1970’s and later, but even so they still had a scientific method to use. I was curious how scientists could just take another scientist’s word as law when the basis of being a scientist is to be skeptical! To err is human and yet I also wonder now what the scientific community as a whole is assuming is correct while other tertiary scientist groups are fighting for funding that they will only achieve by happenstance and luck. Having said that however, skepticism of well-known theories has also led to the “flat-earthers movement” and so maybe skepticism is good. Within reason. Ugh.
    Christine you bring up an interesting query when you asked “what is the point of studying something so vast?” Well, my first thoughts while contemplating this reading was what the average person would think about their tax dollars going towards something that they consider pointless. Even if we could create life on another planet somehow, the process takes millions of years, and many people would not even be interested in colonizing another planet similar to our own when the time comes in which our resources are depleted. In fact, many religious folk probably do not even want to consider most scientific discoveries because they do not support people who have different opinions about how life was created (creationists). Regular working-class people do not care about space chemicals and rocks; they want better schools, better roads, less wars, and to be healthy. Most people would probably want to put their immediate problems before the long-long-term problems that humanity may face.

    1. Rebekah Melchior-Waldron

      I agree this piece was more compelling than the original studies would be but I still feel it read like a text book. The other essays we have read so far all had a little bit of humor in them. This one has more scientific jargon but I think that’s even more the reason to throw something relatable in there especially since BASN is about the “target audience”.

  9. Roger Vang

    As scientists, we will never be comfortable with the unknown because science is all about striving to discover that which is unexplained. So, the fact that life on other planets is not confirmed yet. This does not mean that the subject is not worth studying. If we do not ask questions, discuss all the possible outcomes, we may never be prepared for what might happen in the future. We will never move forward if we do not ask questions. If Fred Hoyle did not theorize about the Big Bang (177), Lew Synder would not have had the chance to disagree and find gaseous molecules floating in interstellar space clouds (178). Because of Snyder, we now have the study of astrochemistry (179). Greenberg took this new information and added his understanding that nebulas contain dust. Him and his partner, Louis Allamandola, discovered that chemical reactions can occur in the extreme cold vacuum of space and that the products of dust and gas molecules formed even more complex molecules (181). Each of these scientists’ questions became discoveries, which created many new questions. As we slowly answer questions, we also slowly discover the unknown.

    1. Thomas Vorderbruggen

      I like the addition of the discovery that reactions can occur in cold, deep space–life on other planets may very well not fit within our assumptions of “perfect” conditions depending on what molecules are developing in the vacuum in space.

  10. Thomas Vorderbruggen

    Although Andrew Grant’s piece focused more on the analytic side of things, he held some interesting points. It is true that, as of now, our modern sciences can only delve oh-so far into the depths of space, and that the limits of our current understanding can be disappointing at best. But even if any amount of theories or speculations fail to discover answers, it doesn’t mean that they won’t find answers eventually. Therefore I think it is not meaningless to “contemplate into chaos” because, although it is chaos now, future science will be able to do a better job of deciphering what exactly our contemplation was aiming for. It’s an important part of the scientific process to push the limits of modern society. Who knows what might be discovered with future technology, sending once foolish and chaotic questions to the forefront of investigation. It is wise to invest in the far future. Sure, it might be a slow process, but it’s space. Space ain’t going anywhere.

    1. Michael Williams

      Well apparently space is going somewhere, actually everywhere as it is expanding in every direction rather rapidly. I completely agree with your premise though that the chaotic scientific process is necessary to allow for real meaningful progress to be made in the years to come. While it might seem fruitless now, when humans finally find Pandora and disturbingly attractive blue aliens, the scientists will be the ones having the last laugh!

    2. Janelle Pascoe

      I agree with you on that there is always a point in studying something that may result in chaos. There may always be un answered questions but in a couple of generations or maybe less will have technology to study deeper into space and piece together questions. I think that the main reason for un answered questions is the lack of technology available. One day there will be more options but it may take small discoveries to make a big one.

  11. Angelina Lund

    I had a difficult time following this essay. I found parts of it pretty interesting and the parts of it where they spoke in scientific lingo where pretty hard for me to follow. Parts of me do not believe in aliens or life on other planets but there is also a part of me that when faced with all the evidence does believe in it. I believe that we are all very curious about life on other planets so as long as we keep learning and teaching, contemplation will never dissolve into chaos. I also believe that this essay is a good example that we will never be satisfied with an answer because another question will always come along or the question that gets answered will always have more depth to it or another scientist will always try to prove a theory wrong. I find it interesting how we have discovered so much from right here on earth and how we have been able to recreate things that most of us have never heard of or seen. I also find it interesting how we know so much about the moons and surroundings of other planets. I feel the point in studying something so vast is to learn from the atmosphere and and if their is life on other planets, we can learn from them too.

