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

Astronomy 210, fall 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.
"The atmospheres of other planets, and how they may have been similar to ours at one point in time."

"That Mercury has a metal core. Is it heavy metal core? I can't imagine that a hunk of metal the size of a planet exists."

"The clouds in Venus's atmosphere are transparent radio waves."

"I think that learning more about planets it really cool; it's interesting to see how unique and different every planet is within our solar system; It makes me wonder about what planets may be out there in the universe (that we have yet to discover/can't discover) that may have even more seemingly unique characteristics."

"Venus and Earth can be so similar but so different at the same time."

"The difference between two similar planets (Mars and Earth). I always thought Mars would be more similar to Earth due to scientists saying that it might possibly be habitable."

"Venus and Earth would have the same amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere if it weren't for Earth's oceans dissolving it."

"The importance of oceans on Earth and the fact that Venus was too hot to maintain its oceans, while Mars was too cold to maintain its oceans."

"What makes a planet jovian or terrestrial. Before taking this class I assumed that all the planets were significantly different and it is interesting to see the characteristics of the planets and the similarities to Earth."

"How Jupiter has storms that occur on that planet for centuries. It's interesting how our atmosphere starts and ends storms, while on Jupiter, it goes for much longer."

"I previously thought all planets past mars were 'gas giants,' but learning that Uranus and Neptune are actually considered 'Ice Giants' was pretty interesting to me."

"I thought the Cooper Cooler™ effect was pretty cool to see visually, and I can see myself remembering why Uranus is colder more clearly as a result."

"How simple it is to decide whether or not an object in space is classified as a planet, debris, or a moon/satellite. I just thought it'd be more complex."

"I was really interested in learning about mass and its relevancy. It is review because throughout science classes and episodes of Bill Nye the science guy, it's always been clear that matter matters."

"That Neptune is further from the sun, but yet it is more active than Uranus."

"I didn't know that some planets had their own moons."

"The questions determining whether a object should be a moon/satellite, debris, planet, or a dwarf planet. I didn't know there were so many qualifications for a planet to meet."

Describe something you found confusing from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally confusing for you.
"Something I found confusing (carrying over from last class) was deciding which formations on the terrestrial planets were formed either more or less recently. Reading about the period of heavy bombardment and each planet's unique geological history has helped me understand more but I think it may take more studying before I really get it."

"I didn't know I was confused about the comparisons between, Earth, Venus, and Mars until I started taking this quiz. I found myself doing a lot of additional digging through the book and online to answer the questions."

"Some of the greenhouse factors such as mass and outgassing. How does mass effect the atmosphere and such?"

"I'm a little confused as to how active Venus currently is compared to Earth. Maybe I need to take a break and come back to it instead of just rereading it five times, but I couldn't find in the book or presentations (I only looked over the first one a couple times along with the Venus/Mars section of the book since they seemed to be the most likely places for me to actually find the answer) anything that felt like a definitive answer. There was a part that speculated it has enough energy to break through the surface again, but it also seems to have some activity that create coronae. So, I think that would make it more active that we are today, but if we're only counting stuff that breaches the surface than that would be incorrect."

"I was a little confused with the 'frustrated gophers' comparison to Venus. I just need a little clarification."

"Just the reasoning behind why other planets in are solar system didn't have a better chance at sustaining life. Maybe also just out of curiosity what where the chances of earth ending up being able to sustain life."

"Why are Jupiter's belt zones more visible than Saturn's?"

"I think I have a good grasp of the chapters. It was a sad day when Pluto wasn't deemed worthy to be a planet."

"I was a bit confused why Mercury isn't a dwarf planet, as it is probably small enough."

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 [38%]
Geologic activity, today: less than Earth [65%]
Volcanic outgassing, up until now: about the same as Earth [44%]
Heat from the sun: more than Earth [91%]
Amount of atmosphere, today: more than Earth [76%]

Identify the relative amounts of these characteristics for Mars, compared to Earth. (Only correct responses shown.)
Interior core heat, today: less than Earth [85%]
Geologic activity, today: less than Earth [88%]
Volcanic outgassing, up until now: less than Earth [85%]
Heat from the sun: less than Earth [88%]
Amount of atmosphere, today: less than Earth [91%]

Which jovian planet has the coolest interior temperatures?
Jupiter (most massive).   * [1]
Saturn (most prominent rings).   [0]
Uranus (least active weather patterns).   *************** [20]
Neptune (farthest from the sun).   ********** [10]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!)   *** [3]

I believe Pluto should be a planet.
Strongly disagree.   ** [2]
Disagree.   ******** [8]
Neutral.   ************** [14]
Agree.   ******* [7]
Strongly Agree.   *** [3]

Briefly explain your answer to the previous question (whether Pluto should be a planet).
"I think Pluto should be considered a planet because it follows the 3 questions that classify an object as a planet."

"I don't have any personal investment in its status. It just hasn't cleared out its orbital region, it's a dwarf planet."

"I think Pluto should be a dwarf planet from answering the IAU questions. It does orbit around the sun at a slow pace and it is a rounded shape. However, I am unsure if Pluto dominates its orbit, to be on the safe side I'm deciding that it's a dwarf planet."

