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Introduction to Earth and Space Science
Prepared for Physics Diploma Students
Kotebe College of Teacher Education
Adds Ababa, Ethiopia
Chapter 1. The Shape and Motions of The Earth
1.1. The Shape of the Earth
Early Greeks (C. 1600 B.C.) believed that the Earth was disklike, floating on
water, with the dome of heavens above it. They also hypothesized that there
was an underworld comparable in scope and complexity to the heavens.
Pythagoras (C. 500 B.C.) is thought to have been the first to assert that the
Earth is round in shape and that all heavenly bodies move in circles.
The Pythagoreans believed that the sphere is the perfect shape and that
the gods utilized the perfect form to create the Earth.
Plato (428 - 347 B.C.) and his followers believed that all motions in the
universe are perfectly circular and that all astronomical bodies are spherical.
Plato's fundamental percept was that what we see of the material world
is only an imperfect representation of ideal creation. The implication
was that we can learn more about the universe by reason than by
Aristotle (c. 384 - 322 B.C., a student of Plato) was the first to adopt physical
laws and used them to demonstrate that both the universe and the Earth are
Aristotle taught that circular motions are the only natural motions and
that the center of the Earth is the center of the universe -- geocentric
point of view.
Aristotle had three ways of proving that the Earth was spherical:
i. Only at the surface of a sphere do all objects seek the center by
falling straight down. According to Aristotle, falling objects follow
their natural inclination to reach the center of the universe.
ii. The view of the constellations changes as one moves to the north or
iii. During lunar eclipses, it can be seen that the shadow of the Earth is
Aristotle is a bit different from Plato in that he mixed reason (theory)
Today there are various direct evidences that show the Earth is almost
spherical. Pictures of the Earth taken from stratospheric balloons, ionospheric
rockets and satellites show a spherical image of the Earth.
A very good theoretical evidence concerning the shape of the Earth can be
obtained from Newton's law of universal gravitation:
G F =
The force of gravity on a body on the surface of the Earth is called the weight
of the body. Measurements show that the weight of a body has the same value
everywhere on Earth except for minor variations.
If W = Weight of body on Earth, M = Mass of Earth, m = mass of body, then
we can obtain the radius R of Earth from the law of universal gravitation:
Since the right hand side is a combination of constants, we conclude that R is
a constant as well, i.e., the Earth must be a sphere.
1. Eratosthenes (c. 300 B.C.) was able to determine the size of the Earth. Write a
short account of his method and the result obtained.
2. The Earth is oblate spheroid rather than a perfect sphere. The deviation from a
perfect sphere is known as oblateness. Find the Earth's oblateness.
3. Discuss how to determine the mass of the Earth using the law of universal
1.2. Motion of the Earth and the Seasons
From geocentric to heliocentric view
Ancient Greek philosophers believed that the Earth is at the center of the
universe. They argued that the Sun, the Moon, and the planets (Mercury,
Venus, Mars and Jupiter) all move in circular orbits around the Earth.
This idea is Aristotle's geocentric (Earth-centered) view of the universe.
Eudoxus (408 - 356 B.C.) constructed a series of concentric spheres on
which the Moon, the Sun and the planets moved in perfect circular
motions. However, his model did not account for the observed
retrograde motion of Mars.
Apollonius (265 - 190 B.C.) was able to explain the retrograde motion of
Mars by including a small circle called an epicycle.
An epicycle is a small circle that revolves on a larger circle around the Earth.
Aristarchus (c. 310 - 230 B.C.) is believed to have been the first scientist
to adopt the idea that the Sun, not the Earth, is at the center of the
universe. This heliocentric (Sun-centered) hypothesis of Aristarchus
failed for lack of concrete evidence of the motion of the Earth.
Some 2000 years after Aristarchus, during the period of renaissance, the
heliocentric view was reconsidered and adopted by Copernicus (1473 -
Johannes Kepler (1571 - 1630) studied Tycho Brahe's (1546 - 1601)
massive collection of planetary data and developed the laws of planetary
The Motion of the Earth
The Earth moves around the Sun at an average speed of 30km/s in an
elliptical orbit. This motion is called the revolution of the Earth.
Since the Earth orbit is elliptical, its distance from the Sun varies
throughout the year. The position of closest distance is called perihelion
(about 145 million km). The Earth passes through this point around
The farthest point from the Sun is called aphelion (about 151 million
km). The Earth is at this point around July 4
The average distance between the Sun and the Earth is 149.6 million km.
This distance is defined as 1AU (Astronomical Unit):
1 AU = 149.6 × 10
The orbital period of the Earth is 365.25636 mean solar days (see
Consequences of the Earth's revolution
1. Different views of the sky. As the Earth changes its position in space
we see different star groups at different times of the year.
2. Occurrence of different seasons. (Discussed below)
We see the Sun, Moon and the planets set and rise each day because of
the Earth's rotation about its axis. The period of time required for one
rotation of the earth on its axis is called a day. Two types of days are
defined based on whether the sun or a star is used as a reference object.
These are the solar day and the sidereal day.
The solar day is the length of time between two consecutive passages of
the sun across the meridian. The solar day varies in length because of the
variation of the Earth's orbital speed. The length of the solar day
averaged over a year is known as the mean solar day and is defined to
be exactly 24
The sidereal day is the time it takes the Earth to rotate once relative to a
distant star not the Sun. It is defined as 23
, which is about 4
min shorter than the mean solar day.
The length of the sidereal day is known to vary because of a number of
1. Regular slowing down of the Earth's rotation due to energy losses in
tidal actions. The following table shows that the length of the day is
145mil km 151mil km
Period Length of day
Cambrian, 500 million years ago 21 hours
Devonian, 300 million years ago 22 hours
Upper Carboniferous, 290 million years ago 22.6 hours
Mesozoic, 70 million years ago 23.67 hours
Today 23.93 hours
2. Redistribution of mass in the Earth's ice sheet and glacier coverage
3. Atmospheric and oceanic circulations due to seasonal variations.
1. Why does the Earth have day and night?
2. Why do day and night alternate?
3. Why are day and night unequal in length most of the year?
4. Why do day and night change in length from day to day?
5. Will the length of the day keep increasing as shown in the table above
or will it stop increasing at some point in time?
Over a period of many years the direction of the Earth's axis shifts
slowly. As a consequence, the positions of the stars change. For
example, at present, the North Pole points toward Polaris and at about
15,000 A.D., Draco will be the Pole star. Polaris will be over the North
Pole once again after one precessional period, which is about 26,000
The precession of the Earth's axis is caused by the gravity of the Sun and
(especially) the Moon acting on Earth's equatorial bulge. The planets
also have a small influence on precession.
The direction of the Earth's axis undergoes an additional small wavy
motion called nutation, with a period of 18.6 years.
The cause of nutation is the varying pull of the Moon on the equatorial
bulge as the inclination of the Moon's orbital plane to the plane of the
equator varies in a period of 18.6 years, due to the regression of the
nodes of the Moon's orbit.
The body of the Earth wobbles slightly relative to its axis causing the
latitudes of all places to change by small amounts.
Evidences suggest that the positions of the poles have very slowly
wondered for long distances over the Earth's surface during hundreds of
millions of years of geologic time.
Seasons are caused by the constant tilt of the rotation axis of the Earth as
it orbits the Sun. As a result, each hemisphere receives different amounts
of heat during the year.
On June 21, the Northern Hemisphere is tipped toward the Sun. Viewed
from the Earth, the Sun will be over the Tropic of Cancer that is 23½º
north of the equator. June, July and August are the hottest months and
the days are longer in the Northern Hemisphere. These months make
summer time in the north and because of this June 21 is called summer
solstice. In the Southern Hemisphere conditions are quite opposite. Week
Sun and short days prevail and they make June, July and August the
winter months in the Southern Hemisphere.
Six months later, on December 21, the Earth is at the opposite side of its
orbit and the North Pole is tipped away from the Sun. This date is called
winter solstice. During winter solstice, the Sun will be located at the
tropic of Capricorn, 23½º south of the equator. It is wintertime in the
Northern Hemisphere and weak Sun and short days prevail through
December, January and February. The same months make summertime
in the Southern Hemisphere.
From June 21 to December 21, the Sun appears to move from Cancer to
Capricorn passing the equator on September 23. Then, from December
21 to June 21, the Sun appears to move from Capricorn to Cancer
passing the equator again on March 21. On March 21 and September 23,
when the Sun is over the equator, daytime and nighttime are
approximately equal throughout the world and the strength of the
sunshine is the same in both hemispheres. On March 21, spring begins in
the Northern Hemisphere and fall begins in the Southern Hemisphere.
This date is called spring (vernal) equinox. On September 23, the
Northern Hemisphere begins its fall and the Southern Hemisphere begins
its spring and this date is called fall (autumnal) equinox.
1.3. Phases and Eclipses
The Moon is a natural satellite of planet Earth. It revolves the Earth in an
elliptical orbit in a period of one month. The length of the month
depends on the reference frame in which it is measured. When measured
with respect to the stars, it takes the Moon 27
one cycle around the Earth. This period of time is called the sidereal
month. The synodic (lunar) month, on the other hand, is the time it
takes the Moon to complete one cycle of phases, say, from one full
Moon to the next full Moon. The synodic month is 29
The nearest position of the Moon is 356,410 km from the Earth and is
referred to as the perigee. The farthest position is known as the apogee
and it is 406,697 km from the Earth.
Phases of the Moon
While the Moon is orbiting the Earth, we see varying amounts of its
illuminated face. This causes the Moon's apparent shape through the
month. The sequence of shapes we see from Earth are known as the
phases of the Moon. The full cycle of phases is completed in one
We always see the same face of the Moon because the rotational period
is equal to the orbital period.
The different positions of the Moon with respect to the Earth-Sun
direction are called configurations. The diagram below shows the
configurations and phases of the Moon.
Eclipse is the obscuring of one celestial body by another, particularly,
that of the Sun or a planetary satellite. An observer on Earth could see
two types of eclipses: lunar and solar eclipses.
A lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth is between the Moon and the Sun
and its shadow falls on the Moon. Lunar eclipses could be partial or
total. Lunar eclipses are observed at full Moon.
A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon is between the Earth and the Sun
and its shadow falls on the Earth. Solar eclipses could be partial, total or
annular. Solar eclipses are observed at new Moon.
A planet or a satellite lit by the Sun casts a conical shadow in space. At
any point within that cone the light of the Sun is wholly obscured. This
dark shadow cone is called the umbra. Surrounding the umbra is a
region of partial shadow called penumbra.
