Online reading assignment: atmosphere problems, Earth, the moon, Mercury (SLO 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 problems caused by the atmosphere for telescope observing, Earth, and the impacted worlds: the moon, and Mercury.

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 found light pollution bouncing off the atmosphere interesting because without the atmosphere, all the stars would be perfectly visible."

"I never knew what the reason behind the twinkling of the stars was. I thought it was pretty cool that air can kind of ripple like water."

"What I found interesting (since this is new to me) was how electromagnetic waves can penetrate our atmosphere (or not) depending on their wavelengths. For example, smaller-wavelength UV rays and some microwaves don't get very far when traversing our atmosphere. So what do we do? We put an big infrared telescope on a refurbished airliner (SOFIA) that can fly close to the threshold where these EM waves can reach. Awesome."

"The deeper we get into space the more I enjoy and find the topics interesting. I find the history of different planets and the moon very interesting."

"I would have never thought that Earth's core would have been the hottest, I would have guessed that Mercury or planets closer to the sun would have had hotter cores because they are hotter in general."

"That smaller planets are more geologically dead. We have all been exposed to the possibility of man inhabiting Mars thanks to studies and movies like 'The Martian.' It makes me question whether we really can inhabit Mars since the planet is technically geologically deficient."

"Describing continental drift like gravy skin. This is an easy way to remember definitions, when you relate it to things you are common with."

"Tectonic plates were pretty interesting and how volcanoes, trenches, mountains, and islands are made by the plates pushing together or pulling away from each other."

"The cause of natural greenhouse gases and how both volcanoes and oceans have an effect on it, as well as man-made greenhouse gases."

"I didn't know that carbon dioxide is absorbed by our oceans and found that aspect of the carbon cycle to be fascinating."

"The large impact hypothesis, because I have never really thought much about how Earth and the moon came to be."

"It's fascinating to imagine that our Earth was created by two clashing objects, and that the vaporized crust from these planetesimals formed the moon."

"To learn how similar the moon and Mercury are. I always knew they were alike, but didn't quite realize exactly in what ways."

"Similarities between the moon and Mercury's formation."

Describe something you found confusing from the assigned textbook reading or presentation preview, and explain why this was personally confusing for you.
"Reading about the telescopes was a little bit confusing, but maybe because my motivation to learn about telescopes was not too high."

"I find atmospheric turbulence confusing, mostly why it happens."

"Why divide the planets into two different groups?"

"What I found most confusing was the topic of the different cores being bigger and cooling off at different rates depending on size."

"Honestly the core of Earth being the hottest was weird to me, it was the most interesting but also the most confusing to me."

"Plate tectonics. Even when I learned about it in elementary school, I couldn't understand it just by reading about it."

"The greenhouse effect and how carbon dioxide works."

"Regarding the surface details of Mercury and the moon, I don't quite understand how the highlands and lowlands work. For the moon I am wondering if the lowlands have the higher impact craters on the surface and the highlands are filled with small impact craters higher above the surface. I wonder what the greatest depth is from a highland area to a lowland area on either Mercury or the moon."

"The video from one of the presentations. It was supposed to show the difference between the youngest and older features of Mercury, but I wasn't able to tell."

"The progression of the moon and Mercury's features."

"It is all rather confusing, but the more I read the clearer it becomes."

A large modern optical telescope in outer space would have images with better __________ than a comparable ground-based telescope.
brightness.   *** [3]
resolution.   ************* [13]
magnification.   * [1]
(None of the above choices.)   * [1]
(Two of the above choices.)   **** [4]
(All of the above choices.)   ****** [6]
(Unsure/guessing/lost/help!)   * [1]

Stars to appear to "twinkle" in the night sky because of...
"Our atmosphere distorting the light coming to us."

"The atmosphere's turbulence, light gets refracted in different directions when passing through."

"Ripples in atmospheric air, atmosphere turbulence, causes 'twinkling.'"

Identify how carbon dioxide enters and how it is taken out of Earth's atmosphere.
(Only correct responses shown.)
Enters atmosphere from: volcanoes [66%]
Taken out of atmosphere by: oceans [59%]

Identify the oldest (longest ago) to the youngest (most recent) features on the moon.
(Only correct responses shown.)
Craters partially filled in with flat lava plains: oldest (formed longest ago) [34%]
Flat lava plains: middle [31%]
Craters on top of flat lava plains: youngest (formed most recently) [44%]

Identify the oldest (longest ago) to the youngest (most recent) features on Mercury.
(Only correct responses shown.)
Large crater basins: oldest (formed longest ago) [62%]
Lava-filled lowlands: middle [52%]
Long curving ridges: youngest (formed most recently) [62%]

Ask the instructor an anonymous question, or make a comment. Selected questions/comments may be discussed in class.
"I feel a lot more informed in the world of telescopes, and I like now knowing what makes a telescope good or not. We go through a lot of crazy measures just to be able to clearly look at objects in outer space!"

"Should I believe what I read on the textbook? About the moon, the planets, etc. (I can't tell you what to believe (or not believe) about what we know in astronomy, but I can test you on understanding how we know what we know in astronomy.)

"How soon do you think greenhouse gases will warm our planet to the point that it is unlivable?" (I think we still have time to fix things, as long we don't keep ignoring Earth's "check engine" light for much longer.)

"Is the heat from Earth's molten core retained purely because of 'insulation' from the crust, or is there some interior heating (from sun, or radioactive materials in the core) contributing to Earth maintaining core temperature for so long?" (Both the insulation from the crust, and radioactive decays inside the core keep Earth's interior warm. The sun doesn't do anything except heat up the outside of Earth.)

Can you discuss a little more about the large-impact hypothesis? How was the hypothesis formed, how did the Apollo 11 mission, etc."

"I need more clarification on how to figure out which parts of the moon/Mercury are older/younger."

"How can you tell the age of the surface of a terrestrial planet based on surface features?" (Generally stuff on top is the newer than the stuff beneath. Like all the stuff stacked on the desk on my office.)

"The large impact hypothesis was confusing because it honestly just didn't make any sense or seem very logical to me. If there was a large explosion from two planets impacting how would have life on Earth been able to occur and evolve. An impact like that would most likely have killed off any organism that was alive (if there were any at that time) and also probably would have prevented any life-sustaining factors." (At that time the surfaces of the forming planets were still molten, so life definitely would not have started yet.)

"How do the stars look on the moon?" (Pretty awesome, as long as you aren't on the sunlit side of the moon, as the reflected glare from the surrounding moonscape would then be too bright.)

"I think my knowledge of moon phases is waning." (That's okay, just make sure you time the next waxing cycle of moon phase knowledge for the midterm.)

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