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

Astronomy 210, spring semester 2014
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.
"I thought that on the presentation, the slide with the 'frustrated' volcanoes was most interesting to me. This was personally interesting to me because I think the example you gave is great, and it helps me understand it a little more. I didn't know that with crust being thin and flexible, that makes it harder for the magma to push through. I would think the thicker the crust, the harder. But then when I look at Mars, thick and 'gooey' that makes more sense how it would be harder to erupt."

"I personally found the presentation preview on the gas giants and ice giants interesting because I honestly didn't know much about the internal heat of the planets. The coffee GIF animation made it easy to understand."

"I thought it was interesting to learn about the criteria for being a planet because I had never know that before and it's actually something I had wondered about. Like why isn't that floating rock in space a planet? Now I know it's because it has to orbit the sun, have control of it's own orbit and be round which I personally don't really think is fair criteria. I also thought it was interesting to learn about the characteristics of Mars and Venus and what the surface looks like. I would like to learn more about that and about what went wrong with their atmospheres and if that could happen to us."

"I thought it was interesting that Venus and Mars are considered run away planets because their greenhouse gas cycle was hindered in some way. It makes me worry about global warming and how it can truly have devastating effects on Earth. I found it a little shocking that greenhouse gases were partly due to the lack of livable environment on Mars and Venus."

"I found the Mars rover time-lapse movie to be actually quite interesting."

"For some reason I thought that only Earth had an atmosphere...after looking through the book I found that I was mistaken. Learning about what gives a planet a certain kind of atmosphere was very interesting."

"I found it really interesting that the core heat and sunlight basically determine the color of the planet. For example, Jupiter being more colorful than Saturn. When I was in elementary school Jupiter was my favorite planter because its colors!"

"I found it interesting how all the planets were formed relatively in similar yet with the smallest differences they formed into completely different planets. I think its crazy how a little change can allow for earth to have life and other planets uninhabitable."

"I enjoyed reading about Pluto! I was unaware of why Pluto had been stripped of its 'planet' title so I was intrigued to learn what a dwarf planet is!"

Describe something you found confusing from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally confusing for you.
"Something that I found confusing is the whole greenhouse factor subject. This is personally confusing to me because I can't wrap my head around it. I get the arrows and what you are saying there, however I need a little more explanation on the whole concept which I'm sure we will learn in class!"

"I found how we think Mars to be hospitable is confusing. To me all the things they are mentioning about this planet make it seem like it is inhospitable."

"Not really sure if were suppose to memorize all of the info in the book on the different planets."

"There are many things I find confusing. Honestly I'm going to wait until the lecture to get my questions answered because I find them hard to word right now."

"I just can't really grasp the runaway greenhouse effect. but I will look on it more to try and understand it."

"It was confusing to figure out if these planets had more or less geologic activity than Earth."

Identify the relative amounts of these characteristics for Venus, compared to Earth. (Only correct responses shown.)
Volcanic outgassing, up until now: about the same as Earth [60%]
Heat from the sun: more than Earth [84%]
Amount of atmosphere, today: more than Earth [82%]
Interior core heat, today: about the same as Earth [44%]
Geologic activity, today: less than Earth [69%]

Identify the relative amounts of these characteristics for Mars, compared to Earth. (Only correct responses shown.)
Volcanic outgassing, up until now: less than Earth [71%]
Heat from the sun: less than Earth [80%]
Amount of atmosphere, today: less than Earth [98%]
Interior core heat, today: less than Earth [87%]
Geologic activity, today: less than Earth [76%]

Which jovian planet has the coolest interior temperatures?
Jupiter (most massive).  ** [2]
Saturn (most prominent rings).  ***** [5]
Uranus (least active weather patterns).  ************************ [24]
Neptune (farthest from the sun).  ************ [12]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!)  ** [2]

I believe Pluto should be a planet.
Strongly disagree.  * [1]
Disagree.  ************ [12]
Neutral.  ***************** [17]
Agree.  *********** [11]
Strongly Agree.  **** [4]

Briefly explain your answer to the previous question (whether Pluto should be a planet).
"I don't have a strong opinion on whether Pluto should be a planet or not. I think it is cool that Pluto was the first to be discovered, and that it is so tiny. But after reading about what defines a planet I guess that makes sense on why they took it off the list of planets. The object needs to be large enough to dominate and gravitational clear its orbital region, which Pluto does not meet the standard."