A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon completely passes into the
umbra. The period of totality depends on how the Moon passes through
First Quarter Moon
the umbra. If it moves right through the center, it is obscured for about 2
A partial lunar eclipse occurs when part of the passing Moon enters the
umbra and part in the penumbra.
Total solar eclipses occur when the Moon's umbra reaches the Earth.
The area in which a total solar eclipse is visible on the surface of the
Earth is never more than 270 km across. A total solar eclipse is usually
visible for about 3 min.
In areas where the penumbra of the Moon's shadow but, the Sun is only
partly obscured, and a partial solar eclipse occurs.
At certain times when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun,
its shadow does not reach the Earth. At such times an annular eclipse of
the Sun occurs, that is, only a ring of the Sun's disk is visible around the
black disk of the Moon.
We don't see eclipses every new and full Moon because the Moon's orbit
is inclined by about 5° relative to the Earth's. Often, in its new or full
phase, the Moon lies below or above the Earth' s orbit and its shadow
cannot fall on the Earth, nor can the Earth's shadow fall on it. However,
there are times, at least twice each year, when the Moon, the Earth and
the Sun line up and eclipses can occur.
1.4. Rockets and Satellites
Rockets are devices that burn solid or liquid chemical propellants in their
motors. The burnt hot gases are ejected in a jet through a nozzle at the
rear of the rocket at extremely high speed. The rockets forward motion
(thrust) is produced by reaction to the rearward expulsion of the hot
1. What physical principle applies to rocket propulsion? Discuss in
detail and give other examples.
2. The types of rockets discussed in this section are spacecraft launch
vehicles. Give examples of other type of rockets.
Satellites are natural or artificial objects orbiting a larger astronomical
object, usually a planet.
Artificial satellites are used for scientific research and other purposes,
such as communication, weather forecasting, earth resources
management, and military intelligence.
1. What is a geostationary satellite?
2. How can a satellite be used to determine the mass of the Earth?
Chapter 2. The Earth's Atmosphere
2.1. Origin and Composition of the Atmosphere
The atmosphere is a mixture of gases that surround the Earth. Almost
99% of the atmosphere lies within 30 km of the Earth's surface.
The Earth's atmosphere is colorless, odorless and tasteless. It is mobile,
elastic and compressible.
The atmosphere is suitable for living things:
It contains O
needed by animals and plants.
It has a temperature range that helps living organisms survive.
The atmosphere protects the Earth from dangerous radiations and
bombardments (UV radiations, meteors).
By applying the methods of radiometric dating, it was found that the
Earth's original atmosphere developed about 4.6 billion years ago when
the planet formed.
The original atmosphere of the Earth was dominated by Hydrogen (H
) and Methane (CH
). It is believed that these lightweight
gases have escaped during the early ages of the Earth. There are several
i. UV radiation from the Sun breaks the hydrogen atoms from these
gases and subsequently hydrogen escapes for the Earth's gravity
is too week to hold it. (Huge planets like Jupiter and Saturn can
hold such light gases.)
ii. The original atmosphere was wiped by explosive waves from the
If the original atmosphere has gone, where did today's air come from?
[The atmosphere we have today is known as a secondary atmosphere.]
There are two theories:
i. Comet impacts
- Comets are made of frozen water and gases.
- Numerous comet impacts could have delivered enough water
and gas to form the atmosphere and gases.
ii. Volcanic eruptions
- Around the first billion years of the Earth's history, gases
trapped in the Earth's hot interior were expelled by a large
number of volcanoes.
- Volcanic eruptions contain water vapor (~ 85%), CO
(~10%), a relatively small amount of nitrogen, some other
gases and dust particles.
- Through hundreds of millions of years, the volcanic water
vapor condenses into a thick cloud. When the Earth cooled
sufficiently, rain started to fall for 40,000 years and filled the
- The rain dissolved much of the carbon dioxide leaving out
nitrogen as the principal constituent of the atmosphere. CO
would have reacted with the rocks of the Earth's crust to form
the carbonate minerals.
The present atmosphere of the Earth is primarily a mixture of two gases:
Nitrogen (78%) and oxygen (21%). Neither of the theories discussed
above (comet impacts and volcanic eruptions), can account for the large
amount of oxygen in today's atmosphere. Where, then, did the oxygen
originate? There are two possible answers: Photosynthesis and
Geological evidences show that primitive life capable of
photosynthesis evolved in the oceans. They used Sun light, water
and carbon dioxide to produce oxygen. [Photosynthesis
combination of H
O and CO
(c. 570 million years ago, the oxygen content of the atmosphere and
oceans became high enough to permit marine life capable of
respiration. c. 400 million years ago, when the atmosphere contains
enough oxygen, air breathing animals emerge from the waters.)
- Plants have created most of our oxygen by photosynthesis but
- Water molecules are split into hydrogen and oxygen
molecules by UV radiation from the Sun, a process known as
photodissociation. The hydrogen, being light, escaped the
Earth's gravity and oxygen remained behind.
- This process, however, is too slow to account for the present
percentage of oxygen.
The principal components of the atmosphere are Nitrogen (78%) and
The remaining 1% includes Argon (0.9%), CO
(0.03%), water vapor,
hydrogen, ozone, methane, carbon monoxide, helium, neon, krypton, and
The atmosphere also contains small particles called aerosols.
-- is vital for all life forms
-- combines with all other elements
-- is a reason for combustion
-- is chemically inactive
-- is a constituent of all living matter (organic compounds)
-- regulates oxygen by diluting oxygen
-- scatters the blue portion of Sun light and makes the sky appears blue
-- is a product of combustion
-- is constantly added to the atmosphere by the burning of fossil fuels
(coal, oil, natural gas) and from fermentation and animal respiration
-- used by green plants in photosynthetic processes
-- absorbs IR radiation from the ground and, therefore, reduces heat loss.
This phenomenon is known as the greenhouse effect.
-- varies from 0% in cold dry air to 4% in humid hot air
-- is significant for climate changes (it is the source of all clouds and
-- absorbs IR radiation, causing a greenhouse effect
-- 99% is found within 6 km of the ground
-- is found in a very small quantity (0.00005%) at a height of 25 km.
-- it is the most efficient absorber of UV radiation
-- is formed by the following reactions:
i. During the day, atomic oxygen is formed by photodissociation of O
+ hv 2O
ii. During the night ozone forms by the reaction
+ O + M O
where M is any other molecule needed to conserve momentum.
-- Ozone is destroyed by the following reactions:
i. Photodissociation during the day by UV radiation
+ hv O
O is immediately converted to O
by reaction (ii) above.
ii. Reaction with NO
+ NO O
iii. Reaction with chlorofluorocarbons
Cl + O
ClO + O
ClO + O Cl + O
Cl is reformed and the reaction can be repeated any number of times.
IR radiation absorbed by
Ground absorbs visible
radiation; it warms up and
-- are small particles from deserts, volcanic eruptions, smoke from forest
fires, pollutants of different types, salt crystals from evaporating sea
sprays and debris of numerous meteors.
-- Scatter short wavelengths and make the sky appear blue and the Sun
yellowish and reddish in the evening and morning sky.
2.2. Structure of the Atmosphere
According to its composition the atmosphere is divided into two parts:
homosphere and hetrosphere.
The gases are well mixed
Extends up to 80 km
Gases stratify according to density
Part of the atmosphere above 80 km
Temperature and altitude
The variation of temperature with vertical distance is called lapse rate.
Two types of variations are distinguished:
A normal lapse rate occurs when the temperature decreases with
A negative lapse rate (inversion) is an increase of temperature with
The atmosphere has four thermal layers:
16 km thick at the equator and 10 km thick at the equator
Supports weather processes and life
Temperature decreases with altitude (ground heats up first)
At the top of the troposphere (tropopause) the temperature is – 60ºC
Layer of atmosphere next to the troposphere
Extends from 12 to 50 km
Temperature varies from – 60ºC at the base to 0ºC at the top
(Stratopause) due to absorption of UV by O
Extends from 50 to 80 km
Temperature falls to a minimum of – 100ºC at the mesopause
Outermost layer extending from 80 km to the outer space
Temperature rises to 500ºC at an altitude of 150 km. Above this height
the temperature remains constant.
It has two parts: ionosphere and exosphere
Layer of ionized gases
Ranges from 100 to 400 km of altitude
Reflects radio signals back to Earth
Solar electrons pulled by the Earth's magnetic field toward the poles
interact with the ionosphere and produce a colorful display in the sky
known as aurora.
Portion of the atmosphere above the ionosphere
The magnetic field traps charged particles from the Sun in two regions
at altitudes of 3000 km and 25000 km. These regions of trapped
particles are known as Van Allen radiation belts
2.3. Major Air Circulation
The two main causes of air circulation are unequal heating by the Sun
and Coriolis effect due to the rotation of the Earth.
Unequal heating (global effect)
The heat absorbed per unit area near the equator is much greater than
that absorbed near the poles.
As a result, pressure (density) differences appear in the atmosphere.
These pressure differences cause the air to move from one region to the
Generally, air in hot areas rises, cools at high altitudes and descends
Unequal heating (local effect)
Locally, unequal heating produces coastal breezes, which are
small-scale air circulations
The Coriolis effect is an apparent force due to the Earth's eastward
rotation. It is the reason for the deflection of winds blowing toward the
equator or toward the poles.
Warm air rises
in the tropics
Convection in large-scale
Daytime circulation of air
results in sea breezes
Nighttime circulation of air
results in land breezes
Land is cooler
Land is warmer
Water is warmer
Water is cooler
Coriolis effect in the N.H. Coriolis effect in the S.H.
Winds veer to the right Winds veer to the left
At the equator
Because of the Coriolis effect, air moving out of a high pressure center
deflects to the right forming anticyclones in the northern hemisphere.
Similarly, air pulled in toward a low pressure center deflects to the right
in the northern hemisphere forming cyclones.
In the southern hemisphere, the wind circulates counterclockwise aroud a
high and clockwise around a low.
2.4. Global Wind Systems
Warm, humid air rises at the equator, creating a low-pressure belt known as
the doldrums (windless zone around the equator).
The warm air rises to the top of the troposphere and moves toward the poles.
The Coriolis effect deflects it eastward until it reaches 30° lat North or South.
At this latitude the air descends and a major portion returns to the equator.
The 30° latitudes are known as the horse latitudes where we have the major
deserts of the world. [Saharan, Arabian and Iranian deserts in the northern
hemisphere and Atacama, Kalahari and Australian deserts in the southern
The ground flow coming from the horse latitudes to the equator forms the
northeasterly trades and the southeasterly trades. The cells between the
equator (0°) and the horse latitudes (30°) are known as the Hadley cells.
