Researchers have successfully created superionic water on Earth recently. It is a peculiar state of water that is liquid and solid at the same time.
Superionic water is reportedly found in the solar system’s outer planets like Uranus and Neptune. The experiment backs the theory that superionic ice, which has electricity conducting properties like metal, might explain why Uranus and Neptune’s magnetic fields are lopsided.
The water molecules in superionic ice are held together in such a compact manner that their oxygen atoms create a stiff lattice. The positively charged hydrogen atoms can then freely flow through it. The hydrogen ions that flow can also carry electrical current.
“It’s as though the water ice is partially molten,” said Raymond Jeanloz, co-author on the study paper and a professor of planetary and earth science at the University of California in Berkeley.
To conduct the experiment, the research team compressed water ice between two diamonds to 25,000 times the pressure experienced on earth. It was done at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Subsequently, the ice under pressure was blasted with an ultraviolet light pulse via six intense layers at New York’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics. The action sent shock waves that heated the substance and compressed it further. The research team observed a rise in temperature and density at around 1.9 million times atmospheric pressure.
The mantles of the icy giant planets Uranus and Neptune may carry superionic ice. The presence of such ice creates magnetic fields that have a different appearance from the ones created at a planet’s core, like in the case of Earth.
Its existence was first predicted 30 years ago. However, though its existence has been proven by numerical simulations, this is the first time experiments have been conducted.
“These are very challenging experiments, so it was really exciting to see that we could learn so much from the data,” said Dr. Marius Millot, the lead author of the study and a physicist at California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Jeanloz added that as those types of predictions start to get validated, it gives hope to the scientific community to create new materials according to subjective choices, as per what properties are needed, what kind of material is needed, what types of elements have to be used together, and how they have to be put together to create those properties.
The researchers published their findings in the journal Nature Physics.