Cosmos Quest for Students: The Immortals

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cosmosCosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, episode 11, “The Immortals” explores the nature of life in the cosmos and the different ways – some real, others, highly speculative – that life devises to spread its messages through the cosmos and perhaps, even, to conquer death.

Grade Levels

Click here for the complete Quest
Episode Summary
Must we die? Are there beings in the cosmos who live forever, traveling on an endless
journey down the river of time?
Our quest begins on the royal flotilla of the young Akkadian Princess Enheduanna, as it
drifts down the Euphrates River on a night in 2300 B.C.E. She is the first person in history
with a byline, the first author whose name is attached to the particular words she wrote.
More than 5,000 years after her death she still has the power to speak to us. One of
Enheduanna’s poems is a vision of the goddess of love conquering the universe. She is our starting point for a meditation on the forms that immortality can take.
The majestic walls of Uruq (Iraq) rise again as we meet the world’s oldest surviving hero,
Gilgamesh. Prototype of all superheroes, his journey is a search for immortality. He
encounters the wise man, Utnapushtim, whom the gods instructed to build an ark and gather up all the animals, a thousand years before Noah.
They all still live thousands of years after their deaths, but life itself sends its own messages
across billions of years. It is written within us, inside us in our DNA. The peace of an Egyptian village is shattered on a morning in the early 20th century by a meteorite. There was a message inscribed inside it that could not be read for another seventy years – not until we sent our robots to Mars. Life as a traveler on a heroic journey: Its various strategies for moving around the planet, between the planets and perhaps, between the stars and galaxies. Actual footage from 1946 of the first deliberate attempt by intelligent life to communicate with another world — and the cosmic fate of that message. Do civilizations have finite lifespans? What happened to Uruq? Why did the great ancient civilizations perish? Red dwarf stars live for trillions of years. What would intelligent beings do if they had an eternity to develop their understanding of the universe?

A trip to the Cosmic Calendar of the Future and the historic events on Earth that might
happen in the first seconds of January 1st of the new Cosmic Year.

Discussion Topics
• What are some parallels between the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh and the genetic code of life?

• How did scientists discover the origin of the meteorite that struck the Egyptian village
of Nakhla in 1911?
• What have been some of the causes of the deaths of civilizations?
• What are the special conditions that might exist on the world of a red dwarf star in a
giant elliptical galaxy?

Online Resources
Universal Newsreel from January 1, 1946 about Project Diana, excerpted in this episode
In this animated short, TED-Ed instructor Jill Tarter explores the Drake Equation, the
mathematical formula calculating the possibility of undiscovered life. It’s an equation with
so many unknowns, there is no “right” answer – for now.

Relevant Scenes from COSMOS
• Act One: Lady of the Largest Heart
• Act Two: Another Kind of Ark
• Act Three: Sending Our Stories Into Space
• Act Four: What About Civilizations That Self-Destruct?
• Act Five: Shortcuts in the Fabric of Spacetime
• Act Six: Cosmic Calendar of the Future
For a deeper dive, more subjects touched on in Episode 11: 

• Uruk

• 2300 B.C.E.
• Akkadian civilization and the rise of cities
• Epic of Gilgamesh
• The flood narrative
• Invention of writing
• Genetic code
• Origin of life
• Nakhla meteorite
• Martian surface and atmosphere

• Meteorites as interplanetary transports for life
• Tenacity of life in space, in Antarctic depths, and in violent impacts
• Biological strategies for dispersal
• Comets as interstellar transports for life
• First scientific attempt at interstellar communication
• The outer reaches of the radiosphere
• The life expectancy of civilizations
• Abrupt climate change
• Supernovas
• Toba and the ‘volcanic winter”
• Tool-making in 74,000 B.C.E. central India
• 16th century microbial destruction of North, Central, and Southern American
• Current environmental challenges
• Communication with non-human animals on Earth
• Drake Equation 2.0, the potential lifetime of a Red Dwarf civilization
• A technologically feasible human future

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.

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