SSAT Middle Level Reading : Recognizing the Main Idea in Narrative Science Passages

Study concepts, example questions & explanations for SSAT Middle Level Reading

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Example Questions

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Example Question #1 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Idea And Theme In Science Passages

Adapted from Volume Four of The Natural History of Animals: The Animal Life of the World in Its Various Aspects and Relations by James Richard Ainsworth Davis (1903)

The examples of protective resemblance so far quoted are mostly permanent adaptations to one particular sort of surrounding. There are, however, numerous animals which possess the power of adjusting their color more or less rapidly so as to harmonize with a changing environment.

Some of the best known of these cases are found among those mammals and birds that inhabit countries more or less covered with snow during a part of the year. A good instance is afforded by the Irish or variable hare, which is chiefly found in Ireland and Scotland. In summer, this looks very much like an ordinary hare, though rather grayer in tint and smaller in size, but in winter it becomes white with the exception of the black tips to the ears. Investigations that have been made on the closely allied American hare seem to show that the phenomenon is due to the growth of new hairs of white hue. 

The common stoat is subject to similar color change in the northern parts of its range. In summer it is of a bright reddish brown color with the exception of the under parts, which are yellowish white, and the end of the tail, which is black. But in winter, the entire coat, save only the tip of the tail, becomes white, and in that condition the animal is known as an ermine. A similar example is afforded by the weasel. The seasonal change in the vegetarian Irish hare is purely of protective character, but in such an actively carnivorous creature as a stoat or weasel, it is aggressive as well, rendering the animal inconspicuous to its prey.

Which of the following best expresses the main idea of the passage?

Possible Answers:

Increased defense is the only reason for an animal to change its fur color.

The Scottish hare changes its fur color.

Certain animals change their fur color to be better predators or better at hiding.

All animals that live in a changing environment change color.

Animals like the stoat, the weasel, and the Irish hare are better adapted to changing environments than to unchanging ones.

Correct answer:

Certain animals change their fur color to be better predators or better at hiding.

Explanation:

When answering questions about the main idea of a passage, it’s important to pick out an answer choice to which each paragraph relates, but one that isn’t too broad. Some of the answer choices to this question are too specific: “The Scottish hare changes its fur color” is, and we can tell because the first paragraph doesn’t say anything about the Scottish hare, and the third paragraph only mentions it in its last line. “Increased defense is the only reason for an animal to change its fur color” should get your attention due to its use of the word “only”—did we hear anything in the passage about color-changing adaptations being used “only” for defense? No, we heard the opposite, in the passage’s last line: “The seasonal change in the vegetarian Irish hare is purely of protective character, but in such an actively carnivorous creature as a stoat or weasel, it is aggressive as well, rendering the animal inconspicuous to its prey.” The language may be a bit dense here, but what the passage is saying is that the hare uses its color-changing adaptation for defense, but stoats and weasels use it for being better predators and sneaking up on their prey—definitely not a defensive use. Similarly, “All animals that live in a changing environment change color” is making a strong statement due to its use of the word “all.” The passage gives us a few examples of animals that change that live in a changing environment and change their color, but this isn’t enough for us to assume that all animals that live in changing environments act this way. 

Example Question #2 : Identifying And Analyzing Main Idea And Theme In Science Passages

Adapted from Cassell’s Natural History by Francis Martin Duncan (1913)

The penguins are a group of birds inhabiting the southern ocean, for the most part passing their lives in the icy waters of the Antarctic seas. Like the ratitae, penguins have lost the power of flight, but the wings are modified into swimming organs and the birds lead an aquatic existence and are scarcely seen on land except in the breeding season. They are curious-looking creatures that appear to have no legs, as the limbs are encased in the skin of the body and the large flat feet are set so far back that the birds waddle along on land in an upright position in a very ridiculous manner, carrying their long narrow flippers held out as if they were arms. When swimming, penguins use their wings as paddles while the feet are used for steering.

