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

Astronomy 210, spring semester 2015
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 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.
"The progression of Venus' atmosphere was quite interesting, and also a bit scary. The fact that the runaway greenhouse effect is something that could happen to Earth means we should study Venus and its atmosphere more."

"That Saturn and Jupiter have storms. I never thought about it before how other planets have mother nature effects like Earth."

"I found the surfaces of Mars and Venus to be interesting in how different, yet both inhospitable they are."

"The reason why Mercury doesn't have tectonic plates is because it cooled too quickly. It's a 'one-plate' planet like the moon--that's a comparison I'll remember."

"I had no idea that mars was so cold compared to Earth and venus. To me since it looks like a desert I imagined it would be too hot for human life, but actually it is the opposite."

"That we are almost the same size as Venus! Also that we used to think it had oceans and might have even been a 'tropical paradise.'"

"I finally understand why Pluto isn't classified as a planet."

"The jovian worlds, because they are so foreign to Earth's properties."

"The criteria for a planet--originally I thought it had everything to do with size, but turns out there are a lot of other factors that go into what defines a planet and what doesn't."

Describe something you found confusing from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally confusing for you.
"How all the planets differ, why there are some gas planets and others are solid."

"How the atmosphere for a planet is retained. This is because it would make sense to me that the closer to the sun, the less gravity a planet would have since the sun would have the greatest gravity pulling away from the inner planets' atmosphere? Or that's what would make sense to me, so this is confusing to me."

"Almost everything because it is so foreign to us. Its hard to grasp the properties of other worlds."

"The 'runaway greenhouse.'"

"A planet's core heat--because how do you know the core temperature you can't stick a thermometer into it?"

Identify the relative amounts of these characteristics for Venus, compared to Earth. (Only correct responses shown.)
Interior core heat, today: about the same as Earth [26%]
Geologic activity, today: less than Earth [56%]
Volcanic outgassing, up until now: about the same as Earth [40%]
Heat from the sun: more than Earth [88%]
Amount of atmosphere, today: more than Earth [77%]

Identify the relative amounts of these characteristics for Mars, compared to Earth. (Only correct responses shown.)
Interior core heat, today: less than Earth [84%]
Geologic activity, today: less than Earth [84%]
Volcanic outgassing, up until now: less than Earth [58%]
Heat from the sun: less than Earth [70%]
Amount of atmosphere, today: less than Earth [84%]

Which jovian planet has the coolest interior temperatures?
Jupiter (most massive).   *** [3]
Saturn (most prominent rings).   * [1]
Uranus (least active weather patterns).   ****************** [18]
Neptune (farthest from the sun).   ******************** [20]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!)   * [1]

I believe Pluto should be a planet.
Strongly disagree.   ** [2]
Disagree.   ************* [13]
Neutral.   *************** [15]
Agree.   ********** [10]
Strongly Agree.   *** [3]

Briefly explain your answer to the previous question (whether Pluto should be a planet).
"Pluto should be a planet because I grew up with it as a planet and it was my favorite due to the fact that Mickey Mouse's dog was named Pluto."

"It is not a planet because it is located in the Kuiper belt, and it is not massive enough to clear out other bodies in and near its orbit."

"Growing up I always believed Pluto was a planet, so to be honest I was highly disappointed when it was declared a dwarf planet. I looked at Pluto as the 'runt' of pack, and every one always feels bad for the runt, so they like them."

"Because Pluto is better understood as a dwarf planet. It is big enough to form a sphere but not big enough to clear out other bodies in and near its' orbit like all planets, based on definition, should be able to do."

"Up until recently, Pluto has been considered a planet and since people hate change, it might as well still be considered a planet even though it does not fit the scientific definition."

"I don't know enough information on the topic to actually make an educated decision."

"Pluto doesn't really fit in with the other eight planets, but it still fits the qualifications of being a planet."

"Although Pluto fits two of IAU's criteria for planet status, it is not large enough for it to dominate and gravitationally pull all other objects in the region into its orbit."

"I'm not sure because I'm a noob astronomer. I could go either way."

"I believe that Pluto found its relatives Eris, Ceres, Haumea, and Makemake. It is best that it shouldn't be broken up from the family of dwarf planets."

"It doesn't really concern me."

"I really don't know why it is not a planet anymore but I also don't really care."

"I feel bad for Pluto, but tough nuggets."

Ask the instructor an anonymous question, or make a comment. Selected questions/comments may be discussed in class.
"Do you think Pluto should be a planet?" (Did we not discuss this on the first day of class? I do have strong opinions on this topic.)

"Why is Mercury a small solid rock? I thought it was closest to sun so shouldn't it be a hot volcanic planet?" (Any heat in the core, under its crust, comes from its original formation and some radioactive elements within, and not from sources the outside the planet. If Mercury were close enough to the sun such that the outside would melt, then it wouldn't be around for very long--which is what probably happened to any planets that tried to form closer to the sun than Mercury.)

"I am eating peanut M&M®s and by their shape, if they were large enough to be in the solar system, they would not be considered planets because they would not have enough gravitational pull to shape them into perfect spheres. Also the core is a peanut." (You had me at 'peanut M&M®s.')

"How scary is the midterm going to be?" (Depends. On how brave you are. Or perhaps, how unprepared.)

"What is a nebula?" (It'a a gas and dust cloud in space, and can give birth to new stars and planets. And yes, space is dirty.)

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