Education and
Public Engagement
at the Lunar and Planetary Institute
Explore! Ice Worlds

Reflections on Ice: How We Look For Ice

Modified from: Ice in the Solar System, Investigating Ice Worlds.


To build an understanding of how scientists study ice properties remotely children ages 8 to 13 observe ice through different wavelengths of light. In this 60 minutes of exploration, teams of children travel to three ice stations and examine the ice with blacklights, flashlights, and colored lenses to discover that there is more to ice than meets the eye!

What's the Point?


For each child

For each group of two to three children

For the group:

For the facilitator:



1. Introduce the activity by asking the children to share what they know about light.

Share with the children that there are many different kinds of light. Some we can see. Some we cannot see; it is invisible to us. All of these different types of light or electromagnetic radiation make up the electromagnetic spectrum.

2. Divide the children into groups of two to three and provide each group with the Amazing Electromagnetic Spectrum cartoon.

3. Share with the children that scientists use different types of light that are reflected off distant planets and moons to study the ice on those planets and moons. Explain that they will be investigating three different ice stations using different types of light.

4. Invite the children to investigate the ice! Arrange the children to work in groups. Explain that Ice Investigation Station sheets are located at each station to assist them in their investigations. Review with the children what they will be doing at the stations; let them know that the room will be dark during their investigations.

5. Instruct half of the teams to visit the even numbered stations and the other half of the teams to visit the odd numbered stations. Each team will visit three stations. Dim the lighting in the room and invite them to begin their explorations! Allow approximately 10 minutes for each station and let the teams know when it is time to rotate.

6. After all the children have had a chance to visit each station, invite them to share their discoveries. Prompt them with questions.

The variations that occur in the icy surfaces of planets and moons seen in visible or invisible light are very important. They can hold clues to how the ice formed and what might be under the surface.

Remind the children that scientists are not shining big bright flashlights on the surfaces of planets. This would be very expensive (and also quite a challenge to the engineers!) Instead, scientists let the Sun's light help them. The Sun's light contains the visible colors that we see everyday, but also ultraviolet or infrared light. Scientists use special telescopes on Earth and instruments aboard spacecraft that are orbiting different planets and moons to study the different types of sunlight reflecting from the surface.

Ultraviolet light is invisible to the human eye, and yet some substances that we cannot see — or cannot see well reflect ultraviolet light that can be detected by special telescopes and instruments aboard spacecraft.


Prompt the children to consider how scientists use light to study the surfaces of other planets and moons and how light can help them to determine if ice is present on the surfaces. Review with the children what they have learned.