Part of the air descending at 30° lat advances as a ground flow toward the 50°
lat forming the prevailing westerlies. The low-pressure regions near 50° lat
north and south of the equator are known as the polar fronts. The convection
cells between the horse latitudes (30° lat) and the polar fronts (60° lat) are
called Ferrel cells.
Cold air sinks at the poles and streams outward to the polar fronts forming the
polar easterlies in both hemispheres.
Anticyclones in the N.H.
around a high
Cyclones in the N.H.
around a low
2.5. Factors of Weather
Weather is the state of the atmosphere at a particular place during a short
period of time.
The factors that determine the weather conditions of an area are:
All weather factors are interdependent.
amount varies with seasons, latitudes and cloud cover
determines the level of temperature
47% is absorbed by land and water bodies
Write a short note on the solar radiation budget our planet receives
amount of rain, drizzle, snow or hail that falls from clouds
greatest horizontal distance at which large objects on the ground
(buildings, mountains) cab be recognized by the naked eye
reduced by smoke, fog and other particles in the atmosphere
the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere
warm air holds more air vapor than cold air. For example, air at 30°C
can hold up to 30 g/m
of water vapor while air at 0°C can hold only
of water vapor.
Absolute humidity is the amount of water vapor per cubic meter of air.
Relative humidity is the percentage of the maximum amount of water
vapor that the air can hold at a given temperature.
vapor water of amount Maximum
Humidity lative Re × =
2.6. Water Cycles and Clouds
The different sources of water on planet Earth include:
ii. glaciers and ice sheets
v. ground water
vii. plants and animals
viii. atmospheric water vapor
These sources of water constitute the hydrosphere of the Earth.
The hydrologic (water cycle)
The processes in the hydrosphere that starts as evaporation, passes
through condensation and ends as precipitation.
Despite the continuous change of state and location, the total water
budget remains in balance.
Aerosols (dust particles) that facilitate the condensation process
Relative humidity is nearly 100% when water vapor condenses
- Small (Aitken) nuclei are less than 0.2um in diameter
- large nuclei range from 0.2um to 1.0um in diameter.
- giant nuclei have sizes larger than 1um.
Could be hydroscopic (water-seeking) or hydrophobic (water-repelling)
Formed when the atmosphere cools below its dew point, the temperature
at which relative humidity is 100%.
Consist of water droplets and ice crystals (2 - 100um) sustained by
upward moving air currents
There are 10 main cloud families, divided into groups based on their
i. High clouds (13 - 5 km)
Cirrus: fine, feathery clouds consisting of ice crystals
Cirrocumulus: aligned in rows with a gap of clear sky
Cirrostratus: thin sheet of ice crystals that may produce halos
ii. Middle clouds (7 - 2 km)
Altocumulus: white and gray with wavy or parallel appearance
Altostratus: gray; cover the sky partly or wholly; show Sun/Moon
Nimbostratus: dark; produce steady and continuous rain or snow
iii. Low clouds (2 - 0 km)
Stratocumulus: gray lumps or rolls; often covering the whole sky
Stratus: uniform base
Cumulus: thick, wool-like, flat bases
Cumulonimbus: lighting and thunder accompanied by heavy
rain, snow or hail
A shallow layer of cloud at or near ground level is called fog.
2.7. Change of Weather
The changes in the weather elements are associated with the formation and
transportation of huge bodies of air known as air masses.
Large bodies of air having nearly uniform temperature and humidity at
any given altitude
Form whenever the atmosphere remains in contact with a large,
relatively uniform land or sea surface
The Earth's major air masses originate in polar and subtropical latitudes
known as source regions.
Examples of source regions:
i. Polar: Snow-covered plains of Canada, Siberia
ii. Tropical and subtropical: Oceans at 30° lat, hot and arid Sahara
Major air masses
In terms of their temperature air masses are classified as Polar (P) and
In terms of their humidity air masses could be continental (c) or
The following table describes the four major air masses.
Air mass Description
cP Cold, dry, stable
cT Hot, dry, stable
mP Cold, moist, unstable
mT Warm, moist, unstable
A front is the interface or transition zone between two air masses of
Frontal zones are boundaries of highly active weather changes. These
weather changes are:
Sharp temperature changes
Changes in relative humidity
Shifts in wind directions
Considerable cloudiness and precipitation
There are four types of fronts: cold fronts, warm fronts, stationary
fronts and occluded fronts.
The difference between a cold front and a warm front is the direction in
which the front moves.
A cold front moves to the warm area.
A warm front moves to the cold area.
Consequences of a cold front:
Sudden drop in temperature
Heavy rain and thunderstorms from cumulus and cumulonimbus
Consequences of a warm front:
Formation of cirrus, stratus and nimbostratus clouds
Gentle rain from nimbostratus clouds
Stationary fronts are weather fronts that remain over an area for several
An occluded front forms when warm air is squeezed aloft between two
merging cold air masses.
It is possible to tell in advance the weather conditions of an area
using the principles of physics and meteorology. The prediction of
the weather based on such principles is known as weather
Scientific weather forecasting relies on empirical and statistical
techniques, such as
2.7...i.1. measurements of temperature, humidity, atmospheric
pressure, wind speed and direction, and precipitation,
2.7...i.2. and computer-controlled mathematical models.
Write a report on
1. the different techniques of weather forecasting.
2. the causes of climate change
O L D
Cold Air Receding
Occluded Cold Front
Occluded Warm Front
Chapter 3. Geology of the Earth
A mineral is any naturally occurring homogeneous solid that has a definite
chemical composition and crystal structure.
Four conditions must be satisfied for a substance to be a mineral:
It must be a crystalline solid.
It must occur naturally.
It must be inorganic.
It must have a definite chemical composition.
The atoms of a mineral are arranged in a 3D array forming a regularly
repeating, orderly pattern known as a crystal structure. For example, the
mineral halite (NaCl) has cubic (isometric) crystal structure. [See Mekbib,
the basic crystal systems, Page 138, Appendix F]
Human-made crystalline compounds are not regarded as minerals.
There are synthetic equivalents of various minerals, such as emeralds and
diamonds, manufactured for commercial purposes.
Minerals are formed by inorganic processes.
Organic substances (compounds of carbon oxygen and hydrogen) made by
leaving organisms are not regarded as minerals.
Definite chemical composition
The composition of a mineral is expressed as chemical formula.
The formula always shows the same ratio of elements.
Although most minerals are chemical compounds, a small number are
Examples of minerals
Quartz has the chemical formula SiO
Halite, known as sodium chloride, has the formula NaCl
The formula for olivine is (Fe, Ma)
There are six basic crystal systems known to crystallographers: Triclinic,
Monoclinic, Orthorhombic, Hexagonal, Tetragonal and Cubic (Isometric)
Nearly 3000 distinctive mineral types have been discovered. The most
important ones are divided into five families based on their chemical
composition. These are Silicates, Carbonates, Oxides Sulfates and Sulfides.
Silicates are composed of the most abundant elements in the Earth's crust,
oxygen (~ 45%) and silicon (~ 28%).
Second in abundance are the oxides which are combinations of oxygen with
Combination of oxygen with carbon and sulfur produces the mineral groups
carbonates and sulfates, respectively.
The halides are formed by combinations of sodium, chlorine, iodine, bromine
and fluorine. [See Mekbib, page 57]
The physical properties of minerals
Physical properties are used to identify an unknown mineral. These are
color, streak, luster, hardness, external crystal form, cleavage, fracture,
specific gravity and other properties.
For some minerals color is a useful property. For many other minerals
such as quartz color is extremely variable and, therefore, it is a poor
procedure to totally depend on color to identify such minerals.
A mineral in a powder form (pulverized mineral) has a different color
than the color of the specimen itself. This color of a pulverized mineral
is known as a streak. For instance, hematite (Fe
) always leaves a
reddish brown streak though the sample may be brown or red or silver.
The quality and intensity of light that is reflected from the surface of a
mineral is known as luster. Luster is either metallic or nonmetallic.
The relative ease or difficulty with which a smooth surface of a mineral
can be scratched is known as Hardness. Hardness is measured by Mohs'
scale shown below.
On Mohs' hardness scale, talc, the softest substance, is designated as 1.
Diamond, the hardest substance on Earth, has a hardness of 10 on this
Mohs' hardness scale
1. Talc 6. Feldspar (File)
2. Gypsum (Finger nail) 7. Quartz
3. Calcite (Copper Coin) 8. Topaz
4. Fluorite 9. Corundum
5. Apatite (Knife blade, glass) 10. Diamond
External crystal form
The crystal form of a mineral is the arrangement of its faces in a definite
geometric relationship. For example, halite maybe regarded as a series
of cubes stacked in three dimensions and thus its crystal form is usually
a cube with faces at 90° to each other.
cleavage is the ability of a mineral to break, when struck along preferred
directions. A mineral splits apart along certain planes because at these
planes the atomic bonding is weakest.
Quartz has no cleavage because its bonds are equally strong in all
Minerals that do not have cleavage break in irregular surfaces called
Specific gravity is the ratio of the mass of a substance to the mass of an
equal volume of water.
properties such as taste, smell, magnetic and optical properties can be
used to identify a mineral. For example, Halite tastes salty, clay
minerals smell earthy when moistened and magnetite (an iron oxide)
attracts pieces of metal.
A rock is a naturally formed, consolidated material composed of grains of one
or minerals. For instance, granite is made of quartz and feldspar.
There are three major classes of rocks grouped based on the processes that
formed them. These are igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic.
Are formed when hot, molten material called magma cools and crystallizes
May be intrusive or extrusive
Intrusive rocks are igneous rocks formed when magma solidifies below the
Extrusive rocks are igneous rocks formed either by effusive eruption or
volcanic eruption of magma that crystallizes on the surface of the Earth.
Sedimentary rocks are formed at the Earth’s surface where sediments of
preexisting rocks are deposited long enough to become compacted and
cemented into hard beds or strata.
What is sediment?
Sediment is the collective name for loose, solid particles that originate from
Weathering and erosion of preexisting rocks
Chemical precipitation from solution, including secretion by organisms in
Weathering refers to destructive processes that change the physical and
chemical character of a rock at or near the surface of the Earth.
Physical (or mechanical) weathering includes processes that break a rock
into smaller pieces. Water freezing and expanding in the rock cracks
causes physical disintegration of the rock.
Chemical weathering is the decomposition of rock by agents like water
and atmospheric gases into new chemical compounds.
Transportation is the movement of eroded particles by agents such as rivers,
glaciers, waves or wind. When the transported material settles deposition
occurs. Sediment is deposited when running water, waves glaciers, or wind
loses energy and can no longer transport its load.