"It was before--why not now?"

"Before reading this section in the book on Pluto, I would have said that there was no reason to take away Pluto's status as a planet. We had considered it a planet for long enough that it seemed to me like 'what is the big deal about making that change?' But after reading the section it changed my mind a little. It does not meet the IAU's criteria...and after discovering all those other dwarf planets in the Kuiper belt it made it so there was a whole new category to which Pluto was a better fit."

"I'm not a professional astronomer I don't have a Ph.D. in planets (clearly) so I think it could be either way. I don't have significant knowledge to make a case on it being a planet or not. Whomever classified Pluto as a dwarf planet obviously knows what they're doing."

"It really doesn't make or break my day, Pluto could spiral into a black hole and it wouldn't make much of a difference to me."

"I'm exactly sure, but I'm going to guess that, Pluto should be classified as a planet because it orbits the sun, it is round and it dominates its orbit."

"Because that's what I was raised knowing, and now it is all ruined."

"Since I was a kid I always was told that Pluto was a planet, but now people are saying it is not. So whether it is a planet or not, I still will consider it a planet mentally."

"If Pluto was a planet, then it wouldn't have been fair to the other Kuiper belt objects--they would get jealous and they'd all have to join the planet list, and it'd be a mess."

"When scientists discovered a thousand bodies that are similar to Pluto, that made it not unique. Even though Pluto was a lot bigger than all of the other bodies, but there's usually going to be outliers in data, especially when you have 1,000 separate pieces of data. On the other hand, for something to be classified as a planet it needs to be 'large enough to have its gravity pull them into spherical shapes.' I went with neutral because I feel the 'dwarf planet' name is a good enough middle ground for Pluto."

"Pluto should not be a planet because there's plenty of other dwarf planets just like it. We should not keep Pluto as a planet because of tradition--science is about evolving!"

Ask the instructor an anonymous question, or make a comment. Selected questions/comments may be discussed in class.
"It seems to me that most other terrestrial planets, and the moon, receive frequent battering by meteorites and asteroids. Why do we not see more of this on Earth? are we just lucky all the time?" (Not lucky, it's just that Earth has had so much tectonic plate motion to fold over any surfaces with these original impact craters down into the mantle.)

"Do greenhouse gases ever go away once in the atmosphere?" (Only if gravity is not enough to prevent them from leaking up out into space, or if there are oceans that can soak them up and incorporate them into sedimentary rock that tectonic plate motion eventually push down into them mantle.)

"I want to go to Mars really bad."

"How much of the first three quizzes will be on the midterm? I am really looking forward to a review day to kind of tie all of this information together." (The first midterm will be comprehensive, but a very selective study guide will be posted soon. Review day will be next week.)

"I've noticed the past two quiz scores for everyone in the class, and no one has gotten a perfect score (40/40). Have you considered curving the scores?" (The scores are curved--remember that the grading scale has 70% for a "B." Keep in mind that everyone should get close to a 100% for the in-class activity points, and the online reading assignment points (which together are worth two letter grades). Also, there have already been a number of perfect scores on North County campus this semester, so step it up, San Luis Obispo campus.)

"I saw you had cartoons on your website and read some of them. I also noticed that a lot of them are over ten years old, any plans for new ones?" (Eventually, but you guys keep me amused enough for now.)

"What is your ultimate favorite hobby or activity outside of teaching?" (Dancing and DJing swing music with Mrs. P-dog.)

"How do you feel about Pluto being demoted?" (Did we talk about grandfather clauses in class already? If I haven't already, let me tell you my personal feelings about this.)

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