Online reading assignment: runaway planets, jovian planets, and dwarf planets (oh my!) (SLO campus)

Astronomy 210, fall semester 2012
Cuesta College, San Luis Obispo, CA

Students have a weekly online reading assignment (hosted by SurveyMonkey.com), where they answer questions based on reading their textbook, material covered in previous lectures, opinion questions, and/or asking (anonymous) questions or making (anonymous) comments. Full credit is given for completing the online reading assignment before next week's lecture, regardless if whether their answers are correct/incorrect. Selected results/questions/comments are addressed by the instructor at the start of the following lecture.

The following questions were asked on reading textbook chapters and previewing presentations on runaway planets (Venus and Mars), jovian planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune), and the impacted worlds: dwarf planets (and the International Astronomy Union classification scheme).

Selected/edited responses are given below.

Describe something you found interesting from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally interesting for you.
"A large impact on Uranus, that caused that planet to be the only one who has a tilted axis, and caused it to cool off faster than Neptune."

"I never knew how the International Astronomical Union decided that Pluto wasn't a planet!"

"How massive planets retain heat longer than less massive planets, and how more mass is good for building and retaining an atmosphere for the greenhouse effect."

"The many comparisons and contrasts between Venus and Mars. At times it's hard to remember which planet is which, and which has certain specific characteristics. But, I enjoyed learning about these two planets."
Describe something you found confusing from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally confusing for you.
"All the planets are so different! It confuses me how they all ended up so different."

"'Runaway planets' seem confusing because I don't understand how they can 'runaway' or what causes them to."

"Jovian planets, because there really is no solid surface there, and that's hard for me to grasp."
Ask the instructor an anonymous question, or make a comment. Selected questions/comments may be discussed in class.
"Why am I failing?" (I checked your score, and everyone else's in class as well--no one going to fail this class, unless you happen stop caring, or stop coming to class (or die, which to me would be the same thing). Or maybe you mean failing to live up to your expectations.)

"Why is Haumea, who has a sort of oval/flat shape, considered a dwarf planet? And can you explain the criteria of what makes a dwarf planet?" (Haumea is massive enough to retain heat to melt and gravitationally reform itself into a rounded shape; its oblateness is due to its rapid rotation, which stretched its shape out while it was molten into a very flattened ellipsoid instead of a sphere. But it is a dwarf planet rather than a planet because it does not gravitationally dominate its orbit around the sun.)

"How hard is the final compared to the midterms? When will we know what will be on the Final Exam?" (Next week at this time the study guide for the Final Exam will be posted. It is the same length and difficulty as a midterm, but will be comprehensive, with a slight emphasis on the material covered since the second midterm.)

"If Pluto was once a planet I feel that it should stay a planet." (That's what they told Ceres, Pallas, Vesta, and some others more than a hundred years ago...until they demoted them all from planet status as well.)

"What do you think about Pluto not being considered a planet? I loved Pluto as a child and I don't like the change." (One day, in the future, your children will be amused at your old-fashioned ideas.)

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