Penguins are usually gregarious—in the sea, they swim together in schools, and on land, assemble in great numbers in their rookeries. They are very methodical in their ways, and on leaving the water, the birds always follow well-defined tracks leading to the rookeries, marching with much solemnity one behind the other in soldierly order. 

The largest species of penguins are the king penguin and the emperor penguin, the former being found in Kerguelen Land, the Falklands, and other southern islands, and the latter in Victoria Land and on the pack ice of the Antarctic seas. As they are unaccustomed from the isolation of their haunts to being hunted and persecuted by man, emperor penguins are remarkably fearless, and Antarctic explorers invading their territory have found themselves objects of curiosity rather than fear to the strange birds who followed them about as if they were much astonished at their appearance. 

The emperor penguin lays but a single egg and breeds during the intense cold and darkness of the Antarctic winter. To prevent contact with the frozen snow, the bird places its egg upon its flat webbed feet and crouches down upon it so that it is well covered with the feathers. In spite of this precaution, many eggs do not hatch and the mortality amongst the young chicks is very great.

Which of the following best describes this passage?

Possible Answers:

A general description of penguins

A descriptive passage detailing the appearance of penguins

A description of different types of birds

The author’s personal story of visiting Antarctica and seeing penguins for the first time

An informational passage about how emperor penguins care for their eggs

Correct answer:

A general description of penguins

Explanation:

When answering questions about a passage’s main idea or purpose, it is important not to pick the first answer that mentions something the passage talks about. To accurately represent the main idea of a passage, a statement has to relate to each of a passage’s paragraphs while not being too broad. For instance, “A description of different types of birds” is too broad to be the correct answer here, since the passage only talks about penguins. On the other hand, “An informational passage about how emperor penguins care for their eggs” cannot be correct because this is only discussed in the passage’s last paragraph, and “A descriptive passage detailing the appearance of penguins” cannot be correct because only the first paragraph in the passage describes the appearance of penguins. The passage can’t be best described as “The author’s personal story of visiting Antarctica and seeing penguins for the first time,” since this informational passage is presented in the third person perspective (it doesn’t use the “I” perspective) and doesn’t tell us anything that specifically happened to a given person. This leaves us with the correct answer: the passage is best described as “a general description of penguins.” Each of the passage’s paragraphs can be accurately described by this statement, and it isn’t too broad.

Example Question #324 : Ssat Middle Level Reading Comprehension

"Cacti" by Ami Dave (2013)

Cacti are plants suited to the desert, and we must always keep this factor in mind when growing ornamental cacti in our gardens, for it helps us provide cacti with conditions that allow them to survive and thrive. For example, a cactus should never be watered over its body, as it will start to rot. This is because it is covered with a waxy coating which prevents water loss through evaporation. When one waters the cactus over its body, the waxy coating is washed away and the plant begins to rot. The amount of water that one must supply to the cactus is very much dependent upon the season and upon the climate of the place. During the summer season one should water cacti every four days, whereas in the rainy season, once every fifteen days is quite enough.

Cacti need a minimum of two and a half hours of sunlight per day; however, they should not be kept in the sun all day because they may wrinkle when exposed to too much bright sunlight. Unlike other plants, cacti produce carbon dioxide during the day and oxygen during the night, so they are ideal plants to be kept in bedrooms to freshen up the air at night.

If a cactus is to thrive and prosper, the size of the pot in which it is grown needs to be monitored carefully. The pot should always be a little smaller than the plant itself because it is only when the plant has to struggle to survive that it will thrive. If the pot is too spacious and the plant does not need to struggle, chances are that the cactus will die. Similarly, if a cactus shows no signs of growth, stop watering it. Watering should be resumed only when the plant begins to grow again.

The substrata of a cactus pot is ideally composed of pieces of broken bricks at the bottom, followed by a layer of charcoal above the bricks, and then coarse sand and pebbles above the charcoal. Leaf mould is the best manure.

