AST 248: The Search for Life in the Universe
Term Paper Guidelines
Updated 18 June 2019
The term paper will account for 15% of your grade.
The due date is provided in the general course
information, or in the Important Dates web pages.
Please select one of the following topics:
If there is another relevant topic you would like to explore in detail,
you may do so, so long as you discuss it with your instructor in advance and
get permission. I do not like papers that are solely about science or
engineering, without significant discussion of ramifications to society.
- You have been appointed ambassador to a planet of intelligent aliens,
and are allowed to ask three questions on behalf of humanity.
What three questions would you ask, and why?
(You cannot ask for more questions.)
- An alien spaceship appears in orbit around the Earth. What is your first
reaction? Do you expect the aliens to be peaceful or belligerent? Consider
examples from human history where a more technologically advanced culture met
the natives. Are such examples relevant?
- Radio contact is made with an intelligent civilization. They send a
picture of themselves. What do you expect an intelligent alien to look like?
Do you expect that they will look like us? What factors might influence their
physiology and body plan?
- You wish to communicate with an intelligent alien civilization. How do you
establish a basis for communications? What experiences might you have in common
with the aliens? Can you communicate effectively without a common reference
frame? Would it matter if they are much more technologically advanced than we
- Assume that the technology exists to send a spacecraft to Europa to drill
through the ice to sample the subsurface ocean, and return a sample to Earth.
Would this be a good idea or a bad idea? Weigh the gains in knowledge about
exobiology against the risks of contamination.
- There is no set length. The paper needs to be long enough to address the
topic in sufficient detail that I know you have thought about it. But it should
be short enough that I can read it without losing interest. Please do not write
more than 15 pages.
- Please think before you write, and construct your paper carefully. I will
give extra points for well written and coherent papers, and will
take off for poor grammar and misspellings. Please write complete sentences,
and use paragraphs.
- Papers must be typed and be double-spaced.
- Please reference any materials you use, with the exception of the textbook
or lecture notes.
- The paper can consist of original thought/analysis,
or can be a critical analysis of other's thinking (with references, of course).
- I require hard copies of the paper, so I can mark them up and return them.