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.

INSTRUCTION

  • 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).
  • 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 awell 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 eg (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.

Essays will be graded on:

  • Degree of understanding of the topic (max. 6 marks)
  • 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)

ESSAY TOPIC

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

Earth.

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

over time.

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.

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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

system.

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

planetary migration.

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

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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

species)?

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

Earth.

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

extraterrestrial neighbours.

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