Martinsburg Robotics Competition

Great job to team 99075A, inVEXtus, for winning the excellence award at the Martinsburg Qualifier! I’m really proud of all their hard work! This qualifies them for the state competition and a national invitational if we choose to attend. As the coach, I could not be more pleased. This is why we advocate for unconventional education, the students have learned so much, not just in stem but also durable skills, without even recognizing it. For reference of who’s who, from left to right is Dolly Bharti:mentor, Vijay Bharti:coach, Jihan Park: team member, and Maria Tsetylin: team member

Sorry for blur in the photo, the camera is slightly obstructed.

Astronomy: Venus

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Table of Contents

  1. Basic Facts
  2. Surface Composition
  3. Atmosphere
  4. For Educators

Venus: The Facts

Venus is the second of the four terrestrial planets with regard to distance from the sun. This distance is about 67 million miles, so about 70 percent of Earth’s(which is 93 million miles). The mass of Venus is 4.9*10^24 kilograms. An interesting thing about Venus’s orbit is that it is retrograde in comparison to Earth’s. This simply means that Venus rotates in the opposite direction that Earth does(rotation is the spin of the planet, revolution is the orbit around the Sun). Somethings can appear to move in retrograde across the sky, such as other planets like Jupiter, because of the way our orbits work. When the Earth starts passing Jupiter, for example, it looks like the planet is going backwards in the sky(West to East), even though both Earth and Jupiter orbit the Sun in the same direction. This is called apparent retrograde motion and is caused simply by Earth passing Jupiter, and once it passes, Jupiter appears to move forward again. Anyhow, Venus is believed to have a molten core, not solid, because of the small mass of the planet. It likely does not exert enough pressure to be totally solid, just like Mercury. What makes Venus special is just how hot it gets. Venus has the thickest atmosphere out of all the planets, and it is mostly carbon dioxide. You likely already know that carbon dioxide traps heat; it is a greenhouse gas. In small quantities on Earth, we see temperatures rise. However it makes up less than one percent of the atmosphere. In Venus, 97 percent of the atmosphere is nothing but this gas! Thus, even though Mercury is closer to the Sun, Venus is the hottest planet, and it has a relatively stable temperature. This can go up to 880 degrees Fahrenheit!

Surface of Venus

Venus has a rocky surface like Earth, and also has mountains, craters, and volcanoes. It also has very long lava channels, the longest is called Baltis Vallis and is 6800 kilometers long. Volcanoes on Venus are generally shield volcanoes, which are very wide volcanoes but are short. The largest volcano is Maat Mons. The most notable fact about Venus’s Surface is that although it has craters, these are sparse and overall the surface is very smooth. These large, and smooth, regions are called basaltic plains, because the smooth rock is basalt. This type of rock is formed by the slow cooling of lava. Remember how volcanoes are very abundant, so every time a volcano erupts massive amounts of lava flows out of these shield volcanoes. This lava spreads over the surface of the planet and very slowly cools(the surface can reach 880 Fahreinheit so this “cooling”, which is solidification of the lava. takes an extremely long time). Since it cools so slowly, it becomes very smooth and thus forms these smooth plains, rather than being rugged and bumpy. Over time, you may expect this surface to get rugged with craters from asteroids, but it is not so. This is best explained by the lava cooling being very recent(past couple million years), so not much has been able to impact it, along with this new surface covering up all the old craters.

This is a picture of Maat Mons, the largest volcano on Venus

The Very Thick Atmosphere Of Venus

Venus has a very thick atmosphere, with the pressure from the atmosphere being 90 times that of Earth’s! That would be the pressure 900 meters deep underwater(this could crush many things). The atmosphere is mainly(96%) carbon dioxide, or CO₂, gas, which allows for it to trap heat in very well. This massive amount of this gas accounts for why Venus is so hot. The rest of the atmosphere is mainly nitrogen gas(3%). In the remaining 1%, a unique occurrence of sulfuric acid occurs. Since Venus is so hot, the sulfuric acid is evaporated and forms clouds. Specifically, this happens because of the interaction of SO₂ and H₂O(sulfur dioxide and water), which forms this acid. Acid rain on Earth happens the same way, but since this acid is not common at all(the acid rain on Earth is because of pollutants), we do not see clouds of it happen. On Venus, the sulfuric acid is more common so it is able to vaporize and form clouds.

For Educators

Every post I do was intended to have a for educators section, but when it comes to an individual planet, I do not think it is necessary. Each planet should only be discussed briefly, when teaching astronomy, its more important to give the big picture and get people attracted to astronomy. As such, I am going to skip this section for most of the planets. I think a short talk about each planet is sufficient. If you have anything you’d like in this section, please let me know.

Thank you

Thank you for reading! Any questions feel free to contact me at!

Astronomy: Our Solar System

Before I talk about astronomy, I want to thank you for visiting and ask that if you enjoy what you just read or value our mission here at STEM Enterprises, please support our cause by donating here. Any donation will be used to provide our highly engaging and effective education(check out the website for what all we do) to students deprived of the opportunity to have a meaningful STEM education experience.

Table of Contents

  1. Introduction/The Sun
  2. Inner Planets
  3. Asteroid Belt
  4. Outer Planets
  5. Kuiper Belt
  6. Oort Cloud
  7. For Educators
Embed from Getty Images

Now that we know of the moon and Earth, we will be diving into the planets. This post will be an overall description of what we call our solar system, which is everything that orbits the Sun. This orbit is caused by the gravitational pull of the Sun. I won’t describe how that works currently but if I do, I will replace this line with a link to the blog post explaining what is known as Newton’s Law of Gravity and Kepler’s Laws(these help us describe planetary motion).

