The Terrestrial Planets

The terrestrial planets are quite different from the giants. In addition to being much smaller, they are composed primarily of rocks and metals. These, in turn, are made of elements that are less common in the universe as a whole. The most abundant rocks, called silicates, are made of silicon and oxygen, and the most common metal is iron. We can tell from their densities that Mercury has the greatest proportion of metals (which are denser) and the Moon has the lowest. Earth, Venus, and Mars all have roughly similar bulk compositions: about one third of their mass consists of iron-nickel or iron-sulfur combinations; two thirds is made of silicates. Because these planets are largely composed of oxygen compounds (such as the silicate minerals of their crusts), their chemistry is said to be oxidized.

When we look at the internal structure of each of the terrestrial planets, we find that the densest metals are in a central core, with the lighter silicates near the surface. If these planets were liquid, like the giant planets, we could understand this effect as the result the sinking of heavier elements due to the pull of gravity. This leads us to conclude that, although the terrestrial planets are solid today, at one time they must have been hot enough to melt.

Differentiation is the process by which gravity helps separate a planet’s interior into layers of different compositions and densities. The heavier metals sink to form a core, while the lightest minerals float to the surface to form a crust. Later, when the planet cools, this layered structure is preserved. In order for a rocky planet to differentiate, it must be heated to the melting point of rocks, which is typically more than 1,800 F.

Q. Which of the following can be inferred about the past temperatures of terrestrial planets?

Select the Correct Answer:
At a point, their temperatures were at least 1,800 F or higher
At a point, their temperatures were below 1,800 F
Their temperatures currently range a great deal
Their temperatures have remained the same throughout time


25 Reading Questions for TOEFL Prep - Group 1

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