Lithification is the process by which loose sediment is converted into
sedimentary rock. Most sedimentary rocks are lithified by a combination of
compaction, cementation and crystallization.
Compaction is a process of packing loose sediment grains tightly together
Cementation: Precipitation of cement around sediment grains binds then
into a firm, coherent rock.
Crystallization is the development and growth of crystals by precipitation
from solution at or near the Earth’s surface. Such rocks lack cement and
have no pore space.
Sedimentary rocks may be clastic, nonclastic or evaporites
Clastic: a sedimentary rock composed of fragments of preexisting rocks.
Example: sandstones (contain ferric ions)
Nonclastic: a sedimentary rock formed by chemical and biological
agencies from material in solution (ions dissolved in sea water). Example:
calcite which later become lime stones, dolomite
Evaporites: sedimentary rocks resulting from the evaporation of seawater.
Example: rock salt, gypsum
Metamorphism is the transformation of preexisting rock into texturally or
mineralogically distinct new rock as a result of high temperature, high
pressure or both, but without the rock melting in the process.
Metamorphic rock is a rock formed by metamorphism
A metamorphic rock has characteristic texture and particular mineral
content due to several factors. The most important ones are:
Composition of the parent rock before metamorphism
Temperature and pressure during metamorphism
Effects of tectonic forces
Effects of fluids such as water
Types of metamorphism
Contact (thermal) metamorphism
- High temperature is the dominant factor. The heat energy of the
magma rising from deep within the Earth is very high. It increases
sharply the temperature of the rocks with which it becomes in
- The confining pressure is relatively low. This is because contact
metamorphism mostly takes place near the Earth’s surface (< 10km
Regional (dynamothermal) metamorphism
- Takes place at considerable depth underground
- Formed under the combined effect of heat, confining pressure and
- Depending on the pressure and temperature conditions during
metamorphism, a wide verity of metamorphic rocks could be
The rock cycle
3.3. The Earth’s interior
We do not have direct access to the interior of the Earth. The deepest hole
drilled so far is less than 15km, which is only about 0.2% of the Earth’s
Then how do we know about the deep interior of the Earth? Mostly by use of
indirect techniques. Data about the Earth’s interior can be gathered by
Information from heat flow measurements
Studies of seismic waves
Other sources such as volcanic rocks that come from great depths
Density, pressure and temperature
The average density of the Earth is 5.5 g/cm3. Most rocks on the surface,
however, have densities from 2 g/cm3 to 3.5 g/cm3. This indicates that
the Earth’s interior must be denser than 5.5 g/cm3.
Pressure increases with depth to about 3.5 megabars at the center. The
average pressure in the Earth’s interior is 1Mb. The enormous pressure
crushes the material inside the Earth causing its density to increase. It
also changes the mineral structure of rocks and resolidifies molten
The heat in the Earth’s interior has its origin from radioactive decays and
heat remaining from the time of the Earth’s formation. Measurements in
mines show that as one moves inward the temperature increases by about
30K per km. Direct evidence for the increase in temperature with depth
comes from volcanic magmas that reach the surface at temperatures
greater than 1000K.
It is long known that the Earth has a magnetic field. This magnetic field
could not be produced by a powerful permanent magnet at the center
(core) of the Earth because the high temperature of the core destroys the
permanent magnetism of any magnetic material.
What, then, is the source of the Earth’s magnetism? One widely accepted
hypothesis (dynamo model) for the Earth’s magnetic field suggests that
somewhere with in the Earth there must be a large-scale motion of
conducting (probably metallic) material.
The magnetic poles are displaced about 11½˚ from the geographic poles
and they appear to be moving slowly around the geographic poles.
Evidences show that the Earth’s magnetic field has periodically reversed
its polarity in the past.
Earthquakes produce seismic waves that travel at great speeds through
the Earth. Earthquakes occur when sections of the Earth’s crust move
suddenly relative to each other.
Study of seismic waves gives information about the density at all levels
in the Earth and the depths of different layers. Regions in which density
changes abruptly with depth indicate changes in chemical composition,
mineral structure or physical state.
Internal structure of the Earth
The study of seismic reflection and seismic refraction shows three main
zones of the Earth’s interior: the crust, the mantle and the core.
The Earth’s crust
The crust is the uppermost layer of the Earth.
The oceanic crust varies from 5 to 8 km
Continental crust averages 30 to 50 km in thickness.
Seismic waves travel faster in oceanic crust than in continental crust
indicating that the two crusts are made of different types of rocks.
The layer below the crust
The speed of seismic waves increases sharply at the boundary between
the crust and the mantle
The mantle has three parts
- The upper mantle, like the crust, is solid and rigid. It extends down
to about 70 km. Together with the crust it forms the lithosphere.
- Between depths of 70 and 250 km the mantle is partially melted
because of high temperature. This partially melted zone is called
asthenosphere. The rocks here are likely to flow with relative ease
and zone is where magma is likely to be generated.
- Below the asthenosphere is the solid part of the mantle where
pressure compresses the rock to form denser minerals. Here the
speeds of seismic waves increase rapidly.
The mantle material has an average density of 3.5 g/cm3.
The Earth’s metallic core begins at a depth of about 2900 km.
Seismic wave refractions within the Earth’s core suggest that the core
has two parts: a liquid outer core and a solid inner core.
The inner core is subjected to a pressure so great that the metallic
material is solid. Because of its high density (13 g/cm3), this metal is
most likely iron and nickel mixed with small amounts of the lighter
elements such as sulfur, silicon, or oxygen.
3.4. Continental drift
The Theory of Plate Tectonics
Tectonics is the study of the origin and arrangement of the structural
features of the Earth’s surface (folds, faults, mountain belts, continents, sea
floors, earthquake belts).
Plate tectonics is a theory that the crust of the Earth is divided into large
regions (plates) that move very slowly relative to each other and change in
size. Interactions between the plates at the boundaries create mountains,
earthquakes, volcanoes and other geologic activities.
Some 30 years before, most geologists thought that the continents and
oceans were stable, permanent features of the planet. This point of view
changed by the theory of plate tectonics that brings together and unifies
many observed facts about the Earth’s outer layers. It describes the outer
layers as dynamic and changing.
The theory of plate tectonics is a combination of two previous ideas:
continental drift and sea-floor spreading.
In 1620, Francis Bacon noticed that the eastern and western shores of
the Atlantic Ocean were parallel and could be fitted together rather
In the1920s, Alfred Wegener noted the strong similarity of rocks
(mineral types) and fossils on opposite shores of the Atlantic.
Geologists observed similarities between magnetic alignments in the
rocks on opposite sides of the Atlantic.
These observed facts suggest that the continents were once joined together
and have split and moved apart from one another.
Wegener proposed that the present continents had been parts of a
supercontinent called Pangaea. (About 200 million years ago)
Pangaea began to break apart about 135 million years ago into two parts
called Laurasia and Gondwanaland.
Laurasia was the northern part of Pangaea that formed North America,
Europe and Asia (excluding India)
Gondwanaland was the southern part of Pangaea that formed South
America, Africa, India, Australia and Antarctica. India has drifted north
Recent evidence of continental drift
A much more precise fit between continental shelves, rather than the
The ice that moved onto South America has been traced to a source that
is now in Africa. Since the continental glaciers cannot move across the
oceans, how cloud we have similar glaciers on the costal lines of Africa
and South America? The answer seems simple: the two continents had
been joined together.
Broad belts of rock that match in type and age from one continent to
Sea-floor spreading is the splitting of the oceanic crust and subsequent
creation of new ocean floor by magma forces.
By 1960, geologists learned that there are ridges on the mid ocean floor that
extend for 60,000 km
Harry Hess proposed that the sea floor moves away from the mid oceanic
ridge as a result of mantle convection.
Why does the sea floor move? According to Hess’s hypothesis the sea-floor
spreading is driven by deep mantle convection. A slow convection of
molten material is set up by temperature differences deep in the earth’s
interior and when it comes near the crust it spreads out and drags the
surface layers with it breaking the crust apart in a phenomenon called
Plates and plate motion
A plate is a large mobile slab of rock that is part of the lithosphere. Plates
are made of oceanic crust (sea floor) and/or continental crust.
The plates, which are composed of blocks of lithosphere, move relative to
one another. They ride on the partially molten asthenosphere.
There are three types of plate boundaries:
A divergent plate boundary is a boundary between plates that are
moving apart. Here plates grow and separate and such boundaries
coincide with the crests of submarine mountain ranges called mid-
A convergent plate boundary lies between plates that are moving toward
each other. When the plates collide, one of them overrides the other or
they form mountains. When overriding occurs, the edge of the
overridden plate is driven down into the mantle and melted. This
process is called subduction. Subduction zones appear as deep ocean
A transform plate boundary is one at which plates move horizontally
past each other.
Causes of earthquake
An earthquake is a trembling and shaking of the ground caused by the
sudden release of energy in the rocks beneath the Earth’s surface
The waves of energy produced by an earthquake are called seismic waves.
The point within the Earth where seismic waves originate is called the focus
(or hypocenter) of the Earthquakes. The point on the Earth’s surface
directly above the focus is the epicenter.
Two types of seismic waves are generated during earthquakes:
Body waves that travel through the earth’s interior
Surface waves that travel on the Earth’s surface
There are two kinds of body waves: A P wave and an S wave
A P wave
Compressional wave in which the rock vibrates back and forth
parallel to the direction of wave propagation
The first (or primary) wave to arrive at a recording station
Traveling at speeds of 4 to 7 km/s
Passes through both solid and fluid materials
An S wave
Transverse wave in which rock vibrates perpendicular to the
direction of wave propagation
Slower compared to a P wave, moving at speeds ranging from 2 to 5
Cannot travel through a fluid
Surface waves are the slowest waves set off by earthquakes and cause more
The two most important kinds of surface waves are Love waves and
Love waves are most like S waves in that the particle motion is
perpendicular to the direction of the wave travel along the surface of the
Earth. Like S waves, Love waves do not travel through liquids
Rayleigh waves are like ocean waves causing rolling on the Earth’s surface.
They are very destructive.
Earthquakes And Plate Tectonics
The theory of plate tectonics explains most earthquakes as being caused by
interactions between two plates at their boundaries.
Divergent plate boundaries are marked by a narrow zone of shallow
earthquakes along normal faults.
Convergent boundaries are marked by a very broad zone of shallow quakes
Transform boundaries are marked by shallow quakes cause by strike-slip
motion along one or more faults.