"Pluto is .07 the size of all other planets in its orbit. It is also outside of the Kuiper belt and as far as we know it could just be a very large comet."

"I think that Pluto is close to being a planet, but it is not strong enough to dominate its orbit."

"Pluto is way too small and there isn't enough activity that takes place there."

"No need to change things."

"Since the discovery of more pluto-like planets in the outer rims of our solar system, i feel like Pluto should not be considered a planet. I don't think that pluto meets all necessary requirements to make it be considered a planet."

"It was a planet until they decided it didn't meet new criteria. I can only go off what the chapter on Pluto said."

"Scientifically speaking, size matters. Pluto isn't even the size of our moon. How could it be considered it's own planet when it could orbit our moon?"

"So they can't continue to mine plutonium (from Rick and Morty)."

"Because when people from the future look back they may get confused on why we stopped calling it a planet and they may freak out."

"I feel as if the reasoning is good behind why Pluto is no longer a planet, but I feel as if they should have been able to determine it earlier than 2006. Maybe that wasn't possible though."

"It was already a planet before, but I don't mind."

"Because the IAU says it's not? A dwarf planet still has planet in the title. 'Plutoid'--really? I think the moon should be a planet! I think anything we could possibly land on and terraform to colonize should be considered a planet. Probably watched too many sci-fi shows."

"It shouldn't be a planet because it is too small and is not terrestrial nor jovian. There are many objects like Pluto and that is why all of those should be in their own category."

"I don't really have a strong opinion on it, but I do think that it's alright to me that pluto isn't a planet, but a dwarf planet. It's fairly small and the other dwarft planets seem to be about the same size or even smaller than Pluto."

"Because it was most of my life, and mainly because even though it seems to be randomly floating it is still in orbit for the most part."

"It doesn't really matter to me all that much, it's not like it disappeared."

"Yes, Pluto used to be classified as a planet, but since it's so incredibly tiny it can't even pull other objects into its orbit. But it was able to put itself in a spherical shape which is one of the requirements of being a planet. But I think it being classified as a dwarf planet suits it better. It has its positives and negatives of whether it should be a planet so I can't make up my mind on if it should be or not."

"Pluto was always a planet when I was in school, if it ain't broke don't fix it."

"It's orbital path is different than the other planets, but it is round and also orbits the sun."

"I believe Pluto should be a planet because we grew up thinking it was part of the planet system for a long time. However, this planet has a couple different charactericts compare to others that might make it seem like it's not appropriate to call it a 'planet.'"

"Pluto is considered to be part of the some 100 million objects in the Kuiper belt, considered mere remnants from the formation of the solar system."

"If the third question we ask about a body is whether it dominates orbit, then it must be rejected that it is a planet, because it shares orbit with many similar objects without pulling them in."

"Pluto was classified as a planet for so long, it didn't need to be changed. It may not have the same orbit as the other planets, but it still does orbit the sun. It also may not be as big, but it there is no requirement for a object to be a certain size to be considered a planet."

"It isn't related to jovian or terrestrial planets."

"I think Pluto should be considered a planet, it always has been, and always should be."

"I do think it has mostly planet characteristics, but it is really small (its moon is even almost as big as it) and isn't clear of debris so it should stay a dwarf planet."

"On some level I think Pluto should be considered an honorary planet because it has been included as one in our solar system models for so long. However, since it fails to meet the IAU classification requirements the title 'dwarf planet' should be used for consistency's sake (also 'dwarf planet' is a cute descriptor)."

"I just feel as though Pluto falls so closely into being a planet, that it might as well already be a planet. However, it still does lack some of the official planet criteria. So I think it could go either way."

"I take no personal value from Pluto being a planet or not. I think if Pluto had a really good argument and all it wanted its entire life was to be a planet, then similar to sex changes, it should be able to transition."

Ask the instructor an anonymous question, or make a comment. Selected questions/comments may be discussed in class.
"How theoretically would you try to warm a cold planet like Mars to try to get it to sustain life?" (There are lots of ideas for this, based on either introducing more greenhouse gases, or adding more heat to the atmosphere (mirrors, etc.).)

"What is your take on colonizing Mars, and if it were possible would you be down to move there?" (As much as I like backpacking, I feel that living on Mars would just be way too much of that.)

"Can you go over the characteristics of Venus and Mars in comparison to Earth? (Especially in regards to whether Venus is more/less geologically active than Earth today)"

"Would it be possible to go over greenhouse factors and runaway atmospheres in our next class session?"

"In the jovian planets presentation, I was a little confused on how to tell if a planet is cooler than the other. If a planet has less cloud action or color, is it cooler or warmer?" (Cooler; the core heat drives the circulation of the entire liquid/gas structure of the planet, so less core heat means less circulation, and quieter action (and color, since there is less energy to drive chemical reactions).)

"I remember being little in school and hearing Pluto was no longer a planet and I was sad about it. I don't know why."

"Do you think Pluto should be considered a planet?" (No. My philosophy is that life isn't always fair. Deal with it, Pluto.)

"Where do you go to look at the stars?" (Wherever Slumberjack, the Sleeping Forester can take me and Mrs. P-dog.)

"Can we use any notes on the final exam?" (No. But you will get a study guide on specifically what you need to know.)

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