Grafting cacti is very simple. A very small piece of the cactus plant should be stuck with tape to the plant that needs grafting. The smaller the piece, the easier it is to graft. To reproduce cacti, one has to simply cut off a piece of the cactus, allow it to dry for a few days, and then place it over the cacti substrate. It will automatically develop roots.

It is very easy to differentiate between cacti and other plants that look like cacti. All cacti have fine hair at the base of each thorn. The so-called “thorns” are in fact highly modified leaves which prevent loss of water through transpiration. If one ever gets pricked by cacti thorns, one should take tape, place it over the area where the thorns have penetrated the skin, and then peel it off. All of the thorns will get stuck to the tape and will be removed.

The purpose of this passage is to __________.

Possible Answers:

outline the differences between cacti and other plants

describe the physical characteristics of a cactus

explain the proper conditions and protocols for growing cacti

explain what to do if you prick yourself on cactus thorns

explain how to correctly graft cacti

Correct answer:

explain the proper conditions and protocols for growing cacti

Explanation:

Cacti grafts, physical characteristics of cacti, what to do if you prick yourself on cactus thorns, and differences between cacti and other plants are all ideas that are discussed in the passage; however, they are not the MAIN purpose of the passage. They are all details that comprise the paragraphs. The purpose of the passage is to explain the proper conditions and protocols for growing cacti.

Example Question #1 : Science Passages

"Abstraction in the Sciences" by Matthew Minerd (2014)

Thinking “abstractly” is not a term that means quite the same thing in all of the sciences. Although we rarely think about this, it plays a key role in almost all of our day-to-day thought. Consider a zoologist working in a lab with many animals. When she is studying any individual tiger, she is not completely worried about the particular tiger—at least not primarily. Instead, she is trying to figure out certain characteristics of tigers in general. By meticulous testing, the zoologist carefully works out the physiology of tigers and considers what are absolutely necessary elements of their physical makeup. Even when she places a tiger in different habitats, her sight is aimed at the general condition of tigers and their needs in general.

However, things become even stranger when you start to consider how we think about mathematical objects. Consider the case of geometric figures. A triangle appears to be rather simple for most of us to think about. You can draw a triangle on a piece of paper, each side having a certain thickness and length. However when you think about this in geometry class, the triangle’s edges have no real thickness. Neither a point nor a line has a thickness for the mathematician. Such a thickness only exists on our paper, which represents the point or line. Consider also a line drawn on a piece of graph paper. Technically, there are an infinite number of points in the line. Indeed, even between 4.5 and 4.6, there are an infinite number of numbers—for example 4.55 is between them, then 4.555 between 4.55 and 4.6, and 4.5555 between 4.555 and 4.6, et cetera. In all of these cases, the mathematical reality takes on a very peculiar character when you consider it in the abstract. However, the concrete triangle remains very tangible and ordinary. Likewise, 4.6 and 4.5 inches still have 0.1 inches between them. Nevertheless, in the abstract, mathematical realities are quite strange, even stranger then the idea of “a tiger in general.”

Which of the following would strengthen the ending of the first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

"Of course, she becomes quite attached to all of the animals in her care."

None of the other answers

"The details of any particular tiger’s life are interesting only as a means to this end."

"Each individual tiger has its own unique characteristics and abilities."

"Every animal is carefully tested as a potential test subject."

Correct answer:

"The details of any particular tiger’s life are interesting only as a means to this end."

Explanation:

As written, the last sentence in the first paragraph states that the scientist is interested in figuring out what "tigers in general" are like. Therefore, any particular tiger is not as important as this general nature of tigers (how they generally can live, thrive, etc).  The best way to end this paragraph is by reiterating this point, which is what the correct answer does.

