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Icy Bodies

Icy Bodies
Small chunks of dry ice jet and swirl across a liquid surface.

Like comets, these chunks of dry ice slowly disintegrate as they move, leaving a visible trail of condensed water vapor.

A family interacts with the Icy Bodies exhibit.
Swirling dry ice in the Icy Bodies exhibit.
What’s going on?

Comets are massive chunks of ice, frozen gases, and dust that orbit the Sun. As they near the Sun, these lonely travelers begin to give off gas, gradually shrinking and forming glowing tails that can stretch for millions of miles.

In this mesmerizing artwork meant to evoke the quiet beauty of comets, frozen carbon dioxide—better known as dry ice—slowly sublimates, transforming from a solid state to a gas as it slides and spins across a water surface.

Going further

Real comets, often referred to by astronomers as “dirty snowballs,” contain a mixture of rock, dust, and water ice, along with frozen carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, methane, and ammonia.

Dry ice has a surface temperature far colder than ordinary ice: -109° Fahrenheit, or -78.5° Celsius. For this reason it’s preferred over water ice for shipping perishable goods, with the added advantage that it leaves behind carbon dioxide gas (instead of a soggy wet mess) once its cooling work is done.

Icy Bodies