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Graphs and Functions

Exploring States of Matter with Phase Diagrams

Objectives: Students learn about carbon dioxide snowfalls on Mars by reading a NASA Press Release. They also learn about snow phase changes on Earth and the unique properties of water by watching a NASA eClips video segment. Students use formulae and graphs to quantify phase changes and explore relationships between temperature and energy.

Mathematics Skill or Topic Area:

Graphs and Functions

Next Gen Science Framework: PS1.A: Structure and Properties of Matter; PS1.B: Chemical Reactions; Patterns

Common Core ELA for Science: RST.6-8.2. Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; provide an accurate summary of the text distinct from prior knowledge or opinions. RST.6-8.8. Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text. RST.6-8.9. Compare and contrast the information gained from experiments, simulations, video, or multimedia sources with that gained from reading a text on the same topic.

Common Core Math Standard: CCSS.Math.Content.8.F.B.5 Describe qualitatively the functional relationship between two quantities by analyzing a graph (e.g., where the function is increasing or decreasing, linear or nonlinear).

Video Engagement: Phase Diagrams and Why you Cannot Make a Snowball on Mars  Join NASA scientists who study the History of Winter to learn about phase changes and the unique properties of water. Find out why ice floats and why this is important to life on Earth. See what pressure and temperature have to do with making snowballs. (7 minutes) View Program

Engage your students with a press release:

NASA Observations Point to 'Dry Ice' Snowfall on Mars

PASADENA, Calif. -- NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter data have given scientists the clearest evidence yet of carbon-dioxide snowfalls on Mars. This reveals the only known example of carbon-dioxide snow falling anywhere in our solar system.

Frozen carbon dioxide, better known as "dry ice," requires temperatures of about minus 193 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 125 Celsius), which is much colder than needed for freezing water. "These are the first definitive detections of carbon-dioxide snow clouds," said the report's lead author, Paul Hayne of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "We firmly establish the clouds are composed of carbon dioxide -- flakes of Martian air -- and they are thick enough to result in snowfall accumulation at the surface."

The snowfalls occurred from clouds around the Red Planet's south pole in winter. The presence of carbon-dioxide ice in Mars' seasonal and residual southern polar caps has been known for decades. Also, NASA's Phoenix Lander mission in 2008 observed falling water-ice snow on northern Mars.

The new Mars data provide information about temperatures, particle sizes and their concentrations. The new analysis is based on data from observations in the south polar region during southern Mars winter in 2006-2007, identifying a tall carbon-dioxide cloud about 300 miles (500 kilometers) in diameter persisting over the pole and smaller, shorter-lived, lower-altitude carbon dioxide ice clouds at latitudes from 70 to 80 degrees south. By observing this way, the Mars Climate Sounder is able to distinguish the particles in the atmosphere from the dry ice on the surface."

Press release date line - September 11, 2012 [ Click Here ]

Explore math connections with


Problem I - Exploring Energy and Temperature - Students learn how temperature is related to the amount of energy carried by matter in its various states. [Open PDF ]

Problem II - Exploring Temperature and States of Matter - Students Learn about how the states of matter change with temperature and pressure by working with a simple phase diagram for water. [Open PDF ]


Explain your thinking:

Write your own problem - Using information found in the Math Connection problems, the press release or the video program, create your own math problem. Explain why you set the problem up this way, and how you might find its answer.


Evaluate your understanding:

Challenge Problem - Students explore how pressure and temperature determine whether you can make a snowball on Mars. [Open PDF ]


For additional problems and resources relating to snow research, visit the NASA, History of Winter website at