Chapter 4. The Solar System
The Solar System consists of the Sun and other bodies orbiting in its gravitational field.
These other bodies are the nine planets, their moons, and swarms of asteroids and
comets. The two most fundamental features of the Solar System are its flattened structure
and the orderly orbital and spin properties of its planets.
4.1 The Sun
The Sun is a star composed of hot incandescent gas and formed at about 4.5 billion
It is the largest body in the solar system and its gravitational force holds all the
other bodies in the system in their orbits.
The light and heat energy are generated by nuclear reactions in its core.
Size, composition and other physical properties
o Diameter = 1.39 × 10
km, about 110 Earth-sized planets put in a row!
Mass = 1.99 × 10
kg, about 300,000 times as massive as the Earth.
Average density = 1.41g/cm
. (Why smaller than the density of the Earth?)
Density at the center = 150,000kg/m
Luminosity (amount of energy emitted per second) = 3.6 × 10
o The Sun is so huge that it makes about 99.9% of the mass of the solar
o The Sun is a sphere of hot gas held together by gravity. While gravity pulls
the gas inwards, the hot gas exerts pressure, pushing outward and balancing
gravity. This balance between pressure and gravity keeps the Sun in
o The spectrum of the Sun shows that it is mostly composed of hydrogen and
helium (more than 99%). It also contains very small proportions of all the
other chemical elements.
Hydrogen -------- about 74% of the total mass of the Sun.
Helium ----------- about 25% of the total mass of the Sun.
All the rest ------- about 1% (oxygen, carbon, iron, nitrogen, etc)
Due to the extremely large temperature, all elements are in gaseous
state, completely ionized in the inner parts and partially ionized in
the outer parts of the Sun.
The Sun has different layers.
o The Core
The Sun’s energy is produced within the core, the central part that is
25% of the Sun’s radius.
The temperature and pressure of the core are extremely large. The
temperature at the center of the core is 15.6 million K and falls to 8
million K at the outer part of the core. Virtually no energy is
produced beyond this region
The energy in the core is produced by the fusion of hydrogen into
helium. The fusion occurs through a series of nuclear reactions
known as proton-proton chain.
When four hydrogen nuclei (protons) combine to make one helium
nucleus, a tremendous amount of energy is released:
converted per second = 600 billion kg
produced per second = 596 billion kg
Difference = 4 billion kg
Energy equivalent = mc
= 4 × 10
× 9 × 10
= 3.6 × 10
Assignment: if the central 10% of the Sun’s mass is capable of
nuclear reactions, for how long will the Sun continue to radiate?
o The Radiative Zone
The part of the Sun next to the core is known as the Radiative Zone,
whose outer edge is at about 70% of the Sun’s radius.
In this region energy is transported by radiation in which ¸ photons
are emitted at one spot and absorbed at another within an average
distance of 1um. The numerous absorptions and random emissions
slow down the flow of energy towards the surface of the sun.
At about 70% of the Sun’s radius temperature drops to 1.5 million
o The Convection Zone
Next to the radiative zone is the Convection Zone. Here the solar
energy is transported by convection, that is, the overturning motions
of the gas carry nearly all of the energy outward.
The Sun’s convection zone extends to the surface of the Sun where
the Sun’s energy escapes into space.
It takes about 170,000 years for the energy produced at the Sun’s
center to reach the surface.
The Outer Layers of the Sun
o The Photosphere
The Photosphere is the layer next to the convection zone that we see
in the visible range of wavelengths.
It is a very thin layer of gas where most of the radiant energy is
converted into visible radiation and escapes.
In the photosphere temperature drops from 6500K to 4000K.
Since the photosphere is only about 0.07% of the radius of the Sun,
some take it as the surface of the Sun.
o The Solar Atmosphere
The atmosphere of the Sun consists of two parts: the chromosphere and the
corona both of which are clearly visible during total solar eclipse.
The chromosphere appears as a reddish ring during total solar
eclipse; it is rich in hydrogen with a temperature range of 4500K to
It is a very hot rarified gas that makes the outer part of the Sun’s
atmosphere with no outer boundary; it emits x-rays and its
temperature shoots up to 1 million Kelvin. Like the chromosphere,
we can see the corona during total solar eclipse.
Surface Features of the Sun
These are flames of gas that shoot outward from the chromosphere
and fall back due to the Sun’s strong gravity
They result from the disturbances in the strong magnetic field of the
Sun and may last for months.
Sunspots are regions of intense magnetic fields where the magnetic
field lines break through the surface.
Sunspots appear relatively darker because they are cooler than the
surrounding gas. They move across the Sun’s disk. After formation,
they may last for a few days or months and then disappear.
It was observed that the number spots rises and falls in a cycle of 11
o Solar flares
These are brief, bright eruptions of hot gas in the chromosphere due
to sudden releases of energy stored in the Sun’s magnetic field.
The sudden eruption may result in a gas of particles escaping the
Sun’s gravity and rushing across the solar system.
o The solar wind is ionized gas, mainly hydrogen and helium, moving
outward from the Sun into interplanetary space. It arises because the
corona’s high temperature gives its atoms enough energy to escape the
Sun’s gravity. The solar wind creates comet tails and auroras.
The planets orbit about the Sun in elliptical orbits and are much smaller than it.
They do not emit light of their own but shine by reflecting sunlight. The nine
planets are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and
Pluto in order of their distance from the Sun.
All the planets move around the Sun in nearly the same plane and they all travel in
the same direction: counterclockwise as seen from above the Earth’s North Pole.
As a planet orbits the Sun, it also spins on its rotation axis generally in the same
sense as its orbital motion, with the exception of Venus.
Spectral analysis of light reflected from the planets is used to understand the
composition of their atmospheres and surface rocks.
The internal planetary composition is studied by indirect methods such as density
The planets fall into two families called inner and outer planets based on their
size, composition and location in the Solar System.
The inner planets
o The inner planets are Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars.
o They are small rocky bodies with relatively thin or no atmospheres.
o The rocky planets are mostly composed of Silicon and Oxygen (SiO
other heavy elements such as aluminum (Al), magnesium (Mg), sulfur (S)
and iron (Fe).
o Astronomers sometimes use the word terrestrial to refer to the inner
planets. The terrestrial planets are so named because of their resemblance to
the Earth, that is, they have solid surfaces like the Earth.
o Mercury (Named for the Roman deity who was the messenger of the gods)
Mercury is the smallest terrestrial planet, closest to the Sun. It resembles
our moon in both size and appearance and is always viewed in the
morning and evening twilight. Mercury was visited by Mariner 10 in
1974 and 75.
R = 2439 km = 38% of Earth’s radius
M = 3.33 × 10
kg = 5.5% of Earth’s mass
Mean density = 5.40 g/cm
Has essentially no atmosphere because of its small gravitational
attraction (small size) and high temperature (proximity to Sun).
At the equator, noon temperatures reach about 700 K. Nighttime
temperatures drop to 100 K.
Like our Moon, Mercury’s surface is dominated by impact
craters, large plains, and scarps.
Large-scale movements or surface distortions are not observed.
Mercury’s high density cannot be attributed to gravitational
compression because of mercury’s small mass. It rather indicates an
iron-rich core and a thin silicate mantle
The small size of mercury may have allowed heat to escape
readily resulting in no tectonic activities.
Mercury’s magnetic field is an indication of a liquid metallic core,
though there is no seismic information,
Mercury’s orbit is more elliptical and its spin is very slow.
Rot. Period = 58.646 Earth days, Orbital period = 87.969 Earth days
Rotation period = ⅔ of Orbital period
Long solar day of 176 Earth days
Think: what would happen if Mercury’s rotational and orbital
period were the same?
o Venus (Named for the Roman goddess of love)
Venus is the brightest object in the sky, visible above the western
horizon in the evening and above the eastern horizon in the morning.
Venus is most like the Earth in radius, mass and density. Despite this
similarity, however, the two planets are fundamentally different in many
R = 6051 km = 95% of Earth’s radius
M = 4.87 × 10
kg = 82% of Earth’s mass
Mean density = 5.24 g/cm
The Venusian atmosphere is composed of CO
and small amounts of water vapor and other elements.
The atmosphere is so dense that it exerts a pressure roughly 100
times the atmospheric pressure here on Earth.
Clouds are composed of concentrated sulfuric acid droplets
The surface of Venus is so hot (~ 750 K) because its carbon
dioxide atmosphere creates a very strong greenhouse effect.
The upper atmosphere is very cool (~ 300 K, room temperature
here on Earth)
Surface feature (examined by Soviet landers, the Venera series, and
the orbiter Magellan in 1990)
Venus’s surface shows evidence of volcanic activity and crustal
distortion. But there is no evidence of plate tectonics.
There are many big impact craters on Venus but no oceans.
It is less mountainous with only two major highlands (Ishtar and
Aphrodite). Most of the surface is congealed lava plains.
Venus’s size similarity to Earth implies similar internal structure,
that is, Venus probably has a liquid iron core and rock mantle.
No seismic information, based on deductions from gravity and
Very weak magnetic field due to extremely slow rotation
Rotation period = 243 Earth days, longest in the solar system.
Orbital period = 224.7 Earth days, solar day = 117 Earth days
Axial tilt = 177.4°
Doppler shifts of reflected radar waves show that Venus has a
slow, retrograde rotation. Some astronomers thought that Venus
might have been struck by a huge planetesimal.
Think: What can you say about Venusian sunset and sunrise?
o Mars (Named for the Roman god of war)
The idea that Mars is a habitable planet was gradually abandoned as
new observations with better telescopes continue to progress.
R = 3397 Km ~ ½ the radius of the Earth
M ~ 10% of the mass of the Earth
Mean density = 3.9 g/cm
Spectra reveal that the atmosphere of Mars is mostly CO
with small amounts of Nitrogen (3%) and traces of oxygen and
Martian atmosphere is clear enough to see its surface from Earth.
Drifting clouds of dry ice (frozen CO
) and water-ice crystals
No rain despite clouds (little water, cold atmosphere)
Dust storms keep dust suspended in Mars's atmosphere at all
The density of the atmosphere is so low (~ 1% of the Earth’s) that
the carbon dioxide creates only a very weak greenhouse effect.
Little greenhouse effect and Mars’s great distance from the Sun
make the planet very cold. Equatorial noon temperature ~ 273 K
The average of daytime and nighttime temperatures is about 218
Mars has many volcanoes and craters. Ejected materials flowed
away from many craters, an indication that there may be
Martian faults and rifts indicate substantial crustal motion in the
Mars has permanent polar caps. The northern cap is mainly water
ice while the southern cap contains largely dry ice (frozen CO
Orbiter images revealed numerous channels and dry riverbeds
apparently formed by running water. This indicted that considerable
amounts of water once existed on Mars.
