IELTS Academic Reading Practice 26

 
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This reading practice simulates one part of the IELTS Academic Reading test. You should spend about twenty minutes on it. Read the passage and answer questions 13-26.

Questions 13-22

The reading passage has seven paragraphs labelled A-G.

Which paragraph contains the following information?

Write the correct letter A-G in boxes 13-22 on your answer sheet.

NB You may use any letter more than once.

13 Today, we still use the parallax principle to measure the distance between our planet and stars.
14 The recent transit of Venus was not as useful to scientists today as it would be to those of the past.
15 Le Gentil was not able to learn much on his expeditions due to weather and political strife.
16 Astronomers observe that Venus is surrounded by a thick layer of gases.
17 The most recent transit of Venus is the first in over 100 years.
18 Halley figured out how to use the transit of Venus to discover earth’s distance to the sun.
19 A parallax angle is found by people observing a star or planet from different locations.
20 Examples of different ways in which the parallax principle has been applied.
21 There were physical states connected with Venus which early astronomical instruments failed to overcome
22 Transit observations led to potential future discoveries.
Questions 23-26

Look at the following Statements (Questions 23-26) and List of people below.

Match each statement with the correct person..

Write the correct number A-D in boxes Questions 23-26 on your answer sheet.

NB You may use any letter more than once.

List of people
  1. Johannes Kepler
  2. Edmond Halley
  3. Guillaume Le Gentil
  4. Johann Franz Encke

23. He witnessed a Venus transit but was unable to make any calculations due to circumstances outside his control.
24. He understood that the distance of the Sun from the Earth could be calculated by comparing observations of a planetary transit.
25. He was the first to calculate the distance of the Sun from the Earth based on observations of Venus with a fair degree of accuracy.
26. He realized that the time taken by a planet to orbit the Sun depends on its distance from the Sun.

Answer Sheet
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2
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9
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12
13
14
15
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16
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17
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18
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20
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21
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22
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23
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24
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25
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26
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27
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28
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29
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30
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31
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32
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33
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34
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38
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40
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The Transit of Venus

A  On June 8 2004, more than half of the world’s population observed a rare astronomical event. For over six hours, the planet Venus steadily inched its way over the surface of the Sun. This was the first “transit” of Venus since December 6 l882. On the previous transit occasion, American astronomer Professor Simon Newcomb led a group to South Africa to observe the even, based at a girls' school. There, the combined forces of three schoolmistresses allegedly outperformed the professionals with the accuracy of their observations.

B For centuries, the movement of Venus has drawn the interest of explorers and astronomers alike across the globe, all thanks to English scientist, Edmond Halley. In November 1677, Halley observed, from the desolate island of St Helena in the South Pacific, a transit of the innermost planet Mercury. He realized that from different latitudes, the passage of the planet across the Sun's disc would appear to differ. By timing the transit from two widely-separated locations, teams of astronomers could calculate the parallax angle, the apparent difference in position of an astronomical body due to a difference in the observer's position. Calculating this angle would allow astronomers to take measurements that would grant the answer to their biggest question at the time, the distance of the Earth from the Sun. This distance is known as the “astronomical unit” or AU.

C  Halley was aware that the AU was one of the most fundamental of all astronomical measurements. In the early 17th century, Johannes Kepler had shown that the distances of the planets from the Sun governing their orbital speeds were easily measurable. But no one had yet found a way to calculate accurate distances to the planets from the Earth. The goal was to measure the AU. Then, knowing the orbital speeds of all the other planets around the Sun, it was believed it would be possible to understand the scale of the entire solar system. However, Halley realized that Mercury was so far away that its parallax angle would be very difficult to determine. As Venus was closer to the Earth, its parallax angle would be larger, and Halley worked out that by using Venus. Finally, it would be possible to measure the Sun’s distance from earth. But the problem was that transits of Venus, unlike those of Mercury, are rare. Nevertheless, he accurately predicted that Venus would cross the face of the Sun in both 1761 and 1769, though he didn’t survive to see either.

D Inspired by Halley's suggestion of a way to pin down the scale of the Solar System, teams of British and French astronomers set out on expeditions to places as diverse as India and Siberia. But things weren’t helped by Britain and France being at war, affecting those such as French astronomer Guillaume Le Gentil. As the British were besieging his observation site at Pondicherry in India, he fled on a French warship crossing the Indian Ocean. Though Le Gentil’s ship traveled safely, the ship’s pitching and rolling ruled out any attempt to make accurate observations. Undaunted, he remained south of the equator, keeping himself busy by studying the islands of Mauritius and Madagascar before setting off to observe again in the Philippines. Ironically, after traveling nearly 50,000 kilometers, his view was clouded out at the last moment, resulting in a very disappointing experience overall.

E  While the early transit timings were as precise as instruments would allow, the measurements were dogged by the 'black drop' effect. When Venus begins to cross the Sun's disc, it appears smeared rather than circular due to the diffraction of light. This made establishing accurate timings more difficult. The second problem is that Venus exhibits a halo of light when it is seen just outside the Sun's disc. While this showed astronomers that Venus was surrounded by a thick layer of gases refracting sunlight around it, both effects made it impossible to obtain accurate timings.

