KA WORDCAST: Listen Up! Lesson 16 COMET 67P and the ORIGIN of LIFE

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Lesson SIXTEEN HERE!

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Entrance exam season is right around the corner, and we’re here to make sure you are 100 percent ready for it.  For the next several weeks, we will be providing you with additional listening material that you can use to practice and improve your aural comprehension skills.

Each week, you will listen to a short passage on a different topic—one that is interesting and useful in its own right, but one that is also the type of topic test-makers love to include on their exams.  Then, after listening to the passage, you will answer ten comprehension questions.  Before we listen to today’s passage, Comet 67P and the Origin of Life, here are a few tips:

  • It goes without saying that you should always listen to the passage carefully.  Give it your undivided attention.  That means: no outside distractions.  (A passage-only track is available on the KA Wordcast website so you can listen to the passage a second or third time.)
  • You can make brief notes of key points and details, but don’t let your note taking distract you from your listening.
  • Key vocabulary words are explained in the bonus track.  Each key word is clearly defined and accompanied by common synonyms and antonyms as well as sample sentences that show you how the word is used, and how to use it.  What better way to augment your active vocabulary!
  • The comprehension questions “test” three general areas: FACTUAL CONTENT, LOGICAL INFERENCE, and PERSONAL JUDGMENT.  (These are explained on the website and are available to download.)  The questions come in three different types or formats: MULTIPLE CHOICE, TRUE OR FALSE, and SHORT ANSWER.  The question format will vary, so be sure to listen to the instructions carefully before you answer the questions.

PDF DOWNLOAD: KA WORDCAST Listen Up! Lesson 16 COMET 67P and the ORIGIN of LIFE

 

Comet 67P and the Origin of Life 

Listen to Listen Up! Lesson SIXTEEN: PASSAGE ONLY TRACK 

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When and how did life on Earth originate?  This is a question that’s been asked since the dawn of human history.  Some scientists believe that life-producing molecules appeared the moment our planet’s environment was stable enough to support them.  Others say that life on Earth was transplanted here from somewhere else—from another planet in our Solar System, say, or from even further out in the Cosmos.   Still others believe in divine creation—that some sort of god or supreme intelligence “made” life.   “Many theories have been proposed,” said Diana Northup, a biologist at the University of New Mexico.  “But since it’s hard to prove or disprove them, no fully accepted theory exists.”  But scientists at the European Space Agency (ESA) think they may be on the right track.

It all started ten years ago when, in March 2004, ESA launched the Rosetta spacecraft on a historic mission to perform detailed studies of 67 P, a 2.5-mile-wide, rubber-duck-shaped comet some 310 million miles from Earth and whizzing through space at up to 84,000 miles per hour.  In August 2014, after a four-billion-mile journey, Rosetta finally chased 67 P down and went into orbit around it.  For nearly two months, Rosetta flew alongside the icy comet, mapping it and transmitting images back to Earth that ESA scientists studied with a fine-toothed comb.  They were looking for potential landing sites for Philae, a robotic probe housed inside Rosetta.  Equipped with cameras and other sophisticated data-gathering instruments, Philae was expected to land on the comet’s surface and analyze its composition and structure for a year or more.

On November 12, 2014, after a couple of worrisome bounces, the probe successfully set down on 67 P and immediately began relaying photos and data back to Earth.  Unfortunately, the spot where Philae finally came to rest was in relative shade some 100 meters from its intended landing site.  This meant that Philae, which was outfitted with solar panels that were expected to extend its life on the comet, wasn’t getting enough sunlight—just one-and-a-half hours a day instead of the six or seven it needed to keep itself charged.   On Saturday, November 15, just 57 hours after landing on 67 P, the probe’s batteries ran out, and it went into sleep mode.   But in the minutes before it fell silent, engineers commanded Philae to raise itself by 4 cm and to rotate its main housing.   This was done to ensure that the largest of its solar panels would be in position to catch the most sunlight, maximizing Philae’s chances of coming back to life and carrying out its mission.  As Scientific American put it, “As the comet continues its flight through the inner solar system, Philae may someday wake up and ‘phone home.’”

But at a cost of more than 1.4 billion Euros, critics are asking whether such an undertaking has been worth all those man-hours and all that money.   Why is it so important to study comets, they want to know.

