Astronomy 161: Optional Extra Credit Assignment


This is an optional assignment that you can complete if you wish to improve your course grade. In brief, the assignment is to write a 3-page account of one of NASA's planetary missions, describing the mission and some of its results at a broadly accessible level.

The amount of extra credit will be 10% of the overall course grade. Thus, if you got a B+ (3.33 on a 4.0 scale) on this assignment, it would raise your overall course grade by one notch (0.333, B- to B, for example). If you got below a B+, you might still have a fairly good chance of raising your overall course grade by a notch, depending on where your average grade fell. For example, a B (3.0) on this assignment would raise an average grade of 2.30 to 2.60, taking it from a C+ across the threshold to a B-. Similarly, if you got an A or A- on this assignment, you might raise your grade by two notches depending on where your average grade fell.


Pick one of the following NASA planetary missions: Galileo (Jupiter), Magellan (Venus), Voyager (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune), Spirit/Opportunity (Mars Rovers), or Cassini-Huygens (Saturn and Titan). Write a 3-page (typed, double spaced) description of the mission and its scientific accomplishments. Three pages is not enough to be comprehensive, but you should have at least a few sentence description of what the mission was (e.g., a spacecraft that went to Mars and landed robotic rovers that took pictures and performed experiments on rocks) and a description of one or more of the mission's most important scientific discoveries. (You can decide whether you prefer to briefly recap several highlights or discuss one in more detail.)

The style of this paper should be that of an article for a general audience magazine (Newsweek, Vanity Fair, Atlantic Monthly, People). You don't have to specify which magazine (though if you want to try your hand at what People magazine might have written about a mission to Venus, feel free), but you should be trying to convey the significance of the mission at a level that would be accessible and of interest to a broad audience. Pretend that you are writing for your peers, not for your astronomy professor. Your grade will be based on how well your paper functions as an accurate account of the mission for a broad audience, including the quality of the writing itself.

You should start your research at one of the following web sites:

You should be able to get enough information for your paper by following links from these web sites; do enough exploration to make sure that you don't miss the most useful links. The web sites for Magellan and Voyager are not quite as good as the others.

You are welcome to consult other sources (e.g., magazine articles, books) if you wish. If you make use of other sources, please add a note at the end of the paper saying which sources you used. As with any paper, you should indicate any direct quotation from a source with quotation marks and a footnote (which you can give in parentheses following the quote if you prefer). Use of someone else's words without attribution is plagiarism. It could cause you to get a zero on the assignment, or, if sufficiently serious (i.e., you have simply copied large chunks of the paper and presented it as your own work), to be reported for academic misconduct.


Your assignment should be 2-4 typewritten pages (aim for 3), double spaced, and it is due no later than 5 pm on Wednesday, June 1. If you don't turn it in in class, you may deliver it to my mailbox in 4055 McPherson Lab. You are welcome to turn in the assignment earlier than June 1. Submission by email or web posting is not allowed; you must turn in a paper copy.

Go to the A161 home page
Go to David Weinberg's Home Page
Updated: 2005 May 6[dhw]