Destinations: The polar regions of planets and moons are valuable indicators of global processes from the past, present and future in our solar system. The polar regions are areas that normally receive periods of little or no direct energy from the sun. When there is no energy from the sun, the temperature can be extremely low and allow for ice deposits to accumulate in the polar regions. Mercury may have polar ice. Venus however, probably does not have polar ice due to its thick atmosphere that traps heat. Earth and Mars also have polar ice regions, although Mars' polar ice may be a mixture of water and carbon dioxide ice. It is also debated that there may be ice on our moon. The ices that exist on planets and moons evolved during the formation and of the solar system. One current theory is that ice comes from asteroids and meteorites.
The poles of the gas giant planets also deserve some attention in our focus on the solar system polar regions. While the gas giant planets don't have any solids at their poles, these regions do have influence on the thermodynamics and mixing of the atmosphere. One planet that has its polar regions facing the sun is Uranus, since it lies on its side with an axis of 98�.
This month on Earth we also focus on our polar regions. March officially begins the International Polar Year (IPY). The International Polar Year is a large scientific program focused on the Arctic and the Antarctic from March 2007 to March 2009. IPY will involve over 200 projects, with thousands of scientists from over 60 nations examining a wide range of physical, biological and social research topics.
Missions: The Phoenix mission is scheduled to launch in August for a journey to Mars. The Phoenix mission will land in May 2008 at the northern polar region to study polar water ice. Phoenix is designed to study the history of water and habitability potential in the Martian arctic's ice-rich soil.
The MESSENGER mission is currently traveling around the inner solar system on its way to orbit Mercury. One of MESSENGER's goals once it gets to Mercury is to search for possible ice deposited in polar craters.
The Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission, scheduled for launch in 2008, will study the lunar surface. One of its goals is to scan for lunar polar ice in suspect shadowed craters.
There are numerous polar regions in our solar system with icy deposits. Learn more by reading the following science features: The Asteroids and Comets They Are A-Changin', Ice In An Unlikely Place: Mercury, Europa: Searching For the Ocean Deep and Dirty Ice on Mars.
Fast Lesson Finder:
K-12 Activities: Search our Fast Lesson Finder to find classroom lessons related to our solar system and beyond. Some activities related to this month's theme includes Building Blocks of Planets (Accretion), Build Your Own Comet Build Your Own Comet, Cooking Up a Comet , Probing Below the Surface of Mars, and Snow Goggles.
Meet Robert Bindschadler: Dr. Robert Bindschadler is a world expert on the Antarctic and glaciers and spends time in the field as well publishing ice and glacier research.