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:

  1. 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.)
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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 are?
  5. 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.
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.