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Phase

There are many instances in planetary science where the same material can come in different forms. An example of one such instance is shown in this picture. A diamond is one form of pure carbon, and graphite (what goes into pencil lead) is another form of the same material. They are both made of the identical substance (carbon), but they have a very different size and structure. The difference in molecular construction is referred to as the "phase" of carbon. Graphite is a different phase of carbon than that of diamond.

One might be able to imagine two different moons made out of the same amount of carbon, but one moon made of graphite and the other made of diamond. The two imaginary moons would have very different sizes! Then one might imagine one moon evolving into the other, and having to change sizes as it does so. This phenomena explains the evolution of the icy moons. Ice comes in nine different phases, and all of them have a different molecular construction. In it's evolution, an icy moon may change many times from one phase to another, or include many different phases in it's interior.

Two other materials, from the earth's interior, which have similar phase differences are olivine and spinel.

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Windows to the Universe, a project of the National Earth Science Teachers Association, is sponsored in part is sponsored in part through grants from federal agencies (NASA and NOAA), and partnerships with affiliated organizations, including the American Geophysical Union, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Earth System Information Partnership, the American Meteorological Society, the National Center for Science Education, and TERC. The American Geophysical Union and the American Geosciences Institute are Windows to the Universe Founding Partners. NESTA welcomes new Institutional Affiliates in support of our ongoing programs, as well as collaborations on new projects. Contact NESTA for more information. NASA ESIP NCSE HHMI AGU AGI AMS NOAA