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Short Description: Based on a recent press release, students determine the aphelion and perihelion of Pluto's elliptical orbit using the properties of ellipses, then calculate the temperature of Pluto at these distances to estimate the thickness of Pluto's atmosphere and its changes during its orbit around the sun.
Windy Worlds: Gas Giants, Atmospheres and Weather
Grade Level: 9-12
Hubble Space Telescope (Beyond Our Solar System)
Science Education Standards:
By the end of the 12th grade, students should know that:
- As the earth and other planets formed, the heavier elements fell to their centers. On planets close to the sun (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars), the lightest elements were mostly blown or boiled away by radiation from the newly formed sun; on the outer planets (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto) the lighter elements still surround them as deep atmospheres of gas or as frozen solid layers. 4A/H5 (SFAA)
- Life is adapted to conditions on the earth, including the force of gravity that enables the planet to retain an adequate atmosphere, and an intensity of electromagnetic waves from the sun that allows water to be present in the liquid state. 4B/H1
- Transfer of thermal energy between the atmosphere and the land or oceans produces temperature gradients in the atmosphere and the oceans. Regions at different temperatures rise or sink or mix, resulting in winds and ocean currents. These winds and ocean currents, which are also affected by the earth's rotation and the shape of the land, carry thermal energy from warm to cool areas. 4B/H2*
- Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide and water vapor, are transparent to much of the incoming sunlight but not to the infrared light from the warmed surface of the earth. When greenhouse gases increase, more thermal energy is trapped in the atmosphere, and the temperature of the earth increases the light energy radiated into space until it again equals the light energy absorbed from the sun. 4B/H4 (SFAA)
- Climatic conditions result from latitude, altitude, and from the position of mountain ranges, oceans, and lakes. Dynamic processes such as cloud formation, ocean currents, and atmospheric circulation patterns influence climates as well. 4B/H5** (NSES)
- The earth's climates have changed in the past, are currently changing, and are expected to change in the future, primarily due to changes in the amount of light reaching places on the earth and the composition of the atmosphere. The burning of fossil fuels in the last century has increased the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which has contributed to Earth's warming. 4B/H6 (SFAA)
National Science Education Standards
EARTH AND SPACE SCIENCE
Energy in the Earth System
- Heating of earth's surface and atmosphere by the sun drives convection within the atmosphere and oceans, producing winds and ocean currents.
- Global climate is determined by energy transfer from the sun at and near the earth's surface. This energy transfer is influenced by dynamic processes such as cloud cover and the earth's rotation, and static conditions such as the position of mountain ranges and oceans.
The Origin and Evolution of the Earth System
- Interactions among the solid earth, the oceans, the atmosphere, and organisms have resulted in the ongoing evolution of the earth system.