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The Planets - Reading

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Reading 04: The Planets

The planets in our solar system can be broadly classified into two groups: the terrestrial planets (those that are similar to Earth) and the Jovian planets (those that are similar to Jupiter). Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars are the terrestrial planets; these planets exhibit similar characteristics to Earth in terms of size, mass, density, composition, and atmosphere; these are the planets that are closest to the Sun and are smaller rocky planets with thin atmospheres. The Jovian planets—Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune—differ markedly from the terrestrial planets; they are considerably farther from the Sun than are the terrestrial planets, and they are giant balls of gases and liquids. The asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter divides the Jovian planets from the terrestrial planets. Only Pluto (which is the most recently discovered planet, the planet that is farther away from the Sun than the terrestrial planets and the Jovian planets, and the planet that is therefore the most challenging to study) does not really fit into either group of planets.

The terrestrial planets are clearly distinguished from the Jovian planets in terms of size and mass. Earth is the largest of the terrestrial planets, with a diameter slightly larger than the diameter of Venus and much larger than the diameter of either Mercury or Mars, while the Jovian planets are all much larger than Earth, with diameters ranging from four to 11 times that of Earth. In addition, Earth has the most mass of all the terrestrial planets, with slightly more mass than Venus and considerably more mass than Mercury or Mars; the mass of each of the Jovian planets is considerably more than that of Earth, ranging from masses around 15 times that of Earth for Uranus and Neptune to slightly less than 100 times the mass of Earth for Saturn and more than 300 times the mass of Earth for Jupiter. Another difference is that the terrestrial planets are much denser than the Jovian ones because the terrestrial planets are mainly rocks and metals, while the Jovian planets are mainly gases with perhaps a small amount of rocky material. Finally, the atmospheres of the terrestrial and Jovian planets present another distinct contrast. Mercury essentially has no atmosphere, while Venus and Mars have atmospheres that consist mostly of carbon dioxide, and Earth has a unique atmosphere that is rich in oxygen and nitrogen. The Jovian planets have very different atmospheres, mostly hydrogen and helium and various hydrogen compounds.

Areas where the differences between the terrestrial and Jovian planets are not so clear-cut are in terms of rotation and magnetic field. All of the planets rotate, and in general they rotate in the same way: their respective axes of rotation are basically perpendicular to their orbital planes, and the planets rotate from west to east as they revolve around the Sun. There are exceptions, however: Venus and Uranus rotate from east to west, which is called retrograde rotation, and the rotation axis of Uranus lies almost in the plane of its orbit, which basically means that it is rolling on its side as it orbits the Sun. The Jovian planets rotate at higher speeds than do the territorial planets, although the distinction between the two types of planets is not so clear in this respect. The Jovian planets Jupiter and Saturn complete rotations in approximately ten hours, which is considerably faster than the 59-day rotation period of Mercury or the 243-day rotation period of Venus but not so much faster than the approximately 24-hour rotation periods of Earth and Mars. There are also not clear distinctions between Jovian and terrestrial planets in terms of magnetic fields. Earth has a magnetic field, and so do many of the other planets. The magnetic fields on Jupiter and Saturn are at least as strong as the magnetic field on Earth (they could be stronger), yet Venus has no magnetic field.

And what about Pluto? Pluto does not fit in with either of these broad categories of planets. It lies out beyond the Jovian planets, yet it is less than half the size and mass of the smallest terrestrial planet, Mercury, and it is more like a terrestrial planet than a Jovian planet in terms of rotation, with a six-day rotation. Its density is greater than that of the Jovian planets but less than that of the terrestrial planets, and its atmosphere is unlike the atmospheres of any of the other planets in that it is composed predominantly of methane.

1. The word markedly in paragraph 1 is closest in meaning to 

2. The word challenging in paragraph 1 is closest in meaning to 

3. Which of the following can be inferred from the passage?  (write the letter in the box)

A. Earth's mass is less than that of Mars. 

B. Saturn's mass is more than 100 times that of Mars

C. Mercury's mass is more than that of Venus.

D. Jupiter's mass is less than that of Saturn.

4. The word present in paragraph 2 could best be replaced by .

5. The phrase clear-cut in paragraph 3 is closest in meaning to .

6. Which of the sentences below expresses the essential information in the highlighted sentence in paragraph 3?  (write the letter in the box)

A. Rotation periods on Venus are four times those on Mercury and ten times those on Earth.

B. All of the Jovian planets rotate more than ten times faster than all of the terrestrial planets.

C. The terrestrial planets have much shorter days than do Jupiter and Saturn.

D. Days on Earth and Mars are longer than days on Jupiter and Saturn but much shorter than days on Mercury and Venus

7. The phrase at least as strong as in paragraph 3 is closest in meaning to 

8. Which factor does NOT distinguish the terrestrial planets from the Jovian planets? 

9. Why does the author begin paragraph 4 with the question And what about Pluto?  (write the letter in the box)

A. To indicate that Pluto has not been adequately covered in the previous material

B. To support the idea that Pluto is the smallest planet

C. To introduce the idea that Pluto is not really a planet

D. To indicate that not much is known about Pluto

10. The phrase these broad categories in paragraph 4 refers to 

11. Select the appropriate phrases from the answer choices and match them to the type of planet to which they relate. TWO of the answer choices will NOT be used. This question is worth 3 points.
Terrestrial planets

      Jovian planets

      a. Are greater in size and in mass than Earth 

      b. Have a retrograde rotation 

      c. Are located between the Sun and the asteroid belt  

      d. Are less dense planets mainly composed of gases  

      e. Are less than or equal to the Earth in size and in mass 

      f. Have atmospheres similar to Earth's 

      g. Are located outside of the asteroid belt 

      h . Are denser planets mainly composed of solids