Immense deserts with dunes blown by Martian winds.
The Martian interior is differentiated like the Earth’s into crust,
mantle and iron core.
The crust of Mars is rich in iron, giving Mars its reddish color.
Its interior is probably cooler due to its small size (mass and
Therefore, low level of tectonic activity and weak magnetic field
Solar day = 24.66 hrs --- Compare to Earth’s solar day
Orbital period = 687 Earth days
Axial tilt = 24° --- Compare to Earth’s axial tilt
Think: Are there any seasons on Mars?
Mars has two tiny moons (about 10 km across) which might be
Is there life on Mars?
Biological experiments on the Viking landers produced no
conclusive evidence for biological activities so far.
Although the terrestrial planets are alike in being rocky, they differ from
one another because of differences in their masses, radii and distance from
the Sun. The terrestrial planets are heated by impacts and radioactive
decays until much of the iron sank to form a core, and light rocky material
floated to the surface to become the crust. Size determines which planet has
cooled at a faster rate and become volcanically inactive. The smaller
planets quickly became inactive while the larger remain tectonically and
o The outer planets
The outer planets are Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto.
They are gaseous, liquid or icy. Except for Pluto, they are much
larger than the inner planets and have deep, hydrogen-rich
The icy planets are frozen liquids and gases such as ordinary water
O), frozen carbon dioxide (CO
), frozen ammonia (NH
frozen methane (CH
) and so on.
The outer planets, except Pluto, are sometimes called Jovian planets
because of their resemblance to Jupiter. They do not have solid
Pluto, by far the smallest planet in the solar system, is icy and rocky.
o Jupiter (King of gods as it was called by the ancient Romans)
Jupiter is the largest planet in the solar system and more massive than
all the planets put together. Jupiter and the other giant planets were
examined by the spacecrafts Pioneers 10 and 11, Voyagers 1 and 2, and
Galileo starting in 1973.
R = 71492 Km ~ 11 × radius of Earth.
M = 1.90 × 10
kg ~ 318 × mass of Earth.
Mean density = 1.33 g/cm
(despite its huge mass and tremendous
Low density suggests large amounts of lighter gases
Spectral analysis shows that hydrogen and helium make up almost
99.9% the Jovian atmosphere.
There are also hydrogen-rich compounds such as methane (CH
), and water (H
The mass ratio of hydrogen to oxygen is 4:1, the same ratio as in
the Sun. this indicates that Jupiter retains almost all of the gas in its
vicinity during formation.
Swiftly moving, dense, parallel clouds cover the planet. Jupiter’s
clouds consist mainly of water, ammonia, ammonium hydrosulfide,
all of which are colorless. The clouds are colored by complex
organic molecules yet unidentified.
Jupiter shows many cloud features. One of these, the Great Red
Spot, is an atmospheric storm that has persisted for centuries.
The gas rising and falling due to convection in the upper layers is
subject to Coriolis effect due to the rapid rotation of Jupiter, and as a
result the gas deflects into powerful winds called jet streams seen
from here as cloud belts.
Invisible through the layers of clouds; impossible to probe with
seismic detectors. (Think: why?)
The low average density of Jupiter implies that its interior consist
mainly the lighter elements: hydrogen and helium. Moreover, since
in the deep interior pressure and temperature are very high, hydrogen
becomes denser and liquefies. There we have metallic hydrogen.
Metallic hydrogen has abundant free electrons. Vigorous
convection in the interior of Jupiter together with its rapid rotation
generate the planets large magnetic fields.
The average density of Jupiter is too large to say the planet is
entirely made of hydrogen and helium. Consequently, Jupiter’s core
must be rocky and metallic.
Jupiter’s interior is extremely hot (30,000 K). The heat is
probably generated by continued gravitational contraction. The heat
rises to the surface and escapes into space as IR radiation. That is,
Jupiter is self-luminous.
Jupiter looses more energy than it receives from the Sun. 60% of
the energy it emits is due to internal energy sources.
Orbital period = 11.86 yrs, Rotation period = 9.9 hours
Fast rotation results in bulged equator.
Jupiter has very thin rings made of numerous particles following
So far 16 Jovian moons are identified.
Four of the moons – Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto – are
very large. They are called Galilean satellites.
The large average densities of the Galilean satellites suggest that
their interiors are composed of mainly rocky materials.
o Saturn (Named for an ancient Roman harvest god, later identified by the
ancient Greeks as the father of the gods)
The second largest planet, surrounded by magnificent rings.
R = 57316 Km ~ 9 × radius of Earth.
M = 5.69 × 10
kg ~ 95 × mass of Earth.
Mean density = 0.69 g/cm
Low density implies that, like Jupiter, Saturn’s chemical makeup
is dominated by hydrogen and helium, the lighter gases.
The atmosphere Saturn, like Jupiter, is made primarily of
hydrogen and helium.
On Saturn, however, the ratio of hydrogen to helium is about 7 to
1, indicating that helium is less abundant in Saturn’s atmosphere
than in Jupiter’s atmosphere.
Saturn also has clouds with distinctive circulation patterns. It has
layers of ammonia, ammonium sulfide and water clouds are colored
by unknown molecules.
In the deep interior of Saturn, like Jupiter, hydrogen gradually
transformed from a gas to a liquid becoming an electrically
conducting metallic liquid.
The metallic hydrogen, high convection in Saturn’s interior and
its rapid spin together generate the planet’s strong magnetic field.
The core of Saturn contains large amounts of rock, metal and ice.
Energy is generated deep in the atmosphere probably by the
condensation of helium droplets
Radiates more energy than it gains from the Sun. 50% of the
energy emitted by Saturn comes from internal energy sources.
Orbital period = 29.46 yrs, Rotational period = 10.7 hours
Saturn has very thin but very wide rings. In addition, it has faint
inner and outer rings
The rings are a swarm of individual particles only a few
centimeters to a few meters across.
The ring particles are primarily composed of water and ice.
Saturn has several large moons and a dozen of smaller moons.
Titan is the largest Saturnian moon.
Astronomers believe that Titan’s surface is covered with oceans
of liquid nitrogen or hydrocarbon ethane (C
), or both and that
ethane rain may fall from its clouds.
o Uranus (Known as the God of the Heavens in ancient Greek mythology)
Uranus was discovered in March 1781 by William Herschel who was a
professional musician and later became an astronomer.
R = 4 × radius of Earth, M ~ 15 × mass of Earth
Average density = 1.2 g/cm
, larger than Jupiter’s and Saturn’s
Rich in hydrogen and methane; methane gives the planet its deep
blue color. Crystals of frozen methane form Uranus’s atmosphere
which absorb red light and scatter blue light from the Sun.
Uranus has almost no cloud features because of lack of
atmospheric convention. Heat is not flowing outward from the
interior of Uranus.
Astronomers believe that Uranus has a small rocky core covered
by a thick layer of water and molten rock. The outer layer is mostly
hydrogen and helium.
Uranus radiates essentially no internal heat.
Rotation period (near the equator) = 17 hours, bulging the planet’s
Orbital period = 84 years
axial tilt = 98° with respect to its orbital plane
Uranus has a set of narrow rings composed of a myriad of small
particles. The rings are very dark implying that they may be rich in
Uranus has 17 known satellites, 5 are large moons. The smaller
ones are composed probably of ice and rock.
Many of them are heavily cratered like our moon except Miranda.
o Neptune (Named for the Roman god of the sea)
Neptune is the outermost of the Jovian planets. It was discovered
Adams, a mathematics student at Cambridge, and Leverrier, a young
French astronomer, by applying celestial mechanics.
R ~ 3.9 × radius of Earth, M ~ 17 × mass of Earth
Average density = 1.67 g/cm
Similar to Uranus’s structure.
Like Jupiter and Saturn, Neptune radiates more than it gains from
the Sun. 60% of the energy it emits comes from internal sources.
Rotational period = 16 hours
Orbital period ~ 165 years
axial tilt = 30°
Neptune’s blue color is caused by methane in its atmosphere
It has cloud belts like Jupiter. The cloud belts are formed by gas
rising to the surface and deflected into wind currents by the Coriolis
Neptune’s rigs are composed of debris from small satellites
Compared to the rings of either Saturn or Uranus, Neptune’s rings
contain more dust. Moreover, the ring particles are not uniformly
distributed but form an arc in some places
Neptune has 8 known satellites. Two of them, Triton and Nereid,
are large. Triton is the second moon in the solar system known to
have an atmosphere
o Pluto (Named for the Greek and Roman god of the underworld)
Pluto is the last of the nine planets. It was discovered by comparing
images of objects the sky, which were taken a week apart, and by
carefully examining which object has changed position.
R ~ 0.2 × radius of Earth, M ~ 0.002 × mass of Earth
Average density = 1.8 g/cm
, a value that implies Pluto is a mix of
water, ice and rock.
Orbital period =248.5 years
Rotational period = 6.4 Earth days
Axial tilt = 122°
Surface and atmosphere
Pluto is covered mainly by frozen nitrogen with small proportions
of frozen carbon monoxide and methane.
Pluto has one moon, Charon.
The outer planets, except Pluto, are formed far from the Sun in a region
where the temperature is low enough for the planets to possess hydrogen-
rich material. Hydrogen-rich gases form a deep, colored atmosphere whose
density increases with depth and eventually becomes a liquid. The giant
planets are probably heated by continued gravitational contraction or
settling of heavier matter toward their cores. This heat flows outward,
generating convection of matter inside the planets. The spin of the planes
creates Coriolis effect on the rising gas, drawing it into cloud belts. The
spinning motion also creates equatorial bulge and when combined with
convection in the planets’ metallic cores it generates powerful magnetic
fields. All giant planets have satellites (made mostly of water, ice and rock)
and rings composed of small orbiting particles.
4.3 Satellites, Meteors, Asteroids and Comets
o As the planets orbit the Sun, most are themselves orbited by satellites.
o Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus have 16, 22, and 15 moons, respectively.
Neptune has 8, Mars has 2, and Earth and Pluto each only 1. Mercury and
Venus are moonless planets.