Example Question #1 : Textual Relationships In Science Passages

"Abstraction in the Sciences" by Matthew Minerd (2014)

Thinking “abstractly” is not a term that means quite the same thing in all of the sciences. Although we rarely think about this, it plays a key role in almost all of our day-to-day thought. Consider a zoologist working in a lab with many animals. When she is studying any individual tiger, she is not completely worried about the particular tiger—at least not primarily. Instead, she is trying to figure out certain characteristics of tigers in general. By meticulous testing, the zoologist carefully works out the physiology of tigers and considers what are absolutely necessary elements of their physical makeup. Even when she places a tiger in different habitats, her sight is aimed at the general condition of tigers and their needs in general.

However, things become even stranger when you start to consider how we think about mathematical objects. Consider the case of geometric figures. A triangle appears to be rather simple for most of us to think about. You can draw a triangle on a piece of paper, each side having a certain thickness and length. However when you think about this in geometry class, the triangle’s edges have no real thickness. Neither a point nor a line has a thickness for the mathematician. Such a thickness only exists on our paper, which represents the point or line. Consider also a line drawn on a piece of graph paper. Technically, there are an infinite number of points in the line. Indeed, even between 4.5 and 4.6, there are an infinite number of numbers—for example 4.55 is between them, then 4.555 between 4.55 and 4.6, and 4.5555 between 4.555 and 4.6, et cetera. In all of these cases, the mathematical reality takes on a very peculiar character when you consider it in the abstract. However, the concrete triangle remains very tangible and ordinary. Likewise, 4.6 and 4.5 inches still have 0.1 inches between them. Nevertheless, in the abstract, mathematical realities are quite strange, even stranger then the idea of “a tiger in general.”

What are the two things being contrasted in the first paragraph?

Possible Answers:

None of the other answers

Living tigers and ancient tigers

Captive tigers and wild tigers

Individual tigers and the general properties of tigers

Captive tigers in general and scientifically tested captive tigers

Correct answer:

Individual tigers and the general properties of tigers

Explanation:

The first paragraph is focusing on the strange way that a scientist can consider "tigers in general." She is not so much concerned with any particular tiger as much as she is with the general "makeup" of tigers. These two ways of looking at the matter are the most directly contrasted point in this paragraph.

Example Question #1 : Recognizing The Main Idea In Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from "How Animals Spend the Winter" by W. S. Blatchley in A Book of Natural History (1902, ed. David Starr Jordan)

One of the greatest problems that each of the living forms about us has had to solve, during the years of its existence on earth, is how best to perpetuate its kind during that cold season that once each year, in our temperate zone, is bound to come. Many are the solutions to this problem. Each form of life has, as it were, solved it best to suit its own peculiar case, and to the earnest student of Nature there is nothing more interesting than to pry into these solutions and note how varied, strange, and wonderful they are.

To fully appreciate some of the facts mentioned below it must be borne in mind that there is no such thing as “spontaneous generation” of life. Every cell is the offspring of a pre-existing cell. Hence every weed that next season will spring up and provoke the farmer’s ire, and every insect that will then make life almost intolerable for man or beast, exists throughout the winter in some form.

Beginning with the earthworms and their kindred, we find that at the approach of winter they burrow deep down where the icy breath of the frost never reaches, and there they live, during the cold season, a life of comparative quiet. That they are exceedingly sensitive to warmth, however, may be proven by the fact that when a warm rain comes some night in February or March, thawing out the crust of the earth, the next morning reveals in our dooryards the mouths of hundreds of the pits or burrows of these primitive tillers of the soil, each surrounded by a little pile of pellets, the castings of the active artisans of the pits during the night before.

If we will get up before dawn on such a morning we can find the worms crawling actively about over the surface of the ground, but when the first signs of day appear they seek once more their protective burrows, and only an occasional belated individual serves as a breakfast for the early birds.

The third paragraph is concerned with __________.