For now, lets talk about the solar system. It starts with our Sun, which is a very large(2*10^30 kg and radius of 700,000 km) “ball” of mainly hydrogen plasma(superheated gas for our purposes). The sun is 1 Astronomical Unit, or AU, from us(Earth), which is equal to about 93 million miles. The important thing is that the Sun releases a lot of energy in the forms of light and charged particles, which account for us having heat and many other interesting phenomena. Also, the Sun is what holds everything together, because the Sun is 99.8 percent of the total mass of the Solar System(Jupiter is literally insignificant in mass to the Sun).

The Terrestrial(Inner) Planets

Next we have the four terrestrial planets, which are, in order of increasing distance from the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars. These are called the terrestrial planets for two reasons, one, they are primarily rock and do not have much of a gaseous component(less atmosphere) and they are separated from the rest of the planets by the Asteroid Belt. The term terrestrial is used to say that each of these planets are like Earth. They all have rocky cores made of iron and nickel.

Asteroid Belt

The Asteroid Belt is composed of small rocks that could not aggregate together like moons and planets do. These small rocks are asteroids(I say small but the smallest asteroids are more than a half mile across). They separate Mars and Jupiter. This belt is huge, but most of the mass is aggregated into 4 large asteroids, the largest being called Ceres. This asteroid is considered a dwarf planet and is 500 kilometers in radius(The Earth is 6400 kilometers for reference). The asteroids are very sparse, meaning most of the belt is empty space. Finally, these asteroids are also called planetesimals because they are considered the pre-requisites to the formation of a planet.

Jovian Planets

Pass the asteroid belt to find Jupiter, the first of four Jovian Planets. Jovian means “Jupiter-like”, so all of these planets are like Jupiter. The planets after Jupiter are Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. These planets are gas giants, because they are much larger than the terrestrial planets and are mostly gaseous. Note that these planets are much farther away from the Sun than you might think, the distance between planets is not proportional. From Earth to the Sun, as we said, is 93 million miles, while Jupiter to the Sun is 500 million and Uranus is 1.8 billion miles away from the Sun. Jupiter is the largest, Saturn has the rings that you probably know about, and Uranus and Neptune are very similar, the biggest difference being how far from the Sun they are(Neptune’s year is double that of Uranus’s approximately).

Kuiper Belt

Beyond the Jovian Planets lies the Kuiper Belt. This begins around 50 AU(astronomical units/ 1 AU= distance from Earth to Sun) beyond the Sun. The belt is very similar to the asteroid belt, except you will find more comets and ice rocks because of the extremely cold temperatures. This belt is also very sparse in rock density(mostly empty space), but is also much larger than the Asteroid belt.

Oort Cloud

Finally, let’s discuss what is known as the Oort Cloud. This is just barely part of the Solar System, it is 2,000 AU away from the Sun(remember the Kuiper Belt is only 50 AU). This ‘cloud’ is believed to be a large sphere of sparsely populated ice rocks. However, sparsely populated does not mean underpopulated. It is believed to have trillions of different objects. Because of how far away it is, this cloud is just speculative and we do not know if anything really exists there except for very long period(time per revolution around the Sun) comets.

For Educators

After doing the five minute presentation on the subject(make it however you feel like, just stay away from talking too much, visuals and audio are more useful). Afterwards, you have a couple of main goals.

  1. Explain how the composition of the gas giants and terrestrial planets differ
  2. Get relative distances between the planets

For goal 1, the easiest way is to explain gas giants as being like cotton candy(you could fill a bag with cotton candy to make it round like a planet). Since they are gaseous, they do not have much solid like behavior and will be fluid(this is much less dense than the actual densities of Jovian Planets, but will convey the point). Note, however, since they are so massive, they will make you feel heavier on these planets(gravity is more than here on Earth.) For terrestrial planets, you could use a rock because these terrestrial planets are very dense(mostly rock). Make the rock round to reflect a planet. Even better is have the students make these planets from some materials and paint them(you could use something like Styrofoam for the Jovian Planets and actual rocks for the terrestrial planets). Please remember that for Jovian Planets are much denser than Styrofoam or cotton candy, I am just using those to convey the “texture” of the planets in a easy to understand way. Most of the density would come from the mass of the Planets packing the gases in the core to make it solid.

For goal two, I am using a very easy to understand description from NASA. ” One way to help visualize the relative distances in the solar system is to imagine a model in which the solar system is reduced in size by a factor of a billion (109). The Earth is then about 1.3 cm in diameter (the size of a grape). The Moon orbits about a foot away. The Sun is 1.5 meters in diameter (about the height of a man) and 150 meters (about a city block) from the Earth. Jupiter is 15 cm in diameter (the size of a large grapefruit) and 5 blocks away from the Sun. Saturn (the size of an orange) is 10 blocks away; Uranus and Neptune (lemons) are 20 and 30 blocks away. A human on this scale is the size of an atom; the nearest star would be over 40,000 km away! “(See the link below for the source). ” What they are saying here is that if you scaled everything down to a very small size, you could use these numbers to explain the relative sizes and distances of the planets. Students do not need to remember any numbers, rather they should get the concept that things are not proportional. I would recommend taking students on a walk for things like the distance to Jovian Planets since they are quite large.


Thank you

Thank you for reading! Any questions or comments, let me know at