Comets are of great interest to scientists because they are the oldest, most primitive bodies in the Solar System, “leftovers” from its birth, says Scientific American.  While planets have gone through repeated chemical transformations, comets have remained relatively unchanged.  In-depth analysis of 67P by Rosetta and Philae could provide vital clues to the Solar System’s formation.  What’s more, because comets have been known to carry lightweight, volatile elements to the planets, scientists suspect that they played a key role in forming Earth’s oceans and atmosphere.  Comets like 67P could even have “delivered” the organic material that became the basis of life on our planet.

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Today’s questions will be MULTIPLE CHOICE and based on FACTUAL CONTENT.

Listening comprehension questions fall into three main types or areas to be tested, as explained below:

FACTUAL CONTENT

  • The answer is specifically stated as a detail in the text.

If the text reads, “John Birks Gillespie was born in 1917 in Cheraw, South Carolina,” you might be asked where Gillespie was born or in which year was he born.

LOGICAL INFERENCE

  • The answer may not be directly stated in the text, but can be understood or inferred from the details given. A direct hint may be given, from which you would have to work out the most logical answer (usually based on a MULTIPLE CHOICE or TRUE OR FALSE question).

For example, if the text describes a “hot and muggy afternoon,” you might be asked what season it is. If the text reads, “In 1872, an abandoned railroad track in the mountains of Pennsylvania became the first roller coaster ride in America,” you may be asked a question like:

“The railroad tracks …

  1. were made of poor quality steel.
  2. had not been used for a while.
  3. were dug up and replaced with roller-coaster tracks.
  4. were too damaged to use.

You must use the hints given in the passage to work out the most likely answer.  In this case, the answer, based on “hot and muggy,” to the first question would be “summer,” and the answer to the second question would be B, with the hint being the word “abandoned.”

PERSONAL JUDGMENT

  • The answer is not directly stated in the text and you might have to read more deeply or “between the lines.”

You may be asked to describe a character’s feelings, reactions, or intentions.  For example, if the question is, “How do you know Joanna felt sad on the last day of school?” you would have to find evidence in the descriptive language the author uses.  Perhaps Joanna had tears on her cheeks, or she was walking with her head hanging low, or perhaps she had a frown on her face.

Listen to the question carefully and write your answer.  Feel free to pause the recording if you need a moment or two to think about the question.

LISTENING COMPREHENSION QUESTIONS

1. While some scientists believe that life-producing molecules appeared naturally sometime after the birth of our planet, other scientists

a) have proven that living organisms have always existed on Earth.

b) believe that all life is supremely intelligent.

c) believe that aliens brought life to Earth.

d) believe that life on Earth was brought here from somewhere in space.

 

2. When did the European Space Agency launch the Rosetta spacecraft?

a) It is not specified in the passage.

b) Just over ten years ago, in March 2004.

c) In August 2014.

d) About five years ago.

 

3. Which of the following best describes Comet 67P?

a) 67P is a rubber-duck-shaped, 3-mile-wide comet travelling at speeds of 310 million miles per hour.

b) 67P is a 2.5-mile-wide rocky comet outside of our Solar System.

c) 67 P is a 2.5-mile-wide, rubber-duck-shaped comet 310 million miles away from Earth.

d) 67 P is an Earth-sized comet in orbit around the Sun.

 

4. What were ESA scientists looking for when they closely studied the images that the Rosetta spacecraft transmitted back to Earth as it orbited the comet? 

a) They were looking for a water source.

b) They were looking for a potential landing site for the Rosetta spacecraft.

c) They were looking for evidence of life-producing molecules.

d) They were looking for somewhere to land Philae, a robotic probe housed inside Rosetta.

 

5. In a nutshell, what is Philae’s mission?

a) Philae’s mission is to land on the comet’s surface and analyze its composition and structure.

b) Philae’s mission is to simply land on the comet, as that is an accomplishment in itself.

c) Philae’s mission is to search for signs of life on the comet.

d) Philae’s mission is to stay in orbit around the comet and take photos.

 

6. Why did Philae go into sleep mode a mere 57 hours after it landed on 67P?

a) The bumpy landing dislodged several solar panels that are needed to charge its battery.

b) Its solar panels were not receiving enough sunlight to keep it operating.

c) Its solar panels were poorly designed.

d) ESA scientists switched it into sleep mode automatically and remotely.

 

7. What command did Philae receive just before it shut down?

a) To return to Rosetta.

b) To move some 100 meters from where it first landed.

c) To raise itself by four inches and rotate its main housing so that it could receive more sunlight.

d) To collect samples of the comet’s surface composition.