Possible Answers:

providing an example of how one species survives the winter

understanding how it is that earthworms are able to sense the coming of spring

detailing the unusual behavioral patterns of earthworms

outlining the earthworms need for safety from predatory birds

explaining the difference between earthworms and other types of worms

Correct answer:

providing an example of how one species survives the winter

Explanation:

The first two paragraphs are concerned with explaining to the audience an elemental fact of life—namely that everything that lives must be the product of something else living, and therefore all species that appear in the spring must have survived in small numbers in the winter. The third paragraph is concerned with providing an example, of the earthworms, of how one species survives the winter.

Example Question #2 : Recognizing The Main Idea In Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from "The Greatest Sea-Wave Ever Known" by R. A. Proctor in Wonders of Earth, Sea, and Sky (1902, ed. Edward Singleton Holden)

It was at Arequipa, at the foot of the lofty volcanic mountain Misti, that the most terrible effects of the great earthquake were experienced. Within historic times, Misti has poured forth no lava streams, but that the volcano is not extinct is clearly evidenced by the fact that in 1542 an enormous mass of dust and ashes was vomited forth from its crater. On August 13th, 1868, Misti showed no signs of being disturbed. So far as the volcanic neighbor was concerned, the forty-four thousand inhabitants of Arequipa had no reason to anticipate the catastrophe which presently befell them.

At five minutes past five, an earthquake shock was experienced, which, though severe, seems to have worked little mischief. Half a minute later, however, a terrible noise was heard beneath the earth; a second shock more violent than the first was felt, and then began a swaying motion, gradually increasing in intensity. In the course of the first minute, this motion had become so violent that the inhabitants ran in terror out of their houses into the streets and squares. In the next two minutes, the swaying movement had so increased that the more lightly built houses were cast to the ground, and the flying people could scarcely keep their feet. "And now," says Von Tschudi, "there followed during two or three minutes a terrible scene. The swaying motion changed into fierce vertical upheaval. The subterranean roaring increased in the most terrifying manner; then were heard the heart-piercing shrieks of the wretched people, the bursting of walls, the crashing fall of houses and churches, while over all rolled thick clouds of a yellowish-black dust, which, had they been poured forth many minutes longer, would have suffocated thousands." Although the shocks had lasted but a few minutes, the whole town was destroyed. Not one building remained uninjured, and there were few that did not lie in shapeless heaps of ruins.

The focus of the essay towards the end of this passage is primarily on __________.

Possible Answers:

the number of people living in Arequipa

the unexpected nature of the disaster

the massive destruction caused by the volcanic eruption

the length of time that had passed since the previous eruption

the lack of preparation on the part of the people of Arequipa

Correct answer:

the massive destruction caused by the volcanic eruption

Explanation:

At the end of the passage, particularly in the quotes given by Von Tschudi, the author highlights "the massive destruction caused by the volcanic eruption." This can also be clearly seen in the concluding lines: “Although the shocks had lasted but a few minutes, the whole town was destroyed. Not one building remained uninjured, and there were few which did not lie in shapeless heaps of ruins.”

Example Question #1 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from "The Greatest Sea-Wave Ever Known" by R. A. Proctor in Wonders of Earth, Sea, and Sky (1902, ed. Edward Singleton Holden)

It was at Arequipa, at the foot of the lofty volcanic mountain Misti, that the most terrible effects of the great earthquake were experienced. Within historic times, Misti has poured forth no lava streams, but that the volcano is not extinct is clearly evidenced by the fact that in 1542 an enormous mass of dust and ashes was vomited forth from its crater. On August 13th, 1868, Misti showed no signs of being disturbed. So far as the volcanic neighbor was concerned, the forty-four thousand inhabitants of Arequipa had no reason to anticipate the catastrophe which presently befell them.

