Students journey to the center of the Earth… and Wikipedia!

A few decades ago, exoplanets were like alien life — their existence seemed likely, but none had ever been detected. But since the first confirmed discovery in 1992, the existence of over 5,000 exoplanets has been confirmed. While direct observations of exoplanets are impossible, it’s possible to estimate their size and mass. Using the planets of our own solar system as a baseline, it is possible to deduce the likely structure of known exoplanets. Thanks to a student in Simon Klemperer’s Journey to the Center of the Earth class, Wikipedia now has an article that discusses the current state of knowledge about exoplanet interiors. Similarly, it’s possible to use the atmospheric circulations on planets in our own Solar System to try to understand those of exoplanets. A student editor in David Catling’s Planetary Atmospheres class summarized this information to create a new article about Atmospheric circulation of exoplanets.

Mars often attracts interest from student editors — after all, it’s the best-known planet after Earth, Mars exploration is a hot topic, and its the only planet known to be entirely inhabited by robots. At the same time, a lot of the gaps that exist in information about Mars require specialist technical knowledge to understand the topic, along with access to scholarly resources that are frequently behind paywalls. A student in Journey to the Center of the Earth created a new article on the magnetic field of Mars, while one student in Planetary Atmospheres created one about Mars carbon dioxide ice clouds and others expanded the water on Mars and climate of Mars articles. In these kinds of specialized topic areas, student editors have a lot to offer.

From engagement rings, to conflict diamonds, to hidden loot in heist movies, diamonds fascinate. While people are usually only familiar with inclusions in the context of gemstones, the material trapped in diamonds during their formation can provide information about conditions in the Earth’s mantle at the time when the diamonds were formed. While inclusions are mentioned in the Wikipedia articles about both the mineral diamond and diamonds as gemstones, the nature of of the inclusions, their formation, and their importance in studying the interior of the planet isn’t a good fit in either article. A student editor in the Journey to the Center of the Earth class was able to recognize this omission and fill it by creating the diamond inclusions article.

While earthquakes are difficult or impossible to predict, certain areas are subject to repeated cycles of earthquakes driven by the accumulation of stress, followed by periodic release. One student editor in the Journey to the Center of the Earth class created an article about this phenomenon, the earthquake cycle while another made major expansions to the Earth’s outer core article. Others created articles about notable academics like geologist Holly Stein and geochemist François M. M. Morel.

Wiki Education’s Student Program offers opportunities for instructors in planetary sciences — be it this planet or others out there — to fill content gaps while empowering students to make a meaningful contribution. For more information, visit teach.wikiedu.org.

Thumbnail image in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

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