COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey, Episode 2, “Some of the Things That Molecules Do,” explores the relatedness of all life on Earth and science-based speculations on the possible evolution of life in the cosmic context. The proposed activities and discussion topics seek to deepen students understanding of the underlying concepts of the diversity of terrestrial life, artificial selection and natural selection, and the ways in which life here on Earth is tied to cosmic events.
Life is transformation. Artificial selection turned the wolf into the shepherd and all the other canine breeds we love today. And over the eons, natural selection can sculpt the
exquisitely complex human eye out of a microscopic patch of pigment. The Ship of the
Imagination is on a voyage of exploration of the relatedness of all life on Earth and the
possible evolution of life in the cosmic context. Neil takes us on our first visit to the Halls of Extinction, a monument to all the broken branches on the tree of life.
A volcanic eruption larger than all of Western Europe and lasting hundreds of thousands of years initiated The Great Dying of the Permian mass extinction event, when life on this
world came closest to being extinguished. A scale change on the Cosmic Calendar to
retrace the story of the survivors of these mass extinctions, including the unbroken thread that stretches from the first one-celled organisms of nearly four billion years ago directly to you.
• What is your favorite breed of dog? From what kind of animal did it evolve? Is there a
trait in your favorite breed which you think is due to artificial selection?
• Pick an animal and trace its ancestry back one million years.
• As of now, we have no evidence for life on Saturn’s moon Titan. Use what you’ve
learned about the atmosphere of Titan to design a creature that could have possibly
• The nearly 4 billion year history of life on Earth has had many setbacks. Which was
the worst and how close did life come to being extinguished on this world?
• What is the relationship between the environment and the dazzling variety of life forms on this planet? Why isn’t there just one kind of life form on Earth?
• How does the cosmos shape life on Earth?
• What can we as humans do to keep from ending up in the 6th corridor of the Halls of
• We have a lot in common with all living things on Earth. An example of this is the DNA we share with trees. Name 5 other life forms that have common DNA with humans and identify the functions or traits they are associated with.As we see in “COSMOS,” the evidence we have for evolution is confirmed by a vast amount of data. Why are so many people still unwilling to acknowledge evolution as scientific fact?
• Choose an extinction event and create a diorama like the ones found in the Halls of
• Build your own Cosmic Calendar for the month of December. What are some of the highlights? Which days of that month are most special to you and why? Which day would you most like to visit and why?
Relevant Scenes from COSMOS
• Act One: The Evolution of Dogs
• Act Two: Evolution of the Brown Bear and Polar Bear
• Act Three: The Tree of Life
• Act Four: Evolution of the Eye
• Act Five: The Halls of Extinction
• Act Six: Ship of the Imagination Explores Titan
For a deeper dive, more subjects touched on in Episode 2:
• Diversity of terrestrial life
• Ice Age inter-glacial periods
• Invention of agriculture
• Canine evolution
• Domestication of plants and animal
• Artificial selection
• Polar bear speciation
• Interglacial periods
• Molecular biology
• Relatedness of life on Earth
• Evolution of the eye
• Background levels of extinction
• Mass extinction events with special emphasis on the Permian
• Tenacity of life
• Environment and chemistry of Saturn’s moon, Titan
• Possibility of life on Titan
• Birth of the Milky Way galaxy
• Production of organic molecules
• Origin of life on Earth
• Continuity of life from one-celled organisms to us
Written by Ann Druyan
Produced by Cosmos Studios
All rights reserved, Cosmos Studios. For distribution to FOX affiliates to accompany the original broadcast distribution of COSMOS: A SpaceTime Odyssey.