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Dillon Nordhoff

Professor Young

Astronomy 1040

11 April 2018

Astronomy Conversation

I chose to have a conversation about astronomy with my wife, Char, and my two best

friends, Mustafa and Mohammed. I chose Mustafa specifically because he is in an astronomy

class as well and I thought he might have some good input. I chose Mohammed because he

always seems to have strange theories about astronomy. Char also appeared to be a good

candidate because I always like to tell her all the things I learn from class. I had a few things I

wanted to talk about with them so I told them to do a little research on these topics so that we

had enough information to use for a long conversation. Just for the reader’s clarification, I

actually had 2 conversations both lasted about 30 minutes each.

The first conversation I had was with my friend Mohammed. I wanted to talk about one

of the first things that we covered in class at the beginning of the semester because this same

topic was something that he had always shared some strange ideas about. The topic was

regarding why the earth goes through seasons and changes in temperature throughout the year.

He had always told me that he thought that the earth goes through seasons because of earth’s

imperfect rotation around the sun, and that at different times of the year we are closer to the earth

therefore giving us hotter and colder seasons. I explained to him that earth’s distance from the

sun does not change that dramatically despite its ellipse rotation. I explained that the earth's

maximum distance from the sun is close to 152.1 million km while its minimum distance is

roughly 147.1 million km [1]. This makes for a quite circular rotation and doesn’t make a
significant difference in the earth’s temperature. In addition to my argument I explained that if

his idea were true, then the whole planet would be in summer and winter at the same time. I

shared with him that the seasons are due to the amount of direct sunlight hitting the tilted earth

during certain times of the year, hence the reason why when it is Summer in the northern

hemisphere it’s winter in the southern hemisphere. The overwhelming evidence eventually

convinced him to disregard his previously believed idea.

For the second conversation, I allowed Mustafa and Char to research the topics about life

on other planets and possible colonization on Mars beforehand. I started out by asking them if

they believed life could exist on other planets. Mustafa said that he had found an article for

about a newly found exoplanet that could be a good candidate for life [2]. He said that

astronomers had found this planet to be one of the best prospects for investigation of possible life

activity. The reasons for being a good prospect were that it was within the habitable zone from

its star where liquid water could exist, and that even though it is orbiting a red dwarf, which is

very different from our own star, it is easier to observe a planet orbiting a dimmer star because

the brightness doesn’t drown out the planet as much. He explained that there are many other

exoplanets that have been found which fit the basic criteria for life but not all are quite as

observable and exciting as this one. After sharing this with Char and I he told us that because we

have discovered planets with potential habitability, he strongly believes that life exists on other

planets.

After discussing some of the main things that a planet would need to successfully host

life, we started talking about how lucky we are to live on a planet where our surroundings are

ideal for life to flourish[3]. We talked about how our atmosphere keeps us warm, cool, and

protected all at the same time while also providing oxygen for us to breath. We mentioned how
earth is a sufficient distance away from the sun to maintain large oceans and flowing rivers also

our sun has been kind enough to allow time for life to form in all shapes and sizes. All three of us

were able to appreciates our earth’s uniqueness and stability.

The conversation eventually turned to the question, “What will we do when our time runs

out?”. We know that there are several things that could potentially end all life as we know it so

what can we do as humans to extend our existence? The most logical and popular idea is to

become a multiplanet race. Char did some research on YouTube about Elon Musk’s plan to

colonize Mars[4]. She explained how he plans to take rockets known as BFRs into a voyage

towards Mars by 2024. This would be the first time humans step onto another besides our own.

The next big question we came to was, “Can humans really survive on Mars?”[5]. I told them

how I thought this would be a good idea except that living on Mars might have long term effects

on humans. I argued that the human body is designed to fit earth's gravitational pull. Our bone

structure, blood circulation, and organs all are fitted to earth’s gravitational settings. I believe

that humans would do well initially on Mars but over time it would cause health problems for

those who live there. The bright side is that Mars already has an abundance of H20 in the soil

and on its ice caps. We could potentially use that water to survive. Char continued to explain

how if we successfully colonized Mars, astronomers think we could start to modify its

atmosphere to be warmer and and produce rainfall, and eventually even change the atmosphere

to allow humans to breathe oxygen[6]. Whether all of these ideas are possible or not, I don’t

know, but it is exciting to think about the possibilities the future holds.

After an interesting conversation about earth and space travel, we were all eager to see

what Elon Musk will do by 2024. We are happy to be part of a generation that will witness some
of the most amazing things humans have ever accomplished. The conversation went really well

and even though it was for an assignment, I think all participants genuinely enjoyed the chat.

References:

[1] Bennett, Donahue, Schneider, Voit. “The Cosmic Perspective - The Reasons for Seasons

(2.2)”
[2] Cofield, Calla. “Newfound Alien Planet Is Best Place Yet to Search for Life.” Space.com, 19

Apr. 2017, www.space.com/36521-alien-planet-best-bet-search-for-life.html.

[3] Nichols, Megan Ray. “What Makes Earth So Perfect for Life?” Livescience, 18 Oct. 2012,

www.livescience.com/31788-why-earth-perfect-for-life.html.

[4] ColdFustion. “Elon Musk: ‘We're Going to Mars by 2024.’” YouTube, YouTube, 3 Oct.

2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=jmc7aUVKCMA.

[5] TEDtalksDirector. “Your Kids Might Live on Mars. Here's How They'll Survive | Stephen

Petranek.” YouTube, YouTube, 5 May 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=t9c7aheZxls.

[6] Megan Ray Nichols | Published: Wednesday, May 3, 2017. “If We Successfully Land on

Mars,Could We Live There?” Astronomy.com, www.astronomy.com/news/2017/05/could-we-

live-on-mars.