Meteors, Meteoroids, Meteorites, and Meteor showers
o The “shooting star” we see in the night sky is not really a star. Astronomers
call it a meteor. It is a solid body heated to incandescence by its passage
through the Earth’s atmosphere.
o The solid body, while in space before entering the Earth’s atmosphere, is
called a meteoroid. Meteoroids enter the Earth’s atmosphere at speeds that
range from 11 km/s to 72 km/s. The friction between the atmosphere and
the meteoroid increases the surface temperature of the meteoroid to
thousands of Kelvin within seconds. The heat generated in this way
vaporizes the meteoroid and it becomes a meteor. What we see as a white
tail is light emitted by a trail of hot evaporated matter and atmospheric gas.
o Astronomers estimate that hundreds of tons of meteors bombard the Earth
each day. Small meteors completely vaporize in the atmosphere, but larger
ones survive to reach the ground. Meteor fragments found on Earth are
known as meteorites.
o Meteorites are classified into three groups based on their composition: iron,
stony and stony/iron.
90% of the meteorites that fall to the Earth are stony meteorites and
most of these are chondrites, named for the chondrules (spheres of
silicate rock) they contain.
One important type of stony meteorite is the carbonaceous
chondrites, which contain water and high content of carbon in the
form of organic compounds (about 20 are amino acids).
Iron meteorites make up about 5% of the meteorites that fall to the
Earth. They are nearly pure alloys of iron and nickel.
Stony-iron meteorites make up the only 1% of the meteorites. They
are a mixture of metal and silicate rock.
o Analysis of radioactive elements in meteorites shows that most of them
solidified about 4.6 billion years ago.
o About ten times a year, many meteors could be observed in one hour. This
increased rate at which meteors are observed is known as a meteor shower.
Meteor showers happen when the Earth crosses a swarm of meteoroids.
o Asteroids (also called minor planets) are much smaller objects that orbit the
Sun within the planetary System. They are rocky or metallic bodies with
diameters that range from a few meters up to about 1000 km. The largest
known asteroid is Ceres, nearly 1000 km in diameter.
o Most asteroids circle the Sun in the large gap between the orbits of Mars
and Jupiter, a region called the asteroid belt. They are probably material
failed to aggregate into a planet.
o In addition of asteroids in the asteroid belt, there are many others that share
Jupiter’s orbit, leading or trailing Jupiter by 60°. These are known as the
o Three main compositions:
Metallic iron nickel
o Inner-belt asteroids are rich in silicates whereas outer belt asteroids are rich
o Comets are among the objects that orbit the Sun. They are small icy bodies
about 10 km or less in diameter. When a comet passes near the Sun it
becomes brighter and grows a huge tail stretching across the solar system.
o Most comets orbit far beyond Pluto in a region of the Solar System called
the Oort cloud, and only rarely do they move into the inner Solar System.
Some comets come from a disk-like swarm of icy objects that may lie just
beyond the orbit of Neptune, a region called the Kuiper belt. The Oort
cloud and the Kuiper belt together contain probably more than 1 trillion
) comet nuclei.
o Comets consist of three parts: nucleus, coma and tails.
The nucleus of a comet is an irregularly shaped chunk of mostly
water ice and dust that has frozen in the extreme cold of
interplanetary space. When a comet gets closer to the Sun, water and
other molecules within the nucleus evaporate and flow outward,
carrying the dust with them. The gas and dust that escape from the
nucleus form the coma and tails.
The coma of a comet is a ball of outflowing gas and dust that
surrounds the nucleus. The coma can be a million km across, much
bigger than the nucleus that is only about 1 – 10 km in diameter. The
coma appears bright because of a combination of emission from the
gas and sunlight reflected by the dust.
Many comets have two tails. The white or yellow tail is made of dust
swept from the nucleus, so it is called the dust tail. The blue tail is
called the plasma tail because it is made of ions and electrons. The
blue color is due to ionized carbon monoxide. The plasma tail is
swept out by the solar wind away from the Sun to about 100 million
km across the inner solar system.
Spectra of gas in the coma and tail show that comets are rich in
, CO, and small amounts of other gases. The water is
broken up by the Sun’s UV radiation to create oxygen and hydrogen,
and most comets are surrounded by a vast cloud of hydrogen created
in this way.
o Comets are divided into two groups based on their orbital periods. Short-
period comets have periods less than 200 years and they are thought to
come from the Kuiper belt. Long-period comets originate at the Oort cloud
when passing stars disturb their orbits. They have periods greater than 200
4.4 Origin of the solar System
Clues from orbital properties:
o The Solar System is flat, i.e., the planetary and satellite orbits lie almost in
the Sun’s equatorial plane.
o Almost prograde orbital and spin motions, i.e., all the planets orbit the Sun
in the same direction and most planets rotate in the same direction that they
revolve about the Sun.
o Nearly circular orbits, i.e., planetary and satellite orbits are almost circular.
o Axial tilts are nearly the same, i.e., spin axes of most planets and satellites
are nearly perpendicular to the ecliptic.
Clues from the physical properties of the planets:
o There are two types of planets: inner and outer. The inner (terrestrial)
planets are near the Sun, small in size and rocky while the outer (Jovian)
planets are further out from the Sun, much larger and gaseous.
o Differences in composition: The giant planets consist primarily of the
volatile elements, i.e., abundant lightweight gases like the Sun. The
terrestrial planets, on the other hand, have low abundances of the volatile
o Satellite numbers and rings: Giant planets have more satellites than the
terrestrial planets. Giant planets have ring systems but terrestrial planets do
o Orbital speeds: giant planets rotate more rapidly than do terrestrial planets.
o The Sun has more than 99% of the mass of the solar system, but less than
1% of the angular momentum.
o All the bodies in the Solar System whose ages have so far been determined
are less than about 4.5 billion years old.
o The structure of asteroids
o The number of craters on planetary and satellite surfaces
o Chemical composition of surface rocks and atmospheres
The best theory of the origin of the solar system must explain all observations of
astronomers. The currently favored theory was independently proposed by Immanuel
Kant and Pierre Simon Laplace and is now called the solar nebula hypothesis.
The solar nebula hypothesis
o Kant and Laplace proposed that the Solar System originated from a
rotating, flattened disk of gas and dust, with the outer part of the disk
becoming the planets and the center becoming the Sun.
o This theory offers a natural explanation for the flattened shape of he system
and the common direction of motion of the planets around the Sun.
o According to the modern form of this theory, the solar system was born 4.5
billion yeas ago from an interstellar cloud. Which is an enormous, rotating
aggregate of gas and dust.
o Our galaxy has a large quantity of interstellar materials that contain both
gas and small dust grains. These interstellar materials appearing here and
there with different shapes and sizes are called interstellar clouds.
o The inter stellar cloud that became our Sun and planets was probably a few
light years in diameter and contained about twice the present mass of the
Sun. it was initially very extended and rotating slowly.
o It was made mostly of hydrogen (71%) and helium (27%) with tiny traces
of elements such as carbon, oxygen and silicon.
o Somehow the cloud began to contract on its way its way to becoming a star.
This transformation into the Sun and planets was due to gravitational forces
causing the cloud to collapse inward.
o Regardless of the cause of the collapse, the shrinking cloud spun faster and
flattened into a disk with a central bulge.
Formation of the Solar Nebula
o The core of the cloud began to heat up from the energy of impact as the
material fell in. While shrinking, it began to glow, first at infrared
wavelengths and finally at visible wavelengths. Eventually, the temperature
and pressure of the core became high enough to trigger nuclear reactions,
and the Sun began its long lifetime as a star.
o As the central part of the interstellar cloud collapsed into the Sun, the outer
portions were forced into a rotating flat disk within a few million years.
This disk, surrounding the Sun, is called the solar nebula.
o As the solar nebula cooled, substances with the highest vaporization
temperatures such as iron and silicate condensed first everywhere within
the disk. But the temperature of the disk between the Sun and Jupiter never
dropped low enough that water and the volatile elements could not
condense within that part of the nebula. Thus the nebula became divided
into two parts: an inner zone of silicate/iron particles and an outer zone of
similar particles on which ices also condensed. Water, hydrogen and other
easily vaporized substances were present as gases in the inner solar nebula,
but they could not form solid particles there.
Accretion and Planetesimals
o In due course, the tiny particles that condensed from the nebula began to
stick together into bigger pieces in a process called accretion.
o The larger objects formed in this way are called planetesimals, that is, small
planet-like bodies. Large planetesimals were sufficiently massive that their
gravity attracted additional material making them larger yet.
o Since the planetesimals near the Sun formed from silicate and iron particles
and those farther out had in addition ice coatings, there were two types of
planetesimals: rocky/iron ones and icy/rocky/iron ones.
The Formation of the Planets
o As planetesimals move within the disk and collide with one another, planets
formed. In most cases, the planet that was formed in this way rotated in the
same direction as the over all rotation of the disk.
o When a planet’s mass increased due to the merging of planetesimals so did
its gravitational attraction. Violent impacts of planetesimals as they fell
onto a growing planet generate heat by releasing gravitational energy. This
heat together with radioactive heating in the planet’s interior melts the
planet and allows it to differentiate. Thus all the inner planets (probably the
outer planets too) ended up with iron cores and rock mantles.
o Planet growth is especially rapid in the outer parts of the solar nebula. In
this region ice is 10 times more abundant than silicate and iron compounds
and thus the planetesimals in the outer solar nebula could become 10 times
larger than those in the inner solar nebula.
o Once a planet became large enough, it was able to attract and retain gas by
its gravity. Larger and cooler planets were able to hold back the most
abundant element in the solar nebula – hydrogen. The smaller and warmer
planets could not capture hydrogen, and it was eventually swept away.
Think: Which theory are you in favor of, Accumulation Differentiation
OR Differentiation Accumulation?)
Formation of Moons and rings
o The most recent theory of the formation of the giant planets suggests that
their cores formed from the coalescence of planetesimals, just as the
terrestrial planets formed.
o However, in the outer solar system where the temperatures were very low,
the solid objects that formed from the coalescence of planetesimals were
able to gravitationally trap gas from large volumes in their vicinities, and
these planets therefore built up extended gaseous atmospheres including
hydrogen and helium.
o These planets in accreting gas from their surroundings, formed disks much
like the solar nebula itself. The moons of the outer planets probably were
formed from planetesimals orbiting the growing planets much the same
way as planets are formed around the Sun. All four giant planets have
flattened satellite systems in which the satellites (with few exceptions) orbit
in the same direction.
o Ring systems formed wherever the disks extended closer to the parent
o The rapid spins of the giant planets are explained by the fact that angular
momentum conservation caused them to rotate faster as the disks contract.
o Although planet building consumed most of the planetesimals, some
survived to form small moons, asteroids and comets. Impacts with the
remaining planetesimals leave craters on the surfaces of planets and
o Rocky planetesimals and their fragments remained between Mars and
Jupiter and being stirred by Jupiter they were unable to assemble into a
planet. We see them today as the asteroid belt.
o Jupiter’s gravity also disturbed the orbits of the icy planetesimals, tossing
some in toward the Sun and others outward. These tossed planetesimals
form the swarm of comet nuclei we call the Oort cloud and Kuiper belt.
