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Warm weather, or the “January thaw” as my mother called it in my youth, might make observing more pleasant this week, at least until the snow and cold returns toward the end of the week. Let us take advantage of it for several of our activities:

As we regard the challenges and opportunities our environment provides all living things, look deeper into the basic qualities and constituents that must be present for a thriving ecosystem. Although this is not an ecology class, the prospect of life on other planets (or moons) still captivates our imaginations as amateur astronomers, and as citizens of the Galaxy. What sort of world in the Galaxy could support intelligent life, and foster a civilization advanced enough for its people to become citizens of the Galaxy?

Ponder the Orion Nebula in the middle of the three stars of Orion the Hunter's sword.  (The Looking Up #6 page at the beginning of the textbook illustrates this beautiful object.)  This nebula, or cloud of cool, dense gas (by interstellar standards, but still almost a vacuum by our terrestrial standards) is the birthplace of new star systems, complete with planets of their own. Imagine you can watch these planets form over the next few million years. Will they evolve to include life? How would you alter the recipe of this celestial brew to increase that probability?

Use your textbook, the Designing a World concept map, and your classmates to research and discuss the circumstances and conditions that would form a viable extraterrestrial ecosystem. Make diagrams of your new world and explain your choices. Bring it to life in your imagination, as beautiful and exotic as James Cameron's creation in his movie Avatar.