    1. Tarean Allen

      This essay is chalk full of scientific lingo and I agree that the beginning is a bit dry for me. It reminded me of our first reading response about scientific writing and writing for your target audience. I thought his points about how people take what scientist say for truth without proper evidence really made me think. I love your point about learning from the atmosphere! Maybe with enough knowledge they will find a way to replenish the ozone layer.

  12. Michael Williams

    I believe that questioning and researching the origin of life is one of the greatest tasks of scientist. There is no more important question that where did we come from, at least on an existential level. While it seems highly unlikely that we humans will ever find the answers to the great cosmic questions, every little discovery we make in that field can have great significance. Just think about how far human thought has come in the last 100 years. We have gone from seeing planets through telescopes, to landing robots on them, and even walking on the moon. If brilliant minds hadn’t dedicated so much time and energy into “unsolvable mysteries” most of the world would still think the Earth was flat. Imagine the possibilities if we find an Earth like planet with any signs of life whatsoever. Not only could it give humanity a chance to start over and avoid a rather large overpopulation issue, but humans could learn so much from seeing the beginnings of life. I believe it is the responsibility of humankind to learn and study as much as possible about our own existence. So far as we know no other animals have the existential brain capacity to even think of such a question so until a particularly noble and wise porpoise decides to let us know about our origins, I think it’s up to the brilliant minds of scientist to keep searching.

  13. Rebekah Melchior-Waldron

    Even though we haven’t discovered life outside of Earth yet, doesn’t necessarily mean no where else met the conditions for life to exist. Perhaps Earth is just so large (we don’t even know how large it is) that somewhere out there is life yet to be discovered. I don’t really understand contemplation dissolving into chaos. That makes me think the question is saying too many questions is a bad thing. Contemplating the universe is what leads to progress. This idea is illustrated well in the article with examples such as the cosmologist Fred Hoyle who predicted bacteria could survive in space. According to the article, “most of Hoyle’s peers considered his ideas borderline delusional. Back then almost nobody thought prebiotic molecules, let alone entire microbes, could survive the harsh vacuum of space (178). As studies have shown however this is not the case. Researchers know heaps of more information than they did 150 years ago and perhaps ( if the human race still exists) in 150 years we will know things that were never dreamed possible. The most important aspect of studying the vast space is gathering new knowledge to apply here on Earth. We now know that Earth shares the same chemical elements with the space around it. Also thanks to space study we have satellites and space stations. Humans use satellite everyday, that alone makes it worth studying. My last idea is that humans are looking for more resources since Earth’s are being depleted. Why have we been so interested in finding life on Mars? Because it is the second closest planet to Earth and the least threatening to humans. I think we should keep studying the cosmos. The article mentioned that astrobiology has only just become a field in recent years. I think that is very interesting because there are likely other undiscovered research fields out there as well.

  14. Jessica Mathews

    Wow what a tough read that was, so much scientific jargon not exactly my favorite kind of read. The question at what point does such contemplation dissolve into chaos, what I believe the answer would be to this is that when you can no longer find answers you are constantly looking and looking but get the same answers over and over again, or you find something “new” when it is really the same thing just written a doffeeent way. No, we can not be satisfied with an answer to cosmic questions that the best scientists can’t even answer. They are the ones whom study science if they don’t know the answers sure doesn’t make me feel satisfied. Studying something vast gives you a good feeling on the inside you get everything you want out of it to a certain point, then you are back to point one- with out the answers you want.

  15. Janelle Pascoe

    A scientists job is to study subjects that are so complex and even un quantifiable such as these cosmic questions about life beyond earths limits. I feel that if we keep re visiting these questions and breaking them down into smaller pieces that eventually, even if generations down the road.. we will have enough pieces of the puzzle to make discoveries. Some answers Susanna Widicus Weaver says have tremendous implications for especially the questions regarding how common life is outside of the earths limits. Louis Allamandola from the University of Berkeley notes that addressing such vast questions are vital in “bridging the gap” between research that we already have and that of which we don’t know. I don’t think it is pointless to study something so vast even if it may dissolve into chaos.

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