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

Astronomy 210, fall semester 2019
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 turkey/Corn hen theory and the core heat example it helped me better understand the function of what mass and core heat have to do with a planet."

"The way Earth is like a giant greenhouse and how it naturally cycles CO2 and keeps the earth running."

"That the further you are from the sun the colder the planet and the closer the hotter the planet. Venus is one of the hottest planets in the solar system."

"Venus's runaway greenhouse effect was extremely interesting and led me to wonder if the addition of water to the planet would counteract this effect."

"I am interested in the history how Venus became a lethal planet and what lead to it becoming the Venus it is today. I am interested in the craters and volcanoes that dot the highlands. I am interested the greenhouse effect that boiled the oceans of Venus and lead to it losing all of its water. One of the things that I am interested is how without plate tectonics Venus is able to gain new crust every half-billion years."

"That there is evidence on Mars that there were large amounts of water flowing."

"The part in the presentation where it talked about jovian planets. especially when it talked about ice giants, I was just amazed on how different on complex all the planets in our solar system are, just imagine what else is out there."

"I found jovian planets presentation interesting because I'm getting to learn about gas giants and ice giants."

"Uranus's insides are cooler then Neptune's even though its closer to the sun. I thought for planets that the closer the sun is the hotter it is."

Describe something you found confusing from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally confusing for you.

"A part of the presentation that I didn't understand that well was runaway greenhouse, I got a good grasp on it but just need some clarifications. I don't get what happens to venus' greenhouse gasses now that they can escape, where do they go?"

"The greenhouse effect on both the planets Mars and Venus."

"I am confused on Jupiter’s core. I am curious on why Jupiter and other gas giants has liquid cores instead of molten cores. I am curious as to how Jupiter effected the formation of the solar system."

"What I found confusing was the Copper Cooler™ effect."

"Why is Pluto (to some) called a planet? It's the size of a small moon or large asteroid, I know it has its own very tiny moon but there are (I imagine) many like it in the asteroid belt."

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 [27%]
Geologic activity, today: less than Earth [40%]
Volcanic outgassing, up until now: about the same as Earth [33%]
Heat from the sun: more than Earth [80%]
Amount of atmosphere, today: more than Earth [47%]

Identify the relative amounts of these characteristics for Mars, compared to Earth. (Only correct responses shown.)
Interior core heat, today: less than Earth [73%]
Geologic activity, today: less than Earth [73%]
Volcanic outgassing, up until now: less than Earth [73%]
Heat from the sun: less than Earth [73%]
Amount of atmosphere, today: less than Earth [80%]

Which jovian planet has the coolest interior temperatures?
Jupiter (most massive).   [0]
Saturn (most prominent rings).   [0]
Uranus (least active weather patterns).   ******** [8]
Neptune (farthest from the sun).   ******* [7]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!)   [0]

I believe Pluto should be a planet.
Strongly disagree.   [0]
Disagree.   *** [3]
Neutral.   ***** [5]
Agree.   ***** [5]
Strongly Agree.   ** [2]

Briefly explain your answer to the previous question (whether Pluto should be a planet).
"The IAU is an international group who decides what does and what does not classify a planet. I feel like their rules for classification and fair and just, and Pluto should feel special because they made an entirely new classification for it."

"I think it should be since it is orbiting the sun."

"I chose that decision because Pluto has both the characteristics of a dwarf planet and planet in my opinion."

"I believe it should be a planet because it is out in space and moves like the other planets and it is in space."

"My answer to the previous question is neutral because I don't mind the idea of people suggesting that Pluto should be a planet or that it shouldn't, personally I don’t know much about it or the topic to have an actual opinion."

"I don't know, but I do know it's way smaller than any planet out there and farthest one out there."

"Don't have any real reason to call it a planet and it is smaller than the moon."

"Based on what it says in the book it seems logical that it shouldn't be a planet. The only thing it really has that may make it seem like a planet is a moon but thats not enough."

"I can see the arguments on both sides of the scientific committee. It is too small to be a planet and it is in an orbit with its sister planet Charon."

"Why leave the underdog out of the equation?"

"Pluto was a planet when I was a kid so why change it? And it also orbits around the sun just like the other planets."

"It's an unnecessary argument. The scientists who chose to remove the planet title from Pluto have their own choice and are more qualified to decide."

"I think it should be a planets because there are some points when it comes closer than Neptune to the sun."

"I think that it is too small and it's controlled by [others' gravitational] forces."

Ask the instructor an anonymous question, or make a comment. Selected questions/comments may be discussed in class.
"Can we talk more about Mars and Venus compared to Earth?"

"One thing I found confusing is if Mars is small and cold, how come any liquid boils on the surface of Mars?" (In order to boil a liquid such that it turns into vapor, you have to give the molecules in the liquid energy to free those molecules. If there isn't very much atmosphere outside the liquid, then you don't have to add as much energy to boil the liquid, as it is easier for the molecules to escape into a more empty atmosphere. Mars' atmosphere is so thin and cold that if you had liquid water (which is going to be relatively warmer), its molecules are now very free to escape into the atmosphere, and have enough energy already to do so, and so it will "boil" on its own.)

"So which of the four jovian planets has the coolest temperature? I am guessing it is Neptune as it is the farthest from the sun." (The heat that drives the weather for jovian planets comes from within, so the smaller jovian planets would have the coolest cores.)

"I really don't understand Jupiter. If its made up of gas, how does the gravity work there? Is there a core?" (There is a rocky core that started the process of pulling in gases to build up Jupiter; after a certain point there would be so much gas accumulated that its gravity would come from its gases rather than its rocky core.)

"What does 'jovian' mean?" ("Jove" is another name for "Jupiter" in Roman mythology, and in astronomy a "jovian" refers to a planet that is "Jupiter-like.")

"Why do people think Pluto isn't a planet? I've been told that since elementary school and I've never heard an answer why?" (We'll be discussing that in class on Thursday.)

"Please explain your view on the whole 'Pluto is/isn't a planet' debate. Is it a planet or is it not and why?" (Like Pluto, lots of planets that were planets are no longer planets. Ceres was a planet, but is no longer a planet. Also Pallas, Vesta, and many, many others. We'll discuss how the rules for determining what is (or isn't) a planet have changed several times over history, and the motivation behind this changes.)

"Does the Kuiper belt extend past the edge of our solar system?" (While the Kuiper belt extends from outside Neptune's orbit outwards, the Oort cloud extends a thousand times further out from the sun.)

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