At five minutes past five, an earthquake shock was experienced, which, though severe, seems to have worked little mischief. Half a minute later, however, a terrible noise was heard beneath the earth; a second shock more violent than the first was felt, and then began a swaying motion, gradually increasing in intensity. In the course of the first minute, this motion had become so violent that the inhabitants ran in terror out of their houses into the streets and squares. In the next two minutes, the swaying movement had so increased that the more lightly built houses were cast to the ground, and the flying people could scarcely keep their feet. "And now," says Von Tschudi, "there followed during two or three minutes a terrible scene. The swaying motion changed into fierce vertical upheaval. The subterranean roaring increased in the most terrifying manner; then were heard the heart-piercing shrieks of the wretched people, the bursting of walls, the crashing fall of houses and churches, while over all rolled thick clouds of a yellowish-black dust, which, had they been poured forth many minutes longer, would have suffocated thousands." Although the shocks had lasted but a few minutes, the whole town was destroyed. Not one building remained uninjured, and there were few that did not lie in shapeless heaps of ruins.

The focus of the essay at the beginning of this passage is primarily on __________.

Possible Answers:

the length of time that had passed since the previous eruption

the massive destruction caused by the volcanic eruption

the lack of preparation on the part of the people of Arequipa

the number of people living in Arequipa

the unexpected nature of the disaster

Correct answer:

the unexpected nature of the disaster

Explanation:

At the beginning of this passage, the author is focusing on highlighting the “unexpected nature of the disaster.” This is in contrast to the end of the essay, which is focused on highlighting “the massive destruction caused by the volcanic eruption.” At the beginning, the author says, “Misti showed no signs of being disturbed. So far as the volcanic neighbor was concerned, the forty-four thousand inhabitants of Arequipa had no reason to anticipate the catastrophe which presently befell them.” This clearly focuses on the “unexpected nature” of the eruption. “The length of time that had passed since the previous eruption” and “The lack of preparation on the part of the people of Arequipa” are merely functions of convincing the audience that the disaster was “unexpected.”

Example Question #4 : Recognizing The Main Idea In Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from "The Greatest Sea-Wave Ever Known" by R. A. Proctor in Wonders of Earth, Sea, and Sky (1902, ed. Edward Singleton Holden)

The inhabitants of the Sandwich Islands, which lie about six thousand three hundred miles from Arica—a city in Chile, might have imagined themselves safe from any effects that could be produced by an earthquake taking place so far away from them. But on the night between August 13th and 14th, the sea around this island group rose in a surprising manner, and many thought the islands were sinking, and would shortly subside altogether beneath the waves. Some of the smaller islands, indeed, were for a time completely submerged. Before long, however, the sea fell again, and as it did so the observers "found it impossible to resist the impression that the islands were rising bodily out of the water." For no less than three days this strange oscillation of the sea continued to be experienced, the most remarkable ebbs and floods being noticed at Honolulu, on the island of Woahoo.

But the sea-wave swept onward far beyond these islands. At Yokohama, in Japan, more than ten thousand five hundred miles from Arica, an enormous wave poured in on August 14th, but at what hour we have no satisfactory record. So far as distance is concerned, this wave affords most surprising evidence of the stupendous nature of the disturbance to which the waters of the Pacific Ocean had been subjected. The whole circumference of the earth is but twenty-five thousand miles, so that this wave had traveled over a distance considerably greater than two-fifths of the earth's circumference. A distance which the swiftest of our ships could not traverse in less than six or seven weeks had been swept over by this enormous undulation in the course of a few hours.

The primary point of this essay is that __________.

Possible Answers:

the sea-wave traveled vast distances around the world in a short space of time

it is dangerous to build a city or community so close to the ocean

it is impossible to predict the intensity of sea-waves produced by earthquakes

the people of the Sandwich Islands were lucky to escape with their lives

the sea-wave was an extremely destructive force

Correct answer:

the sea-wave traveled vast distances around the world in a short space of time

Explanation:

The primary point of this passage is to explain how the sea-wave traveled vast distances around the world. The author achieves this by highlighting all the places where the sea-wave caused notable disturbances and explains how these places are very far apart from one another. The author then reaches his main point in the concluding paragraph, where he says, “So far as distance is concerned, this wave affords most surprising evidence of the stupendous nature of the disturbance to which the waters of the Pacific Ocean had been subjected. The whole circumference of the earth is but twenty-five thousand miles, so that this wave had traveled over a distance considerably greater than two-fifths of the earth's circumference.”