 

8. Why have some people criticized the Rosetta mission?

a) They question whether spending 1.4 billion Euros for such a mission is worth the time and cost.

b) Because 1.4 billion Euros is a lot of money for a mission that ended in failure.

c) Because they would like to see the money spent on other, more important space missions.

d) Because they believe that most scientists spend money wastefully.

 

9. According to Scientific American, while planets have gone through repeated chemical transformations since the birth of our Solar System,

a) comets appeared only recently.

b) comets appeared around the same time that living organisms appeared on Earth.

c) comets vary in size and velocity.

d) comets have not changed much at all.

 

10. Why do some scientists suspect that comets played a key role in forming Earth’s oceans and atmosphere?

a) Comets have been proven to carry life-producing molecules.

b) Their chemical make-up is similar to that of Earth’s.

c) Comets carry lightweight, volatile elements to planets as they whiz past them.

d) Comets have entered the Earth’s atmosphere many times before.

 

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Now that you have completed today’s listening comprehension exercise, it’s time to check your answers and see how well you did. Answers to today’s listening comprehension questions will follow immediately after the closing jingle , so please stay tuned in. 

Listen to the Listening Comprehension Questions and Answers HERE:

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You may also download the lesson in PDF format to keep for your reference.

PDF DOWNLOAD: KA WORDCAST Listen Up! Lesson 16 LISTENING COMPRHENSHION QUESTIONS and ANSWERS

 

 

KA WORDCAST:  Listen Up!  Lesson SIXTEEN KEY VOCABULARY

Be sure to listen to the Key Vocabulary bonus track.   This will help you improve your understanding of the passage itself and give your vocabulary a big boost.

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Fireflies prefer clean, STABLE water sources.

1. STABLE

Some scientists believe that life-producing molecules appeared the moment our planet’s environment was stable enough to support them. 

STABLE is an adjective that has various uses.  In the sentence above, STABLE means not likely to undergo physical changes.

You are more likely to find fireflies near clean, STABLE water sources such as inland lakes and ponds rather than near canals and other waterways. 

How long will it take for the newly formed volcanic island off the coast of Honshu to be STABLE enough to sustain life? 

More commonly, STABLE means firmly fixed or steady.  Synonyms for this usage include secure, unwavering, and established.

Could you hold on to the bottom of the ladder for me?  It doesn’t feel very STABLE.

House prices have remained relatively STABLE in Seattle for the past ten or so years.  

Now that Janie is in a STABLE relationship with a nice, sensible man who loves her, she seems to be happier and more confident. 

Not only is Botswana one of the sub-Saharan Africa’s more politically and economically STABLE countries, it is also one of the most beautiful.  

When talking about a person’s mental state, STABLE means calm and reasonable. Well-balanced and sensible are some useful synonyms.  STABLE also describes a hospital patient’s physical condition.

Emotionally, Jessica hasn’t been very STABLE since her parents separated.

John’s mother hasn’t been mentally STABLE lately, which is why we’ve decided to move her out of her flat and put her in a care home where she can be looked after.

“Your brother’s condition is now STABLE enough to remove him from intensive care,” the doctor told me.

 

 

TRANSPLANTING plants

2. TRANSPLANTED

Others say that life on Earth was transplanted here from somewhere else—from another planet in our Solar System, say, or from even further out in the Cosmos.

In the sentence above, TRANSPLANT is a verb that means to move something or someone from one environment or location to another.  Relocate is the nearest synonym.

We have TRANSPLANTED British primary-school teaching practices into our international school here in Tokyo.

Once the seedlings have grown to a height of two inches or more, TRANSPLANT them into larger pots.

TRANSPLANT also means to remove an organ or piece of living tissue from a person’s body and put it into another person’s body.

Surgeons at London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital have successfully TRANSPLANTED kidneys into children who have high levels of powerful antibodies that usually work to reject the organs.

For decades, medical scientists have been looking for ways to TRANSPLANT healthy pig organs into humans. 

 

 

 

POTENTIAL candidates.

3. POTENTIAL

They were looking for potential landing sites for Philae, a robotic probe housed inside Rosetta.

POTENTIAL is an adjective that means having or showing the capacity to develop or become something useful in the future.  Possible, probable, and likely are some near equivalents.  The adverb form is POTENTIALLY.

We are interviewing several POTENTIAL candidates for the teaching position that opened up when Graham returned to Canada.

Of the dozens of POTENTIAL holiday destinations we’ve considered for our family summer vacation, I think I would like to visit the Greek islands the most.  