Formation of the Atmosphere
o The atmospheres formed at the end of the planet-forming process. The
outer planets probably captured most of their atmospheres from the solar
nebula. The nebula was rich in hydrogen, so are the atmospheres of the
o The inner planets were not massive enough and were too hot to capture gas
from the solar nebula. Venus, Earth and Mars probably created most of
their original atmospheres by volcanic eruptions. Some of their gases may
have come from evaporation of icy planetesimals on impact.
Cleaning Up the Solar system
o In the final stage of the formation of the solar system, a solar wind swept
the remnant gas and dust to the outer fringes of the solar system.
Chapter 5. Stars
A star is any massive, celestial body of gas that shines by radiant energy generated
inside it. Of the myriad of stars, only a very small fraction is visible to the unaided
Most young stars are composed mainly of hydrogen. At the core of a star a small
fraction of this hydrogen is converted to energy by nuclear fusion reactions. The
energy generated inside the core makes its way out to the outer surface called the
photosphere and from there it escapes into space.
In most stars, energy is transported from the inner to the outer surfaces by means
of two mechanisms: radiative transport and convective transport.
Gases at the outer layers of a star are partially ionized. The interior, however, is at
extremely high temperature and pressure, and fully ionized. The extreme pressure
inside balances gravitational forces and the star will be maintained in hydrostatic
equilibrium for a long time.
Single stars such as the sun are the minority; most stars occur in pairs (binary
stars), multiple systems, or clusters.
Stars vary greatly in brightness, color, temperature, mass, size, chemical
composition, and age. In nearly all, hydrogen is the most abundant element.
Properties of Stars
o Measuring distance
To measure distances of nearby stars astronomers use a triangulation
method known as parallax. Parallax is the apparent change in
position of an object due to the observer’s motion.
Stellar parallax is defined as half of the angle by which a star’s
position appears to shift. With definition, a star’s distance d becomes
the reciprocal of its parallax p:
where d is measured in parsec and p is measured in arc seconds.
Think: Can you drive this relation? [1 parsec = 3.09 × 10
For more distant stars, the standard candle method is used. This
technique is based on the brightness of stars.
The temperature of a star could be determined from the color of the
light it emits. At low temperatures objects glow red and as the
temperature increases they tend to glow blue.
If we look at the night sky with our naked eye, we learn that some
stars have bluish color and some are reddish. This tells us that stars
differ in color.
According to Wien’s law, the temperature of a body is inversely
related to the wave length of the strongest radiation it emits, i.e.;
where T is in Kelvin and ì in nanometer (nm).
The red star Betelgeuse, for instance, radiates most strongly at about
1000 nanometers. Its temperature, using the formula above, is
o Luminosity and The Inverse Square Law
Luminosity (L) is the amount of energy radiated every second by a
The Sun has a luminosity of about 4 × 1026 watts, generated by the
nuclear fusion of hydrogen into helium.
Knowledge of a star’s luminosity is important in determining the
star’s radius, distance and lifetime.
The inverse-square law is used to determine a star’s luminosity (L) if
its distance (d) and apparent brightness (B) are known:
This law shows that brightness decrease inversely with the square of
The brightness of a star is measured in magnitudes, a unit first used
by Hipparchus in ancient times. He assigned magnitude 1 for the
brightest stars and magnitude 6 for the dimmest ones, i.e., the
brighter the star, the lower the number assigned as a magnitude.
In the present system, a difference of magnitude is used. Magnitude
difference corresponds to brightness ratio. For example, the
magnitude difference of a first-magnitude star and a sixth-magnitude
star is 6 – 1 = 5, and the ratio of brightness of the former to the latter
is 100. Thus, a difference of five magnitudes corresponds to a
brightness ratio of 100 to 1. Each magnitude difference corresponds
to 512 . 2 100
Think: The apparent magnitudes of Venus and Aldebaran are,
respectively, -4.2 and 0.8.How brighter appears Venus to our eye
There are two types of magnitudes: apparent and absolute. The
apparent magnitude of a star is its brightness as seen from Earth.
The absolute magnitude is a star's brightness as seen at a standard
distance of 10 parsecs.
If two stars have the same temperature, the larger one emits more
energy and so has a larger luminosity than the smaller. A star’s
luminosity is related to its radius R and temperature T by the Stefan-
σT R 4 L t =
where o is constant value of 5.67 × 10
known as the
Stefan-Boltzmann constant. This law is used to determine the star’s
radius if we know its luminosity and temperature.
Astronomers call stars much larger than our Sun giants. Much
smaller stars are called dwarfs.
The composition of a star is determined by comparing the absorption
lines in its spectrum with the lines made by each atom. Spectral
analysis show, after corrections of temperature effects, that virtually
all stars including our Sun are composed mainly of hydrogen (about
71%) and helium (about 27%).
Stars are classified by their spectra, from blue-white to red, as O, B,
A, F, G, K, or M; the sun is a G-type star. O stars are hot (more than
25,000K) and M stars are cold (less than 3500K). Hot class (O and
B) stars are blue in color while cold class (K and M) stars are red.
Two orbiting around a common center of gravity are known as
The orbital periods and semimajor axis of binary stars and additional
observations of their orbital motions are used in the modified form
of Kepler’s third law to determine the masses of the binary stars.
The H-R diagram
o H-R diagram, worked out independently by Hertzsprung and Russell, is
a graph in which the luminosities of stars are plotted against their
temperature. On the diagram, stars are ranked from bottom to top in order
of increasing brightness and from right to left by increasing temperature.
o Stars tend to cluster in certain parts of the diagram. Most stars (about 90%)
fall along a diagonal line called the main sequence, with hot luminous stars
at the upper left and cool dim stars at the lower right. The main sequence is
the locus of hydrogen-burning stars of different masses. The Sun lies
almost at the middle of the main sequence.
o Stars located at the upper right of the H-R diagram are cool and bright.
These stars have the same temperature as those on the lower main sequence
but they are thousands of times brighter. According to the Stefan-
Boltzmann law such stars must be very huge. Moreover, since they are cool
t he glow red. Astronomers call such huge cool stars red giants.
o The stars lying below the main sequence are dimmer but so hot that they
glow with a white heat. They are small, Earth-size stars and are known as
o Gravitational collapse of interstellar cloud
A star begins its life when a portion of a dense interstellar cloud of
hydrogen and dust grains collapses inward from its own gravity. Initially,
the cloud core is cool because heat generated by gravitational contraction
escapes in the form of IR radiation.
o Slow contraction of core
A protostar develops at the center of a collapsing core. The protostar is
originally transparent, but eventually becomes opaque to IR radiation as the
collapsing cloud becomes more and more denser. The heat (IR radiation)
trapped in this way causes the internal temperature to increase and thereby
building up internal pressure. The pressure slows down the contraction.
o Material infall
The protostar stops collapsing and begins to grow in mass by accumulating
infalling material. The infall creates heating and shock waves and hydrogen
molecules breakup by absorbing the heat and causing a reduction in
pressure and hence a second collapse.
o Final contraction
After the second collapse, the protostar begins a period of slow contraction
due to a rise in the internal pressure. The protostar is still surrounded by gas
and dust material.
o Nuclear ignition
That slow contraction ends when the star becomes hot enough for hydrogen
fusion to occur. Enough energy is released during the nuclear reaction to
provide pressure that balances gravity and the protostar stops collapsing
o Shading the surrounding gas and dust
A vigorous surface activity produces a wind that eventually blows away
infalling gas and dust. The protostar then becomes a young visible star just
entering the main sequence of the H-R diagram. The new star will be in
main sequence for a long time and in hydrostatic equilibrium by “burning”
hydrogen in a nuclear fusion process.
Stars Like the Sun
o Stars as massive as the Sun remain in main sequence until the hydrogen
fuel in the core is almost exhausted. After hydrogen is exhausted, the core
shrinks and heats up while the star's outer layers expand significantly and
cool. The cool, swollen star then becomes a red giant.
o A red giant has a dense helium core surrounded by a burning shell of
hydrogen. Rising temperature in the stellar core eventually initiates the
fusion of helium. The fusion of helium is a triple-alpha reaction in which
helium is converted into carbon. In stars like the Sun, the reaction happens
as a rapid burst of nuclear reactions throughout the core and is called the
o After the helium is used up, nuclear reactions stop and the core collapses
while the expanded outer layers remain far behind. The remnant will be a
compact, hot core called a white dwarf. A white dwarf is taken as the last
stage in the life cycle of Sun-like stars.
o Like the Sun, massive stars (6 – 10 solar masses), spend most of their
lifetime on the main sequence while hydrogen fusion in the stellar core
produces the energy necessary to balance gravity and supply the luminosity
of the star.
o The main differences with the evolution of a low-mass star are:
Rapid evolutionary steps
Several red-giant phases due to successive nuclear reaction stages
that produce ever-heavier elements in the stellar core.
o The sequence of nuclear reactions are: Hydrogen burning Helium
burning Carbon burning Neon burning Oxygen burning Silicon
burning Iron core
o The sequence of nuclear reactions stops when finally iron is produced and
the massive star runs out of fuel and collapses. The collapse merges protons
and electrons into neutrons. The outer layers fall onto the hard neutron core
and rebound producing a huge explosion called supernova.
o The supernova is taken as the death of a massive star whose remnant
becomes a neutron star.
o Rotating neutron stars emit pulses of electromagnetic radiation and,
therefore, they are called Pulsars. We often observe 1000 pulses/second.
o If the core becomes too massive infalling matter does not rebound from the
neutron star. Instead, the core becomes more and more denser with ever-
increasing gravitational field. The result is the transformation of the neutron
core into a black hole.
o Galaxies are classified using the Hubble system:
Smooth, spheroidal galaxies are classified as ellipticals.
Galaxies with flat disks and spiral arms are classified as spirals.
- Spiral galaxies have much more interstellar gas and dust. than
- Spirals also have young stars, but ellipticals do not.
A small fraction of galaxies lack overall structure and are classified
o The different appearances of galaxies may be a result of the way in which
they formed or their interactions with other galaxies. Collisions between
galaxies can alter their appearances and also can merge galaxies into larger
o Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is a spiral galaxy.
o Galaxies are usually grouped into clusters. A group of 30 galaxies is known
as a local group. The Milky Way belongs to a local group. Rich clusters
contain hundreds to thousands of member galaxies.
o Galaxies are receding from us with speeds proportional to their distances.
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