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

Astronomy 210, spring semester 2017
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.
"That Venus's crust is so flexible it is unable to break into moving plates."

"The different weather on each of the planets is so unique and it would be interesting to see in person."

"The different atmospheres of the planets. It is really cool to hear how the atmospheres differ and why they are different."

"That low mass planets lose heat faster--I thought the small space would be able to retain heat easier."

"I think its interesting that Neptune is blue because the methane! I also think its cool that an astronaut could 'swim' through Saturn's rings. I also didn't know Mars was red because of rust!"

"Sunlight helps give the gas giants their bold colors. Well Jupiter, that's why it's so much brighter and colorful than Saturn."

"The categorization scheme on what defines a planet--I was wondering how you categorize a moon being a moon and a planet being a planet. And now there is a new classification called dwarf planets and that's what Pluto is now considered. I wondered about that since it is no longer considered a planet. That Pluto is no longer a planet and now I know why and I agree that it shouldn't be. As we gain new knowledge some old truths get ruled out with new data. That's what science is about."

Describe something you found confusing from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally confusing for you.
"I think all the information about the planets and comparing them to Earth. Like Venus and Mars compared to Earth. I'd like a little more of a basic breakdown of the comparisons."

"The planetary greenhouse effect factors: mass, distance, temperatures and all that--maybe a little more reading and practice will help; I'm just a little confused right now."

"The comparisons between Venus and Mars to Earth. I was mostly looking at the mass of the planets to gauge the differences."

"How Pluto isn't a planet."

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 [20%]
Geologic activity, today: less than Earth [60%]
Volcanic outgassing, up until now: about the same as Earth [35%]
Heat from the sun: more than Earth [75%]
Amount of atmosphere, today: more than Earth [80%]

Identify the relative amounts of these characteristics for Mars, compared to Earth. (Only correct responses shown.)
Interior core heat, today: less than Earth [90%]
Geologic activity, today: less than Earth [80%]
Volcanic outgassing, up until now: less than Earth [75%]
Heat from the sun: less than Earth [85%]
Amount of atmosphere, today: less than Earth [95%]

Which jovian planet has the coolest interior temperatures?
Jupiter (most massive).   [0]
Saturn (most prominent rings).   [0]
Uranus (least active weather patterns).   *********** [11]
Neptune (farthest from the sun).   ******* [7]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!)   ** [2]

I believe Pluto should be a planet.
Strongly disagree.   * [1]
Disagree.   *** [3]
Neutral.   *********** [11]
Agree.   ** [2]
Strongly Agree.   *** [3]

Briefly explain your answer to the previous question (whether Pluto should be a planet).
"I believe that anything that consistently orbits around the sun should be considered a planet. Plus, it's my favorite planet. And I found that Earth is hit with asteroids and debris just as often as Pluto, therefor that is not enough of a reason to classify it as a non-planet (learningmind.com)."

"It used to be one so it should still be one."

"I don't really have an opinion. I mean, I kind of wish Pluto was still a planet. I mean, its kind of not fair to classify it as a planet and then take it away. But, I don't really have more of an opinion than that."

"Ohana means family! Family means no one gets left behind! jk :)"

"Pluto was a planet to me until it wasn't. It's awkward now that its not. I feel like he's lonely. I guess I feel neutral about it."

"Pluto shares orbital space with lots of other object out in the Kuiper belt, being very icy and super-small. Pluto does not dominate the neighborhood around its orbit."

Ask the instructor an anonymous question, or make a comment. Selected questions/comments may be discussed in class.
"When will we get a chance to look at the telescopes the North County campus?" (When it stops raining long enough for the swamp around the telescope shelter to dry out.)

"I'm still a little confused as to why Uranus' interior would have been stirred more than Neptune's causing Uranus to cool off faster. The water bottle in the ice bath analogy didn't really make sense because, in one of the ice baths, the bottle wasn't rotating at all. Don't both Uranus and Neptune both rotate?" (Yes, they both rotate, so they should be both cool off at the same rate. However, Uranus' rotational axis is tilted over probably from a large impact event which would have dramatically shaken and stirred its interior for a brief time, so that would have cooled off its interior dramatically more than Neptune.)

"Do you think Pluto should be considered a planet?" (No, because, reasons.)

"The way you relate facts to things we can see in everyday life is so helpful! The gravy skin and tectonic plates... :D I will never forget that analogy!"

"Why are we funding space research versus researching more ways that we can help cut back on CO2 production and help preserve Earth?" (We use a lot of the same technology developed to observe and understand other planetary climates to observe and understand Earth's climate, which is a big first step to try to address global warming. Also, NASA's share of the U.S. budget is only 0.8% each year.)

"Since the jovian planets accumulated ice and helium/low density hydrogen to make them bigger, could they continue to grow through the present day?" (No, because all the dust and gas between planets has been cleared out, so barring pulling in any random asteroid or comet, the jovian planet sizes and masses are pretty much set.)
"I didn't quite understand why Pluto has a faster orbit around the sun than Neptune. It's confusing to me because Pluto's orbit is slightly larger than Neptune's, so that's where I'm stuck." (Pluto's period is slightly longer than Neptune's (248 years versus 165 years.))

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