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Ice in the Solar System: Ice!

Students of all ages can investigate ice in our solar system, from its characteristics and presence on Earth to our search for it on moons and planets. In addition to the activities, remember to check out Educational Resources for video, podcasts and more! For activities about comets, please check out the YSS topic Small Bodies / Big Impacts.

Be sure to submit photographs, artwork, music, or words of students enjoying these activities to Share Your Stories.


Grades K-4
Elementary students can enjoy investigating the properties of ice. Students may have trouble applying these concepts to other planets and moons. They may not understand that some types of ice (ex: dry ice) are made of other substances than water. (Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
All About Ice In this suite of activities, students investigate ice, learn about its properties and explore how it can change states to a liquid or a gas. Through hands-on experiences, they observe ice, find its melting and freezing point, and learn about some of its unique properties, including that ice, the solid phase of water, is less dense than the liquid!

Grades 5-8
Students in this age group can apply their understanding of water ice to the search for it on other bodies, and can investigate other types of ice. (Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
Exploring Ice in the Solar System The Exploring Ice in the Solar System education unit examines the importance of water in the form of ice in the solar system. From hands-on experiences with ice, the unit moves on to investigating ice in everyday life, in polar regions on Earth and throughout the solar system.
Making a Comet in the Classroom This demonstration of the composition of a comet uses dry ice and several common ingredients to make a nucleus that will release jets of gas and sublimate over time.
Investigating the Martian Polar Caps Students use internet resources and image processing to measure and compare the Martian and terrestrial polar caps at different seasons, and analyze their results.
Ice in the Solar System Students examine different types of ices, discover where these different ices occur in the solar system, how scientists determine what ice is where, meet some of the scientists who are exploring these ice worlds, and explore why their work is so important!
Dirty Ice or Icy Dirt Large amounts of water ice appear to be buried at high latitudes on Mars. In this activity, students make physical models using Earth samples to investigate whether it is more likely that these regions of Mars are composed of icy dirt (with ice filling the pore space of soils) or dirty ice (with dust sprinkled through a mostly icy surface).
Space Math: LRO Makes a Temperature Map of the Lunar South Pole Students use the published LRO temperature map to study the scale of the south polar region, the sizes of its craters and estimate the volume of water-ice that may be present in Shackleton Crater.

Grades 9-14
This can branch out into investigations on how we look for water ice, which includes technology and electromagnetic spectrum components. In addition to the guided activities below, consider inviting students to use data to conduct their own research on ice on Earth or other planets and moons, using data sets available in this topic's Educational Resources. (Science Education Standards)

Activity Description
Remote Sensing Ices on Mars Students analyze data collected by Mars spacecraft using three different energies of light -- visible light, infrared light and gamma rays -- to investigate the composition and distribution of ices at the high latitude regions of Mars.
MY NASA DATA Lessons MY NASA DATA microsets are created using data from NASA Earth science satellite missions and provide information on Earth's atmosphere, biosphere, cryosphere, ocean, and land surface. There are a variety of lessons using these data.
Space Math: Ice on Mercury? Since the 1990's, radio astronomers have mapped Mercury. An outstanding curiosity is that in the polar regions, some craters appear to have "anomalous reflectivity" in the shadowed areas of these craters. One interpretation is that this is caused by sub-surface ice. The MESSENGER spacecraft hopes to explore this issue in the next few years. In this activity, students will measure the surface areas of these potential ice deposits and calculate the volume of water that they imply.
DPS Slide Set: A Sunlit Lake on Titan (Power Point, 279 KB) This four-slide powerpoint by the Division of Planetary Science includes basic information for college-level introductory courses.
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Last Updated: 12 Sep 2014