Don’t take more than one supplement at a time, as mixing them is POTENTIALLY dangerous.

As a noun, POTENTIAL means the state of having qualities or attributes that could develop more fully in the future.

Tiana has only recently started playing the piano, but she is already showing a lot of POTENTIAL.

Our teachers are trained to encourage all the children to realize their full POTENTIAL.

 

 

 

SOPHISTICATED technology.

4. SOPHISTICATED

Equipped with cameras and other sophisticated data-gathering instruments, Philae was expected to land on the comet’s surface and analyze its composition and structure for a year or more.

In the sentence above, SOPHISTICATED is an adjective that describes something technical that is very complicated or complex in the way it works.

Children these days master and learn how to operate even the most SOPHISTICATED computer programs very quickly.

 “Without a SOPHISTICATED security system in place, your house will be an easy target for burglars,” the police officer warned us.

Archeologists have recently discovered SOPHISTICATED cave drawings in Indonesia comparable to the Stone Age cave art found in Lascaux in southern France. 

SOPHISTICATED also describes people who have a lot of experience or knowledge about culture and other things generally considered important.  It can also describe such people’s views or comments.  Worldly, cultured, polished, and refined are some useful substitutes.

Victoria’s new boyfriend Ben is a SOPHISTICATED, well-read young man. 

The new Japanese restaurant in Soho attracts a young, SOPHISTICATED crowd of London elites.

My son’s SOPHISTICATED interpretation of the James Joyce short story his class was assigned to read makes me think that he may be a writer or literary critic someday.

 

 

Can you help me EXTEND the dining table?

5. EXTEND

This meant that Philae, which was outfitted with solar panels that were expected to extend its life on the comet, wasn’t getting enough sunlight …

The verb EXTEND has many uses.  In the sentence above, EXTEND means to make something last for a longer period of time.  Prolong and lengthen are some useful synonyms. EXTEND can also mean to postpone the start or end of something to a later time.

You can EXTEND the life of your car by making sure you keep it well maintained.

Our teacher kindly EXTENDED the due date for our mid-term essay by two days because so many of us were struggling to get it finished. 

EXTENDING each school day by two additional hours would allow for a four-day school week. 

I thought I had missed my chance to see the West End musical, but because of its great popularity, the play has been EXTENDED through Christmas.

EXTEND also means to make something physically longer or larger.  Lengthen is the nearest synonym.

To reach the woman hanging out the eighth-floor window, the firefighters had to EXTEND their ladder to its maximum height.

“Can you help me EXTEND the dining table so we can all fit around it at dinner tonight?” Linda called up the stairs to her husband Mark. 

EXTEND can also mean to cover a larger, wider area, or to make something stretch or reach a particular area.  Synonyms for this usage include expand, widen, and broaden.

Richard’s family ranch EXTENDS across the valley all the way to the Snohomish River. 

Do you have plans to EXTEND your company’s operations into other areas of Japan?

When talking about a part of the body, EXTEND means to straighten or spread out at full length.

If you can EXTEND your arm and open and close your fist, your wrist is probably not broken. 

Finally, EXTEND means to offer or give something to someone.

I’d like to EXTEND a warm welcome to our special guests, Mr. and Mrs. Hanley, who have generously donated funds to expand the school library.

The former headmistress was amiable enough to the students, but she did not EXTEND her friendliness to their parents, which is probably why she was forced to resign.

 

 

 

MAXIMIZE your space.

6. MAXIMIZE

This was done to ensure that the largest of its solar panels would be in position to catch the most sunlight, maximizing Philae’s chances of coming back to life and carrying out its mission. 

MAXIMIZE is a verb (derived from the noun MAXIMUM) that means to make the best use of something, or to increase something as much as possible.

To MAXIMIZE your chances of doing well on next Friday’s test, I’d suggest that you put all your vocabulary words on flash cards and go over them several times a day.

To MAXIMIZE community interest, perhaps we should hang posters advertising our school’s Christmas fair up in local shops. 

When his friend said he was coming for a weekend visit, Jonathan rearranged the furniture in his small, one-bedroom flat to MAXIMIZE the space.

I’m taking an online course to learn how to use social media to MAXIMIZE traffic to our website.

When watching a film on Netflix, I always MAXIMIZE my computer screen so I can get the full effect. 

PDF DOWNLOAD: KA WORDCAST Listen Up! Lesson 16 KEY VOCABULARY