TOEFL Reading Section 1

Directions: The questions in the Reading Section measure your ability to understand academic passages in English. You will read one passage and answer questions about it. As in a real test, you will have 20 minutes to read the passage below and answer the questions. Except where indicated otherwise, there is only ONE correct answer. Good luck!

Mercury, a World of Two Faces and Many Contrasts

Mercury, the first of the other worlds that we are going to consider, fascinates by its grotesqueness, like a piece of Chinese ivory carving, so small is it for its kind and so finished in its eccentric details. In a little while we shall see how singular Mercury is in many of the particulars of planetary existence, but first of all let us endeavour to obtain a clear idea of the actual size and mass of this strange little planet. Compared with the earth it is so diminutive that it looks as if it had been cut out on the pattern of a satellite rather than that of an independent planet. Its diameter, 3,000 miles, only exceeds the moon’s by less than one half, while both Jupiter and Saturn, among their remarkable collections of moons, have each at least one that is considerably larger than the planet Mercury. But, insignificant though it be in size, it holds the place of honor, nearest to the sun.

It was formerly thought that Mercury possessed a mass greatly in excess of that which its size would seem to imply, and some estimates, based upon the apparent effect of its attraction on comets, made it equal in mean density to lead, or even to the metal mercury. This led to curious speculations concerning its probable metallic composition, and the possible existence of vast quantities of such heavy elements as gold in the frame of the planet. But more recent, and probably more correct, computations place Mercury third in the order of density among the members of the solar system, the earth ranking as first and Venus as second. Mercury’s density is now believed to be less than the earth’s in the ratio of 85 to 100. Accepting this estimate, we find that the force of gravity upon the surface of Mercury is only one third as great as upon the surface of the earth—i.e., a body weighing 300 pounds on the earth would weigh only 100 pounds on Mercury.

This is an important matter, because not only the weight of bodies, but the density of the atmosphere and even the nature of its gaseous constituents, are affected by the force of gravity, and if we could journey from world to world, in our bodily form, it would make a great difference to us to find gravity considerably greater or less upon other planets than it is upon our own. This alone might suffice to render some of the planets impossible places of abode for us, unless a decided change were effected in our present physical organization.

One of the first questions that we should ask about a foreign world to which we proposed to pay a visit, would relate to its atmosphere. We should wish to know in advance if it had air and water, and in what proportions and quantities. However its own peculiar inhabitants might be supposed able to dispense with these things, to us their presence would be essential, and if we did not find them, even a planet that blazed with gold and diamonds only waiting to be seized would remain perfectly safe from our invasion. Now, in the case of Mercury, some doubt on this point exists.

Messrs. Huggins, Vogel, and others have believed that they found spectroscopic proof of the existence of both air and the vapour of water on Mercury. But the necessary observations are of a very delicate nature, and difficult to make, and some astronomers doubt whether we possess sufficient proof that Mercury has an atmosphere. At any rate, its atmosphere is very rare as compared with the earth’s, but we need not, on that account, conclude that Mercury is lifeless. Possibly, in view of certain other peculiarities soon to be explained, a rare atmosphere would be decidedly advantageous.

Being much nearer the sun than the earth is, Mercury can be seen by us only in the same quarter of the sky where the sun itself appears. As it revolves in its orbit about the sun it is visible, alternately, in the evening for a short time after sunset and in the morning for a short time before sunrise, but it can never be seen, as the outer planets are seen, in the mid-heaven or late at night. When seen low in the twilight, at evening or morning, it glows with the brilliance of a bright first-magnitude star, and is a beautiful object, though few casual watchers of the stars ever catch sight of it. When it is nearest the earth and is about to pass between the earth and the sun, it temporarily disappears in the glare of the sunlight; and likewise, when it is farthest from the earth and passing around in its orbit on the opposite side of the sun, it is concealed by the blinding solar rays. Consequently, except with the instruments of an observatory, which are able to show it in broad day, Mercury is never visible save during the comparatively brief periods of time when it is near its greatest apparent distance east or west from the sun.

Title: Other Worlds: Their Nature, Possibilities and Habitability in the Light of the Latest Discoveries
Author: Garrett P. Serviss
Source: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/18431/18431-h/18431-h.htm#CHAPTER_II

Directions: The questions in the Reading Section measure your ability to understand academic passages in English. You will read one passage and answer questions about it. As in a real test, you will have 20 minutes to read the passage below and answer the questions. Except where indicated otherwise, there is only ONE correct answer. Good luck!

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