Essays should be between 1500
and 2000 words. The word limit
should include the text, figure
captions, footnotes, but not the
reference list (we are happy to see
lots of references). You will lose
marks for going more than 10%
over the 2000 word limit.
The format of the essay is not
specified. You are welcome to
include section headings and
pictures. However try to ensure
that they help to illustrate the
argument presented in the essay
and are not mere adornment.
Your essay should be written for a
well informed but non-specialist
audience. The style (not the
format) used in popular science magazines such as Scientific American or New Scientist
would be a suitable guide. Remember, you are not writing for experts, so if you use
technical jargon you will need to explain it. Refrain from using formulae, but instead
explain concepts in your own words.
Essays are expected to show evidence of researching the topic beyond the material
presented in the course lessons and textbook. The sources you use (websites, journal
articles, books) should be referenced. You should consistently use one of the standard
reference styles. One style is to number references sequentially in the text and include a
numbered list of references at the end of the essay. An alternative is to mark references in
the text using author and date e.g (Sagan, 1987) or Drake et al. (1965) and list references
at the end of the essay in alphabetical order.
If you use text from another source make it clear that it is a quote by placing it in quotation
marks and giving the reference to the source. However, you should not make excessive
use of quotes. The essay should be in your words and present your views on the subject,
not just an account of what other have said. Using text from other sources without
attribution is plagiarism and is not acceptable.
Your essay will use the TurnItIn system for submission that includes an automatic test
for plagiarism. Your submission will be checked against a large database of material and
tested for matches. The database includes all past essays submitted for this course. Make
sure that what you submit is your own work and that any material from other sources is
placed in quotation marks and the source cited. Copying material from the web (even if
you subsequently make edits to it) is considered to be plagiarism and it is unacceptable.
Read more on the plagiarism policy from http://student.unsw.edu.au/plagiarism.
TurnItIn is well designed to detect all plagiarism attempts!
TurnItIn gives a similarity score that indicates the percentage of the submission matched
to its database. While there may be legitimate reasons for matches (such as quotations ! 15!
and references) we tend to be suspicious if we see a high similarity scores.
Essays will be graded on:
o Degree of understanding of the topic (max. 6 marks)
o Quality and depth of research (max. 6 marks)
o Clarity of presentation (max. 6 marks)
o Original and outstanding coverage of the topic (max. 2 marks)
Essays are due before midnight on Sunday Jan 22nd
. They should be submitted online
through the submission box provided in the Assessments page on Moodle. You can
submit it in a range of file formats (MS Word, WordPerfect, PDF, Postscript, HTML, RTF
and plain text).
Essay Topics — Choose one of the following
1. Space Telescopes
Explain why astronomers put telescopes in space. Describe in detail one space telescope
that does not observe visible light and list its achievements. Discuss major discoveries that
were possible with astronomical observations made from space and how they changed
our understanding of the Universe.
2. The Earliest Evidence for Life
Review the earliest evidence for life on Earth. What form does the evidence take and
where is it found. Discuss the controversies relating to some of this evidence and give
your conclusion on the earliest date at which we can be confident that life was present on
3. Atmosphere Evolution on Rocky Planets
Compare evolution of atmosphere on Earth, Venus and Mars, and explain differences in
current atmospheric conditions on these planets. Describe how the Earth’s atmosphere
helped life to originate, survive and develop, and how has life affected the atmosphere
4. Life in Extreme Conditions
Explain what extremophile life forms are and where they are found on Earth. In view of
what we have learnt about extremophiles discuss the possibility of extraterrestrial life in
different places of our Solar system.
5. Key Space Missions
Choose ONE of the following space missions and give an account of the mission
describing the challenges it had to overcome and the mission’s achievements. Describe in
particular how it has influenced our understanding of the possibilities of past or present life
in the solar system.
o The Viking dual orbiter/lander mission to Mars.
o The Galileo orbiter/probe mission to the Jupiter system. ! 16!
o The Cassini/Huygens mission to the Saturn system.
o The Mars Exploration Rover mission (Spirit and Opportunity rovers).
6. Exploration of Venus
Describe the history of missions to Venus and their achievements. How did we learn about
the thick atmosphere and high surface temperature of Venus and how did we map its
surface? Should we consider Venus as a possible site for life in our Solar system?
7. Gravitational Waves
On Feb 11 2016 the announcement was made of the detection of gravitational waves from
space using the Advanced LIGO facility. What are gravitational waves? How does LIGO
detect them and why is this discovery significant?
8. Rosetta Mission
Explain why scientists study comets of the Solar system. Discuss the methods applied in
such studies. Describe the Rosetta mission and argue its importance in understanding the
history of our Solar system and development of life on Earth.
9. Inside stars
Discuss internal composition of stars similar to our own Sun and compare it with
composition of white dwarfs and neutron stars. Explain how helioseismology and solar
neutrinos help to study interior of the Sun.
10. Space mission to Pluto
The “New Horizons” mission is exploring the outer Solar System. Describe the objectives
of the mission and important scientific instruments on the space probe. Discuss what we
have learnt about Pluto after the closest approach to this dwarf planet. Explain how this
mission helps us to understand the processes of formation and evolution of the planetary
11. Formation of planetary systems
Discuss the early ideas about the formation of our Solar system. Compare our solar
system with other multi-planetary systems discovered in the last 20 years. Explain what we
have learnt about formation of planets from these discoveries. Describe the concept of
12. Kepler and TESS
Compare the strategy and objectives of the NASA Kepler mission and the new planned
TESS mission. Choose one extra solar planet detected by the Kepler mission and discuss
its importance for our understanding of other solar systems.
13. Habitability of Planets
Explain what makes a planet habitable. In the context of currently known extra solar
planetary systems discuss the likelihood of habitable planets in our Galactic
neighbourhood. Describe some examples of recently discovered extra solar planets, which
are suggested to be habitable and explain why.
14. Role model astronomer/astrobiologist
Science advances by efforts of large collective of collaborating people, but there are
outstanding individuals that we all admire for their role in moving us forward in ! 17!
understanding our world. Choose your favourite astronomer or astrobiologist that you
learnt about in studying this course, and describe their contribution to their field of
research. Explain why this person inspired you personally.
15. Dark Matter and Dark Energy
Explain both concepts and the differences between them. Describe the observations that
led to the hypothesis that dark matter is an important component of the Universe. Describe
the suggested constituents of the dark matter.
16. The Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence
Explain what is SETI and how it approaches the search for the ET. Explain why radio
telescopes are particularly useful in such a search. If we make contact with an advanced
extraterrestrial civilization discuss how likely it is that we will benefit from the encounter
through, for example, the information they may provide on advanced technologies, or are
we likely to suffer through the hostility of a species that competes for our resources and
perhaps our planet? Based on your assessment should we be advertising our presence by
sending messages to the stars or would we be better keeping quiet?
Factors you may wish to consider could include:
o Do we expect advanced intelligent species to be friendly or hostile to other species
(based on evolutionary theory, and the requirements of survival of such a
o Has the human race developed more or less tolerance of different peoples and
cultures as civilization has developed?
o The historical record of encounters between colonial and indigenous peoples on
o Our record of treatment of closely related species such as the great apes.
o The vast distances between stars and the difficulty of physical contact with