Example Question #2 : Main Idea, Details, Opinions, And Arguments In Narrative Science Passages

Adapted from “Comets” by Camille Flammarion in Wonders of Earth, Sea, and Sky (1902, ed. Edward Singleton Holden)

The history of a comet would be an instructive episode of the great history of the heavens. In it could be brought together the description of the progressive movement of human thought, as well as the astronomical theory of these extraordinary bodies. Let us take, for example, one of the most memorable and best-known comets, and give an outline of its successive passages near the Earth. Like the planetary worlds, comets belong to the solar system, and are subject to the rule of the Star King. It is the universal law of gravitation which guides their path; solar attraction governs them, as it governs the movement of the planets and the small satellites. The chief point of difference between them and the planets is that their orbits are very elongated, and instead of being nearly circular, they take the elliptical form. In consequence of the nature of these orbits, the same comet may approach very near the sun, and afterwards travel from it to immense distances.

Thus, the period of the Comet of 1680 has been estimated at three thousand years. It approaches the sun, so as to be nearer to it than our moon is to us, whilst it recedes to a distance 853 times greater than the distance of the Earth from the sun. On the 17th of December, 1680, it was at its perihelion—that is, at its greatest proximity to the sun; it is now continuing its path beyond the Neptunian orbit. Its velocity varies according to its distance from the solar body. At its perihelion it travels thousands of leagues per minute; at its aphelion it does not pass over more than a few yards.  

Its proximity to the Sun in its passage near that body caused Newton to think that it received a heat twenty-eight thousand times greater than that we experience at the summer solstice, and that this heat being two thousand times greater than that of red-hot iron, an iron globe of the same dimensions would be fifty thousand years entirely losing its heat. Newton added that in the end, comets will approach so near the sun that they will not be able to escape the preponderance of its attraction, and that they will fall one after the other into this brilliant body, thus keeping up the heat which it perpetually pours out into space. Such is the deplorable end assigned to comets by the author of the Principia, an end which makes De la Brétonne say to Rétif: "An immense comet, already larger than Jupiter, was again increased in its path by being blended with six other dying comets. Thus displaced from its ordinary route by these slight shocks, it did not pursue its true elliptical orbit; so that the unfortunate thing was precipitated into the devouring centre of the Sun." "It is said," added he, "that the poor comet, thus burned alive, sent forth dreadful cries!"

The primary purpose of the second paragraph is to __________.

Possible Answers:

Underline the limited information we have about the range and behavior of comets and other satellite bodies.

Ridicule the absurd conclusions reached in the Principia.

Outline the differences between the orbits of comets and the orbits of planetary bodies.

Explain how the orbit of a comet functions, and how its position in that orbit affects its speed.

Highlight how close to the sun comets pass before receding back to the outer reaches of the solar system.

Correct answer:

Explain how the orbit of a comet functions, and how its position in that orbit affects its speed.

Explanation:

The primary point of the second paragraph is to explain how the orbit of a comet functions and to show how the position of the comet in its orbit, with relation to its proximity to the sun, affects its speed. This is most clearly highlighted by the author when he says “Its velocity varies according to its distance from the solar body. At its perihelion it travels thousands of leagues per minute; at its aphelion it does not pass over more than a few yards.” Some of the other answers for this question are quite close to correct, but it is important to consider the larger context of the whole passage in tandem with the specific information contained in the second paragraph. The answer choice “Highlight how close to the sun comets pass before receding back to the outer reaches of the solar system” is incorrect because it focuses more on the superficial facts of the comet's proximity to the sun. “Outline the differences between the orbits of comets and the orbits of planetary bodies” is incorrect because the bulk of that conclusion is already given to us in the first paragraph.

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