F  But astronomers continued working hard to analyze the results of these expeditions to observe Venus transits. Johann Franz Encke, Director of the Berlin Observatory, finally determined a value for the AU based on all these parallax measurements: 153340,000 km. His value is quite close to today's value of 149,597,870 km, determined by radar, which has now superseded transits and all other methods in accuracy. The AU is a cosmic measuring rod which forms the basis of how we scale the Universe today. The parallax principle can be extended to measure the distances to the stars. If we look at a star in January, when Earth is at one point in its orbit, it will seem to be in a different position from where it appears six months later. Knowing the width of Earth’s orbit, the parallax shift gives astronomers the ability to calculate the distance between ourselves and any particular star.

G  June 2004’s transit of Venus was thus more of an astronomical spectacle than a scientifically important event. But such transits have paved the way for what might prove to be one of the most vital breakthroughs in the cosmos, detecting Earth-sized planets orbiting other stars.

Reading Passage Vocabulary
The Transit of Venus

A  On June 8 2004, more than half of the world’s population observed a rare astronomical event. For over six hours, the planet Venus steadily inched its way over the surface of the Sun. This was the first “transit” of Venus since December 6 l882. On the previous transit occasion, American astronomer Professor Simon Newcomb led a group to South Africa to observe the even, based at a girls' school. There, the combined forces of three schoolmistresses allegedly outperformed the professionals with the accuracy of their observations.

B For centuries, the movement of Venus has drawn the interest of explorers and astronomers alike across the globe, all thanks to English scientist, Edmond Halley. In November 1677, Halley observed, from the desolate island of St Helena in the South Pacific, a transit of the innermost planet Mercury. He realized that from different latitudes, the passage of the planet across the Sun's disc would appear to differ. By timing the transit from two widely-separated locations, teams of astronomers could calculate the parallax angle, the apparent difference in position of an astronomical body due to a difference in the observer's position. Calculating this angle would allow astronomers to take measurements that would grant the answer to their biggest question at the time, the distance of the Earth from the Sun. This distance is known as the “astronomical unit” or AU.

C  Halley was aware that the AU was one of the most fundamental of all astronomical measurements. In the early 17th century, Johannes Kepler had shown that the distances of the planets from the Sun governing their orbital speeds were easily measurable. But no one had yet found a way to calculate accurate distances to the planets from the Earth. The goal was to measure the AU. Then, knowing the orbital speeds of all the other planets around the Sun, it was believed it would be possible to understand the scale of the entire solar system. However, Halley realized that Mercury was so far away that its parallax angle would be very difficult to determine. As Venus was closer to the Earth, its parallax angle would be larger, and Halley worked out that by using Venus. Finally, it would be possible to measure the Sun’s distance from earth. But the problem was that transits of Venus, unlike those of Mercury, are rare. Nevertheless, he accurately predicted that Venus would cross the face of the Sun in both 1761 and 1769, though he didn’t survive to see either.

D Inspired by Halley's suggestion of a way to pin down the scale of the Solar System, teams of British and French astronomers set out on expeditions to places as diverse as India and Siberia. But things weren’t helped by Britain and France being at war, affecting those such as French astronomer Guillaume Le Gentil. As the British were besieging his observation site at Pondicherry in India, he fled on a French warship crossing the Indian Ocean. Though Le Gentil’s ship traveled safely, the ship’s pitching and rolling ruled out any attempt to make accurate observations. Undaunted, he remained south of the equator, keeping himself busy by studying the islands of Mauritius and Madagascar before setting off to observe again in the Philippines. Ironically, after traveling nearly 50,000 kilometers, his view was clouded out at the last moment, resulting in a very disappointing experience overall.

E  While the early transit timings were as precise as instruments would allow, the measurements were dogged by the 'black drop' effect. When Venus begins to cross the Sun's disc, it appears smeared rather than circular due to the diffraction of light. This made establishing accurate timings more difficult. The second problem is that Venus exhibits a halo of light when it is seen just outside the Sun's disc. While this showed astronomers that Venus was surrounded by a thick layer of gases refracting sunlight around it, both effects made it impossible to obtain accurate timings.

F  But astronomers continued working hard to analyze the results of these expeditions to observe Venus transits. Johann Franz Encke, Director of the Berlin Observatory, finally determined a value for the AU based on all these parallax measurements: 153340,000 km. His value is quite close to today's value of 149,597,870 km, determined by radar, which has now superseded transits and all other methods in accuracy. The AU is a cosmic measuring rod which forms the basis of how we scale the Universe today. The parallax principle can be extended to measure the distances to the stars. If we look at a star in January, when Earth is at one point in its orbit, it will seem to be in a different position from where it appears six months later. Knowing the width of Earth’s orbit, the parallax shift gives astronomers the ability to calculate the distance between ourselves and any particular star.

G  June 2004’s transit of Venus was thus more of an astronomical spectacle than a scientifically important event. But such transits have paved the way for what might prove to be one of the most vital breakthroughs in the cosmos, detecting Earth-sized planets orbiting other stars.

 
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