Ultra-hot ‘superionic’ ice is a new state of matter

Scientists simply squeezed a drop of water between two diamonds and launched it at temperatures similar to those of a star with one of the most powerful lasers in the world. The result was a new and mysterious phase of the water.

Called superionic ice, the “strange and black” water exists under the same pressures and temperatures as those at the center of the Earth, a fact that could soon help researchers investigate the secrets buried within the cores of other worlds.

Previously, researchers used shock waves to create this strange ice for just 20 nanoseconds before it dissolved. This new experiment marks the first time that scientists have created stable super-ionic ice that lasts long enough to be studied in detail. The researchers published their findings Oct. 14 in the journal Nature Physics.

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“It was a surprise: everyone thought that this phase would not appear until it is subjected to much higher pressures than where we first found it,” said study co-author Vitali Prakapenka, a geophysicist at the University of Chicago and lines scientist. light at Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory, it said in a statement.

Liquid, vapor, and ice are the most common phases of water, but water molecules can also settle in other arrangements that represent different phases. In fact, scientists have identified 20 phases of water ice – the different ways that bonded hydrogen and oxygen atoms can stack under different temperatures and pressures.

For example, ice VI and ice VII have molecules that are arranged in prisms or rectangular cubes, respectively. Ice XI changes sides if placed within an electric field, and ice XIX is brittle and only its hydrogen atoms form a regular pattern, Live Science previously reported.

Superhot, highly pressurized super ionic ice is phase 18 of ice that has been discovered, and it is one of the strangest yet. That’s because your oxygen atoms are locked into place just like they would in a solid, but your hydrogen atoms, after giving up their electrons, are converted to ions (atomic nuclei stripped of their electrons and thus, positively charged) that can flow freely through ice as if they were a fluid.

“Imagine a cube, a lattice with oxygen atoms in the corners connected by hydrogen,” Prakapenka said. “When it transforms into this new superionic phase, the lattice expands, allowing hydrogen atoms to migrate while oxygen atoms remain stable in their positions. It’s like a solid oxygen lattice sitting in an ocean of floating hydrogen atoms.” .

These swimming hydrogen atoms prevent light from passing through the ice in a predictable way, giving it its black appearance.

A group led by Sassari University Chemistry Professor Pierfranco Demontis first theorized the existence of superionic ice in 1988, and researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California found the first evidence of it in 2018, Live reported. Science above. By shooting a drop of water with a high pressure shock wave generated by a laser, the researchers achieved the temperatures and pressures required for the super-ionic ice to appear momentarily, and even measured the electrical conductivity of the ice and glimpsed its structure in a few nanoseconds (billionths of a second) before the super-ionic ice melted.

To take more detailed measurements, Prakapenka and his colleagues needed to create the ice in a more stable way. So they squeezed out their drop of water with a 0.2 carat diamond anvil and blew it up with a laser. The hardness of the diamonds allowed the anvil to pressurize the drop to 3.5 million times Earth’s atmospheric pressure and the laser heated it to temperatures higher than the surface of the sun. Then, with an electron-accelerating device called a synchrotron, the team fired X-rays at the drop. By measuring the intensities and angles of the X-rays that were scattered by the atoms within the ice, the researchers identified the structure of the superionic ice.

This method gave the researchers a longer time frame, in the microsecond (millionth of a second) range, to observe their ice than the shock wave experiment had. That extra time meant they could accurately trace the different phase transitions of the water droplet as it transformed into super-ionic ice.

Further study could help scientists better understand the properties of ice and map the conditions under which different phases of ice occur in nature. Because free-floating hydrogen ions can create a magnetic field, researchers wonder if superionic ices are buried in the cores of planets like Neptune and Uranus, or trapped within the icy seas of Jupiter’s moon Europa. , which has an icy crust. If so, the ice could play a key role in inducing the magnetospheres that surround these worlds, or alien worlds beyond our solar system. As magnetospheres are, in turn, responsible for protecting planets from harmful solar radiation and cosmic rays, knowing how and where super-ionic ice forms could become an extremely useful guide for scientists searching for extraterrestrial life.

For now, there are many more properties of the new ice to explore, including its conductivity, viscosity, and chemical stability – crucial information for predicting where the strange ice might form elsewhere.

“It’s a new state of matter, so it basically acts like a new material and it may be different than we think,” Prakapenka said.

Originally posted on Live Science.

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